Mr. Bettman pays a visit to Tampa

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spoke to the media last night before the game against the Detroit Red Wings.

Bettman opened boldly: "I am not here to make any grand announcements."

Instead, Bettman's presence was part of a yearly effort to visit every team. Also, nearing the anniversary of Jeff Vinik's purchase of the Lightning, Bettman opened with a load of praise for Vinik and the progress he has made with the Lightning.

"Vinik has been extraordinarily effective."

And there's nothing new here--every Lightning fan, and probably every hockey fan, is equally impressed with the hiring of Steve Yzerman and Tod Leiweke, with the changes to the arena, and everything else Vinik has done (with the exception of the jerseys).

Bettman expressed that he "had no doubt" Vinik would do the things he promised, which included the small task of turning the team around completely.

Other than Vinik, following the jump is a brief run down of what was said late yesterday afternoon.

What Bettman talked about:

Tampa Bay is a hockey market. If you had any questions, Bettman emphasized that he always knew Tampa was a good market for hockey. "Fan's here have nothing to worry about. The team is well owned, well capitalized, being well run. The future is bright."

The Winter Classic is fun. When asked why the Winter Classic is successful, Bettman answered, "It captures the imagination. It takes the game back to its roots--children learning to skate outdoors on frozen ponds. It's just a lot of fun."

He doesn't like speculation. "I don't want people to worry. I never want people to have their expectations raised." So according to Bettman, NHL rumors are pretty much useless, and even media driven, referring specifically to whether or not the Atlanta Thrashers relocation-rumors have any merit.

"We haven't made any decisions yet." I mean, of course they've made decisions, but nothing has been done regarding where the 2012 Winter Classic will be held next, or if the 2011 All Star Game format is here to stay. The NHL events staff are going to need a breather before they sit down to evaluate the pros and cons of the back-to-back event selections that dominate the middle of the season (the Winter Classic, All Star Game, and Heritage Classic lineup).

What Bettman didn't talk about:

Mario Lemieux. Well, he did, briefly, to say that he was happy with the league's response to Friday night's events. And to say, "We're not gonna engage on a public debate on this."

TV Contracts. Bettman did say it was a "work in progress," but didn't go much further.

League Inconsistencies. Surprisingly, no one sprung this question.

Colin Campbell. Nope, no one brought this up either.

So overall, plenty of praise for Vinik, for Tampa Bay hockey, and for NHL events, Bettman kept things nice and easy.