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Despite all the acrimony of late between the league and NHL Players' Association, including tiffs over the role of the competition committee and more rhetoric concerning future Olympic participation, we're told union head Paul Kelly recently invited Gary Bettman to the players' annual summer meetings in Las Vegas in June and the NHL commissioner has accepted.
It's believed to be a first in NHL history to have the commissioner speak to the players directly at their meetings; at the very least, we know it's a first for Bettman since he took the helm in February 1993. He will have one hour to address the players and take questions.
In return, we're guessing Kelly will be re-invited to the owners' big annual meeting next December, which he didn't attend this season.
We told you a few weeks ago about the eruption between the league and players' association over the role of the competition committee. At the time, battle lines were drawn after the NHL said it wasn't sure the "staged fights" rule, proposed by GMs at their meetings last month, needed competition-committee approval since it wasn't actually a new rule but rather a clarification of the 10-minute misconduct rule. That set off some angry exchanges between both sides, notably in letters sent back and forth between Kelly and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
Well, cooler heads apparently prevailed in a meeting Friday in New York City between Kelly, Daly and Bettman, a meeting both sides described as productive.
We're not saying everything was resolved, because we believe there's still some level of disagreement, but they certainly cleared the air. The bottom line is, the league said it would certainly bring any rule change to the committee's attention. But the league still believes that if ever it felt really strongly about a rule change, all it technically needs is the board of governors' approval, not necessarily the committee's. On the flip side, if the union believed it was a rule that materially changed the way the game was played and it wasn't vetted through the competition committee, it would file a challenge under the CBA.
The competition committee meets again in June. The group consists of Brian Campbell of the San Jose Sharks, Jeff Halpern of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres, Mathieu Schneider of the Montreal Canadiens and Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators. The club officials are GMs Bob Gainey of Montreal, David Poile of Nashville and Don Waddell of Atlanta, plus Oilers president Kevin Lowe and Flyers owner Ed Snider.
Well, if you thought the league was taking a bit of a gamble (ahem) by putting the NHL awards in Las Vegas for the first time, we're told the league has signed a three-year deal with the Palms, guaranteeing the event will be there through 2011. Let's hope it works! Mind you, we believe the players are pretty excited about hanging out there instead of Toronto, so it's probably not too much of a leap of faith.
The Oilers and MacT
OK, first of all, can we recommend that everyone in Edmonton take a long, deep breath?
It's been a crazy week in the Alberta capital. Despite the now-infamous text message from Edmonton Oilers owner Darryl Katz this past week, the fact remains that if the Oilers do miss the playoffs, some tough decisions will be made, and that may include the firing of coach Craig MacTavish. Yes, it's true MacT and Lowe are very close, but so were Gainey and Guy Carbonneau in Montreal. It's a business. At this point, however, no decision has been made on MacT -- it will wait until after the season. MacTavish could also simply resign.
Ottawa GM Bryan Murray will meet with Senators owner Eugene Melnyk this week, when they'll discuss a contract extension for coach Cory Clouston. He deserves it.
As we reported Friday, Ron Wilson will be the U.S. Olympic coach for 2010, but we're told he is also expected to get the IIHF world championship assignment. Look for New York Islanders coach Scott Gordon maybe to join his staff for the worlds. We also believe either John Tortorella or Peter Laviolette could join Wilson on the Olympic staff.
A nervy overtime win over the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning finally snapped New Jersey's six-game winless streak (0-5-1) Friday night. Why the sudden slide? Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said there was no singular factor.
"There was no magic to it," Lamoriello told ESPN.com on Saturday. "We just weren't doing all the things that had made us successful. Nothing major, just all the little things. When you stop taking care of all the details, then your game slips."
• Preds center Jason Arnott (concussion) was expected to give it a whirl in warm-ups tonight and see how he feels; otherwise, he'll aim for Tuesday.
• Devils backup Kevin Weekes (knee) is out 2 or 3 weeks, which paved the way for the return of Scott Clemmensen on Saturday.
• Blue Jackets rookie center Derick Brassard (shoulder) is skating and could be back late first round or second round if all goes well.
• Hawks center Patrick Sharp (lower body) is day to day; GM Dale Tallon told us Saturday that it's nothing serious.
• Sharks forwards Ryane Clowe (knee), Patrick Marleau (lower body) and Mike Grier (knee) are expected to come back sometime this week.