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Bettman says NHL contract talks to start in ‘not too distant future’

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during a news conference before Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup finals between the Los Angeles Kings and the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday, May 30, 2012, in Newark.

Kathy Willens/AP

With discussions soon to begin on a new collective agreement, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stepped into a cone of silence following Tuesday's Board of Governors meeting.

Bettman said the league is working on a date to kick off formal negotiations with the NHL Players' Association and that it would fall "probably in the not too distant future."

However, he was reluctant to get into any specifics about what information he shared with NHL owners during a five-hour meeting at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel. Time is ticking with the current CBA set to expire on Sept. 15.

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"When we have something to discuss about what's going on with collective bargaining, I'd be happy to tell you," said Bettman. "But at least for the time being, especially since we haven't had any formal sessions yet, I'm going to reserve all my comments."

Part of Tuesday's discussion centred around ownership issues. As expected, the NHL formally approved the sale of the Toronto Maple Leafs to Rogers Communications, Inc., and BCE, Inc., and a subsequent restructuring to the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Bettman also updated the board on the proposed sale of the Phoenix Coyotes to Greg Jamison. The NHL commissioner indicated that news out of Arizona on Tuesday that voters in Glendale can go ahead with a referendum on a lease agreement between the city and Jamison shouldn't impact the sale.

He expects the team to remain where it is with the 2012-13 regular season schedule set to be announced on Thursday.

"The Coyotes have been scheduled to play in Phoenix," said Bettman. "Our hope and expectation is that all of the efforts have been worked on and are continuing to be worked on and will come to fruition."

Among the other issues addressed Tuesday:

– The NHL tweaked two rules covering hand passes. Minor penalties will now be assessed to players who put their hand over the puck in their own zone or use their hand to win a faceoff.

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– A discussion on the troubled ownership of the New Jersey Devils. "They're in the process of finishing their refinancing with the banks," said Bettman.

It's also fair to assume the commissioner spent considerable time discussing the impending CBA discussions. Asked to describe how he laid out the strategy to owners, Bettman replied: "I don't think I want to do that."

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