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NHL All-Star Game: Four takeaways from Gary Bettman's press conference

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USATSI

NHL All-Star Game: Four takeaways from Gary Bettman's press conference

SAN JOSE -- The NHL All-Star Game provides a rare opportunity to talk with commissioner Gary Bettman about the statue of the league, and he delivered some notable updates when speaking to the media Friday.

Here are the four main takeaways from Bettman’s press conference -- and what came after.

Cautious optimism as CBA negotiations begin

Mathieu Schneider is a veteran of four NHL work stoppages. The special assistant to NHLPA head Donald Fehr was a player during a strike and two lockouts, including one that wiped out a whole season. He also worked with the players’ association during the last lockout in 2012-13.

Both the NHL and NHLPA can opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement this September. This time, however, Schneider believes things feel different.

“I think the thing that stands out to me the most,” Schneider told reporters Friday after Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly spoke, “is we’re able to have these discussions with a lack of tension. … And we’re able to have these discussions now without [it], without any wrongs being built up, and it’s been very positive so far.”

Daly noted that the relationship between the league and the players’ association “has evolved to a point far beyond where it’s ever been before. I think we communicate very well on virtually every aspect of our business, and I think our interests are aligned.”

Will the positivity ultimately mean anything? Schneider said it’s too early to tell, and the players want to see the process play out. Bettman, meanwhile, reiterated that the NHL is “not looking for a fight” -- the exact phrase he used a year before the 2004-05 lockout began.

But, even with potentially thorny issues remaining (we’ll all learn a lot about escrow in the coming months), both sides seem optimistic at this stage of their negotiation.

Player tracking: Coming to a city near you

So, about that player tracking. All-Star weekend marked the final phase of its testing, a culmination of an effort the league said began with the “glowing puck” at the 1996 All-Star Game in Boston.

Starting in the 2019-20 season, every arena will be outfitted with more than dozen antennae in the rafters and four cameras to support tracking. Every player will have a sensor placed in their shoulder pads, and every puck will contain a sensor.

Bettman promised “inch-level accuracy.”

“We’ll instantaneously detect passes, shots and positioning precisely,” he said. “It will be equally accurate in tracking players -- their movement, speed, time on ice, you name it.”

The NHL hopes the data will enhance its broadcasts, improve tracking of old (and new) statistics, and engage with younger fans. After some resistance from older players, the NHLPA signed off on tracking “with some protections,” according to Schneider. He revealed the data that player and puck tracking provides will not be used in salary negotiations or salary arbitration.

Games, games and more games

Bettman wrapped up his opening remarks by announcing the NHL’s slate of outdoor and international games for next season. Those include:

  • Preseason games in Switzerland and Germany
  • A season-opening game in Prague, Czech Republic, and a regular-season game in Stockholm, Sweden
  • The Dallas Stars hosting the Nashville Predators at the Cotton Bowl in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2020
  • The Colorado Avalanche hosting the Los Angeles Kings at Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium on Feb. 15, 2020

Daly said the NHL anticipates “presenting a couple more games” in China next season, but neither he nor Bettman announced who the NHL had in mind to headline its international slate next season.

Could the Sharks play in one of those games? It’s worth noting that majority owner Hasso Plattner was born in Berlin, the site of the NHL’s last regular-season game in Germany, and the Sharks opened their 2010-11 season abroad in Sweden.

San Jose a model for Seattle?

The Sharks will have a new rival in the Northwest in the 2021-22 season, when the unnamed Seattle franchise joins the NHL as its 32nd team. While San Jose hosted its second NHL All-Star Game this weekend, Bettman was asked what Seattle could learn from the Sharks’ success.

The short answer? A lot.

"This team has always been well-owned,” Bettman said, “whether it was Gordon Gund initially or Hasso Plattner now. This team has had incredible stability. Doug Wilson has been the [general manager] for as long as I can remember.

“The organization does everything in a first-class way, and the organization ... has, from Day 1, been an important part of the community [and] investing in the community. Whether its building rinks, or being involved in enterprises that make positive impacts in people's lives. And so, across the board they've touched all the bases."

Sharks counting on certain familiar faces to step up in coming season

Sharks counting on certain familiar faces to step up in coming season

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks know there are new opportunities on the table ahead of the 2019-20 season, and not just for the new crop of fresh faces that have entered training camp. Some more familiar faces have the chance to step up and take on bigger roles for San Jose.

The question now is: Are they up to that challenge?

Here are just a few players who have the opportunity to step it up big time ahead of the new campaign:

Tim Heed

The Swedish defenseman was one of two players last season who were tasked with filling in when Erik Karlsson and Radim Simek both came out of the lineup with injuries. Now, after inking a one-year deal with the Sharks over the summer, Heed has the opportunity to really make an impact.

Heed spent some time playing alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic last year, a pairing that could be revisited now that Vlasic's former de facto partner, Justin Braun, was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers. With Karlsson likely remaining linked up with Brenden Dillon and Radim Simek being paired back up with Brent Burns when he returns to action, Heed could find himself back on Vlasic's right side. 

But Heed isn't a shoo-in for the job. San Jose acquired right-handed blueliner Dalton Prout over the summer and has a couple promising young defensemen coming up the pipeline. How Heed skates over the next couple of weeks could say a lot about where he'll be in the lineup at the start of the new season.

Melker Karlsson

Speaking of Justin Braun, San Jose will miss his presence on the penalty kill. His absence affords players like Karlsson the chance to step up and help make the Sharks' kill as dominant as it was at the very beginning of last season. (Remember, even when the team wasn't playing particularly well, their penalty kill was still pretty darn good.)

But despite being a guy coach Peter DeBoer loves having as an option to move throughout the lineup, Karlsson still has to be better. His numbers have taken a bit of a dip over the last couple of seasons, and there is going to be competition within the bottom-six for a starting spot. 

Any kind of boost in Karlsson's game will help the team out.

Antti Suomela

After a couple of good games at the start of last season, the Finnish forward was reassigned to the AHL and had trouble getting things going with the Barracuda. When NBC Sports California caught up with Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer midway through last season, he said Suomela was still figuring things out.

“With him, the work ethic is there, and he has a big compete to his game,” Sommer complimented back in January. “I think he just has to figure out the North American game. Things happen a lot quicker here than where he was at. But he’s picking it up.”

With roster spots up for grabs this preseason, this is the opportune time for Suomela to put what he's learned on tape.

[RELATED: Why Sharks confident they can make up for lost firepower]

Aaron Dell

Not to sound like a broken record, but neither Martin Jones nor Aaron Dell played particularly well last season and that has to change if the Sharks are going to remain a threat in the West. Dell, in particular, has a prime chance this preseason to right the ship. 

As Dell told NBC Sports California on the first day of training camp, the previous season is in the past regardless of how good or bad it was. 

"You're only as good as your last game, that's kind of how it is," he explained. "They want to see how you are now and how it was then doesn't really matter. You always have to perform."

DeBoer told the press he wants to give both goalies the chance to get a couple of tune-up games in before the regular season starts. That being said, the team's netminding prospects will get a look at some point as well. 

Why Sharks are confident they can make up for lost offensive firepower

Why Sharks are confident they can make up for lost offensive firepower

SAN JOSE -- There has been a lot of talk outside the Sharks dressing room about whether this season's roster can make up for the offensive firepower the team lost during the offseason.

Sure, some of that talk may be circulating within the dressing room as well. But San Jose knows it has the tools to fill the void -- regardless of what the outside world is saying.

"I think the media's going to talk about those things," defenseman Brenden Dillon said as camp opened up. "And in our room too -- there are lockers that are open. There are positions open. You see different line combinations throughout camp."

In addition to losing regular-season goals leader Joe Pavelski (Dallas) for their upcoming campaign, San Jose will be without depth scorers Joonas Donskoi (Colorado) and Gustav Nyquist (Columbus), as well as defenseman and penalty-kill staple Justin Braun (Philadelphia).

While most NHL teams see some sort of turnover in the offseason -- heck, the Sharks are no strangers to how the business of hockey works -- there has been plenty of speculation ahead of the 2019-20 campaign as to how the Sharks will compete since they didn't add a big-name player to their roster to make up for their losses

But as Dillon explained, he and his teammates have to focus on the guys who are on the roster with them right now --- not who they're missing from last year.

"I think it's about realizing the opportunity for us," he summarized. "Whoever's in this room, whoever's dressed for game nights, that's your teammate. That's who you're going to battle with."

Logan Couture had a similar message on the first day of training camp. As hard as it may seem to fill in for the departed players, that's part of the game. Plus, it gives emerging players like Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, and Kevin Labanc the chance to fill in those roles.

"It's not an easy task, but that's the way it works," the captain said. "Same thing happened when Patty (Marleau) moved on somewhere else. Other guys got opportunities to step up and our scouting staff did a tremendous job bringing in European players as well as Timo and Banker, guys like that they drafted. There's a new wave of younger players we're excited about and hopefully this year they can break through like Timo and Banker and Tommy Hertl did."

The Sharks are, in fact, putting a lot of stock in the crop of youngsters that have come into this year's training camp. General manager Doug Wilson went so far as to say earlier this month the team is "as excited about this group of forwards coming in as we've ever been." 

[RELATED: Why Sharks' alternate captains are just as important as Couture]

After just a couple days of practicing and scrimmaging, those younger players already are starting to show that they are ready to compete for big jobs.

Seeing such positive results at the start of the preseason makes it easier for the Sharks to look forward with the players they currently have in their dressing room. 

"I think it just shows the future is bright for us," Dillon said. "And I think for a lot of -- whether it's analysts or (whoever) -- saying we've got 'too many holes to fill' and missing too many things, camp so far has been really good, and there's a lot of talent."