ST. LOUIS -- Gary Bettman wouldn't even allow the first question to be asked because the NHL commissioner knew what it would be.
Bettman, the league commissioner the past 25 years, knew questions would abound regarding St. Louis' interest in the NHL All-Star Game upon his visit to St. Louis and Scottrade Center on Thursday while making his annual visit to St. Louis, something he said he does with all cities and franchises once a year.
"And the answer to the first question is yes, if they finish all the renovations, we will consider St. Louis for an All-Star Game," Bettman said before the Blues took on the Colorado Avalanche. "We had a great Winter Classic here a little over a year ago (Jan. 2, 2017) and we're thrilled to have the Blues doing as well as they are."
Bettman then took it a step further when asked more in depth regarding the All-Star Game, which the Blues have targeted for 2020 or 2021. San Jose was awarded the game in 2019.
"I think it's fair to say if all the upgrades are completed and the money is put into the building as it needs to be, there will be an All-Star Game here," Bettman said. "I can't give you the date, so I'm not making an official announcement or award, but there's no reason we wouldn't bring an All-Star Game here. We have some other commitments that we have to make in some other buildings, but if this building continues on the path it's on and the things are done that need to be done, we'll be here with an All-Star Game at some point. I don't have any doubt about that."
The Blues last held an All-Star Game here in 1988, at The Arena, a game won by the Wales Conference 6-5, led by Mario Lemieux's six points (three goals, three assist). The only Blues skater to play in that game was defenseman Rob Ramage.
Since then, Montreal has held it twice, Los Angeles has held it twice and Tampa, which had it this season, has held it twice. And San Jose, which also had it in 1997, will have held it twice since St. Louis had it.
Bettman was in town and took a tour of the building and received updates on renovations and future plans for the building from Blues chairman Tom Stillman and president of business operations Chris Zimmerman.
"As you know, I try to do during a course of a season, I like to spend at least one day with each of our clubs for a game," Bettman said. "Today, I had meetings with Tom, Chris and the rest of the organization, sponsors, we had a luncheon, I met with season ticket holders, I get to spend some time with all of you (media) and I took a tour of the building in terms of the upgrades and renovations that took place. I think the lighting is incredible in terms of making this building seem more vibrant and alive, the video board is terrific, the ice is better and I've seen what they've done with the seat modifications and I've seen plans for everything else they're doing. I've seen the plans for the four-sheet rink at Maryland Heights and so it's been an informative, good day. A lot of good interaction and happy to be here."
With all that the Blues have done and are in the process of doing couldn't go unnoticed, and the performance and work done during the 2017 Winter Classic certainly didn't go unnoticed by the commissioner.
"It certainly doesn't hurt," Bettman said. "We brought the Winter Classic here knowing it would be successful. There are great hockey fans, great sports fans in St. Louis. We knew when we awarded it, it was at a sensitive time and we thought it would be good for the city to bring a major event here. It reinforced everything I believed about this market as a sports and hockey market. The good experience didn't dampen our enthusiasm, to the contrary.
"... I wasn't here to go through the evaluation process. I was interested to see, and Tom and Chris were anxious for me to see all the changes in the building, all of which are terrific, and the plans for the other upgrades for the building. We have a process we go through, there's a ton of interest in our events, so we'll continue to go through the process as we do, evaluating all of the submissions and requests for the All-Star Game."
Bettman feels the Blues are financially in a stable position and credited Stillman and his ownership group for how far they've brought the franchise in the nearly six years since they purchased the team from Dave Checketts in May of 2012.
"I would venture to say that the strength of this franchise has never been greater," Bettman said. "I think with Tom Stillman and local ownership group has really strengthened not just the franchise itself for its competitiveness on the ice, but its roots in the community, the stability, the ability to have resources for success. I like what I see. I think they've done a phenomenal job. We're thrilled with the Blues' future is as bright as it is.
"... If you look at all the vital signs, whether it's performance on the ice, whether it's attendance, whether it's the activities in the community to grow the game of hockey, whether it's activities in the community that can make a difference in people's lives, which is something as a league we're committed to, they're checking all the boxes and it's great to see. This is a great city. This is a world-class city with great sports fans. I don't think it's a coincidence that the Cardinals typically lead the league or at the top of the baseball league in attendance. This franchise as well, they play in a big building, and the team's performance reflects the energy of the city."
Bettman also addressed the looming issue of goaltender interference, which has been a focal point that's led to a number of head-scratching calls from officials and the situational room in Toronto.
"It's probably gotten too much attention, which is probably collectively all of our faults," Bettman said. "I mean that from the league standpoint, coaches, players, managers. This notion that nobody knows the standard, that's not true. We haven't changed the standard. The officials are calling the same standard they've been calling for the last 15 or so years. What has happened is the intensity, the scrutiny that coaches challenges get has caused to us over-evaluate the call. The coaches challenge for goaltending interference was intended to correct an obvious error. Not whether there was incidental contact or more, it was whether you called a goaltender interference and disallowed a goal and the offensive player never touched the goalie. It was his own man, it was his own man's stick, the official thought he bumped the goaltender and he didn't. Or the contrary. You have a case it appeared as if the goaltender was interfered with and he wasn't. It wasn't supposed to be over-analyzed. Now, I understand if I'm a coach, and it's declared that I'm wrong, I don't like it, so I'll blame the league, I'll blame the standard, what have you. We're probably going to look at fine tuning exactly how we do this, but I think it's getting a disproportionate amount of attention. Back to the coaches challenge on offside, we went to a two-minute penalty, maybe that's something we'll look at for goaltender's interference. Last year at this time, there were 77 offside challenges, this year 40, so we're not getting as many calls. Both in calling for a coaches challenge, in terms of how it's being reviewed by Toronto and the officials, we may be overdoing it, but the standard is the standard and hasn't changed. Looking at video should enable everybody to make a better call. If you're on the wrong side of the call, you're not going to like it. But we're going to see if we can tweak it in the offseason."
Bettman was specifically asked about the play that resulted in a goal for Boston on Feb. 1, in which Jake Allen was the goaltender in question, and the report that officials on the ice told Blues coaches that Allen wasn't in position to make a save, so the assumption was to award the goal to David Krejci.
"But that's all part of it," Bettman said. "Do you have a chance to reset? How much contact was there? Is the puck really in before the interference? I don't want to use a trite analogy. Each of these cases is like a snowflake. They're all different. Again, the intention was the obvious, glaring error, not was it marginal, could it go either way, because it's a judgment call and we've lived with that forever and using video doesn't give us absolute certainty. What we want to try to do is make the better call. Could there be a better call because there was something the official didn't see? And I think we've gotten a little too far away from that."
All in all, the Blues are in a good place. In the latest report from Forbes, the Blues' net worth is $450 million, up from the $180 million price tag Stillman and his group purchased the team for. The Blues' rank is 17th in the NHL, and Bettman always believed Stillman's group could thrive.
"Well, there were a couple of things," Bettman said on reasons why. "Getting to know Tom and his passion and the fact that this is a native St. Louis group with resources to give this franchise and this city what it needed in terms of connecting the fans to the team. This was all about hockey in St. Louis and the group that Tom put together represented the strength that perhaps this franchise lacked at various times in its history and the commitment both financial and emotional. And they've turned out to be great."