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Commissioner Gary Bettman says NHL officials ‘best in the world’

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during news conference before Game 1 their NHL Stanley Cup Final hockey series between Chicago

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during a news conference before Game 1 in their NHL Stanley Cup Final hockey series between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: July 15, 2013 7:28PM

NHL officials aren’t perfect, commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged Wednesday. But they’re trying to get better all the time.

‘‘Whether or not I’m pleased with it isn’t the point,’’ Bettman said. ‘‘We’re constantly trying to make it better. But it involves a
human element, and in an era where there are constantly replays, angles, slow motion — all things the officials don’t get to do in real time — I think their performance holds up pretty well. Is it perfect? No. But that’s what we strive for.’’

During his annual ‘‘state of the game’’ news conference before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at the United Center, Bettman
defended his officials, who have been criticized for inconsistency and poor judgment in the playoffs.

‘‘The officials in this league are the best in the world — not just in hockey, but in any sport,’’ Bettman said. ‘‘I believe they have the most difficult job, and it always seems to undergo even more intense scrutiny at this time of year.’’

Among the most acute examples came late in Game 7 of the Blackhawks’ second-round series against the Detroit Red Wings, when referee Stephen Walkom called
coincidental minor penalties on the Hawks’ Andrew Shaw and the Red Wings’ Gustav Nyquist, nullifying Niklas Hjalmarsson’s tiebreaking goal with 1:46 left in regulation.

‘‘This is a game of errors,’’ Bett-
man said. ‘‘Coaches make them, players make them and, occasionally, officials make them. We constantly critique, supervise and coach them. They’re held
accountable for their performance. And no matter what they do, they get criticized. If they call penalties at the end of the game, people get hysterical and say, ‘You shouldn’t call penalties like that at the end of a playoff game.’ If they don’t call penalties, they’re not calling it and they’re letting the standards slip.’’

Bettman also lauded fans who have been ‘‘nothing short of spectacular’’ during the NHL’s recovery from a lockout that nearly canceled the 2012-13 season. Overall attendance was 97 percent of capacity during the regular season and has been more than 100 percent of
capacity in the playoffs. TV ratings are strong across the board.

‘‘We thank them for that,’’ Bett-
man said, noting that ‘‘the good news [is] we have a long-term agreement, up to a decade of labor peace.’’

While the NHL appears to be as popular as ever after the lockout, Bettman’s popularity is flat at best. That prompted a question about whether he will present the Stanley Cup to the winning team’s captain, as has been the custom, and subject himself to some disapproving fan reaction.

‘‘Yes,’’ he said without commenting further.

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