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TSN Senior Correspondent

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The NHL is trying to keep commissioner Gary Bettman off the witness stand.

The league is continuing to make legal arguments in a U.S. federal court that Bettman should not immediately be compelled to testify about matters related to the NHL concussions lawsuit.

Lawyers for former players wrote to the NHL on Feb.23 asking to set up a time and location to question Bettman. The league refused that request, saying information the commissioner might offer is available from other witnesses.
The players' lawyers, in turn, went to a judge and asked that Bettman be forced to testify before July 1.

Late Wednesday night, the NHL filed more court documents supporting its argument that Bettman should not be required to testify.

The league said deposing Bettman would be premature.

"They want to start at the end and work backwards, deposing Commissioner Bettman and then filling any gaps in the information he provides through depositions of lower-level employees," the NHL's lawyers wrote in documents obtained by TSN.

"Plaintiffs have already received dozens of names of potential witnesses with knowledge of issues relevant to team safety and player concussions through initial disclosures and the NHL's interrogatory responses. Thus, they have plenty with which to 'start proving their case.'

"The NHL identified 20 other individuals who have 'discoverable substantive information' in its initial disclosures."

A group of former NHL players including Joe Murphy, Bernie Nicholls and Gary Leeman charge that the NHL did not do enough to protect them from head injuries before it created a committee to study head trauma in 1997. Even after that, the players charge the committee's findings were not adequately shared with players.

The NHL players filed the suit in November 2013 after a group of nearly 4,500 former NFL players reached a settlement with the NFL over similar concussion-related complaints.

The NHL noted in its latest court filings that the former football players in 2012 tried to compel the testimony of Steve Bornsten, the CEO of the NFL Network. The judge in that case, however, refused the request.

"Before a deposition of Bornstein may proceed, plaintiffs must first make a good faith effort to obtain any relevant discovery through a less intrusive means from persons who report, directly or indirectly, to Bornstein," the judge in the NFL case wrote, according to the NHL's filing.

The discovery of information and documents in the NHL case began on Jan. 15, 2015. Nearly nine months later, lawyers for the former players say, the plaintiffs have received only 7,772 pages of documents, consisting only of insurance policies and the NHL's official guide and record book.

But in a March 11 letter to judge Susan Nelson, which was also filed in court late Wednesday, NHL attorney John Beisner wrote that it's the plaintiffs who are failing to hand over information in a timely manner.

"Even though their discovery burdens in the matter are substantially less than the NHL's, plaintiffs have yet to produce any documents," Beisner wrote. "And given plaintiffs' refusal to provide medical record authorizations, it is virtually impossible that the time-consuming process of collecting those materials can be completed by the end of June."

The league has written in court filings that it may call current and former NHL team player reps to testify in the lawsuit, as well as the agents of current and former players.

It's unclear which former players or player agents have agreed to testify on behalf of the league against the former players.