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“When you’re in Vancouver or Salt Lake City, there’s less travel and you’re in the North American TV time zone. That’s a real benefit. But when you’re in far-away places _ you’re nine time zones ahead of the East Coast (in Sochi, Russia) and the games are on between 4 in the morning and 2 p.m., the benefit is not quite so clear.”

Those fans who still deride Bettman’s lack of a “real” hockey background have to concede he’s grown into the role. They find it tougher to doubt his smarts, and especially his commitment to hockey’s long-term health. Even his gambles are looking better.

Roots have begun to sprout in some of those non-traditional markets the league ventured into _ California sent the fourth-most players to one of the league’s recent development camps, trailing only long-time hockey hotbeds Minnesota, Michigan and New York _ and an ever-widening circle of international players will likely ensure a reliable stockpile of talent for years to come.

The one question Bettman didn’t have to think long about was rating his own job performance.

“I don’t grade myself. I’ll leave that to others. In some respects,” he said finally, “it’s always going to be a work in progress.”

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org