GMs wrap up meetings with plenty of noteworthy items discussed

Stephen Brunt and Jeff Blair delve deep into why NHL has failed and will never work in Arizona, but say there is much skepticism in both Seattle and Quebec as well.

• Olympics seem less and less likely
• Bye weeks unpopular
• Tweaks to icing rule considered

BOCA RATON, Fla. – The NHL’s general managers’ meetings wrapped up without any significant rule change recommendations, but there were plenty of noteworthy items discussed here this week.

Chief among them: The salary cap, which is currently on target to climb as high as $76 million next season.

“If you put a five per cent inflator and what revenues are, it will probably go up $2.5 or $3 million bucks,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Wednesday.

That was welcome news for those managing competitive cash-strapped teams – the likes of Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman or Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman.

There is, however, a caveat to the projected cap number.

As part of the collective bargaining agreement, the NHL Players’ Association has the right to invoke a five per cent inflator each season. The players have chosen to do that every year but one in the last decade, but concerns about skyrocketing escrow may keep them from doing so again this time around.

“It’s all a discussion and a negotiation with the players’ association,” said Daly. “And it has been a negotiated number every year since we’ve had a cap. I mean we’ll have that negotiation and discussion again.”

Those talks typically take place in June.

OLYMPICS

The rhetoric is getting pretty strong around the issue of participation in next year’s Pyeongchang Olympics.

Behind closed doors, the GMs were told that there has been no progress in negotiations with the International Olympic Committee. In front of the media, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman cast serious doubt on the possibility of his league taking part in a sixth straight Games.

“Nothing new,” said Bettman. “There is absolutely nothing new. I think the overwhelming sentiment of the teams is that it’s very disruptive on the season and there is somewhere between fatigue and negativity on the subject.”

The NHL hasn’t established a deadline for a final decision. It also hasn’t scheduled any more meetings with representatives from the IOC or International Ice Hockey Federation, according to Bettman.

Even though a deal wasn’t completed for the 2014 Sochi Olympics until June 2013 – roughly seven months before the tournament – Daly told Sportsnet that an understanding had been reached on the terms of that agreement by this point in time.

They are nowhere near that stage today.

“Unless something changes, then we’re not going,” said Daly.

The fundamental issue boils down to respect. In the past, the IOC has covered travel and insurance costs in exchange for the NHL shutting down its season for more than two weeks to release the players.

With the IOC no longer willing to pay those bills, the NHL feels it gets no tangible benefit for participating.

A four-man delegation of high-ranking Swedish hockey officials made a presentation to the GMs on Wednesday morning, and afterwards Tommy Boustedt indicated that he understood the NHL’s concerns about the Olympics.

“We don’t think there are any easy answers around this matter,” said Boustedt, the general secretary and CEO of the Swedish federation. “My personal opinion about this is that the IOC must understand that hockey is the most important sport in the Winter Olympics. And I really think that they should handle hockey in a better way than they do today.

“I think we need to be more appreciated.”

BYE WEEKS

If it were solely up to the GMs, the five-day bye week given to each team would be a one-and-done experiment.

“There was lots of talk about scrapping it altogether,” said Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray.

They are, however, required to do it again next season because of an agreement with the NHLPA. But the scheduling will be dramatically different – with 15 teams taking their break in January followed by the remaining 16 teams the next week.

That should create a better competitive situation since the first two opponents any team faces off the break will also have just had a bye of their own. That didn’t happen this season and teams went 10-16-4 coming out of the bye.

“We don't think it worked well,” said Bettman. “If this doesn’t work any better and we still get the negative feedback that we got then I think we’re going to have to consider getting rid of it.”

It’ll be a conversation for the meeting next March.

ARIZONA

Bettman clarified the motivation behind the letter he recently sent to the Arizona Legislature, where he claimed the Coyotes can’t remain in suburban Glendale on a long-term basis.

“I don’t want it misconstrued,” he said. “We are not giving up on the Coyotes in the Greater Phoenix Area. The fact that the Coyotes are even having discussions about moving out of Glendale is because the city of Glendale chose to terminate the long-term (arena lease) agreement they had with the team. Had they not terminated that agreement we wouldn’t be having this discussion. The Coyotes are looking at the numerous options they have in the Valley and we expect one of them to go to fruition.

“The purpose of the letter was there is a bill pending and I believe the city of Glendale was lobbying, saying if the other municipalities, the senators from those municipalities don’t approve it, then the team will have to stay in Glendale. That’s not going to be the case. The team has got a number of options and is going to pursue them so nobody should think that team is moving other than out of Glendale.”

RULE TWEAKS

A couple minor recommendations from the GMs will be considered by the competition committee for rule changes in 2017-18.

The first involves moving a faceoff to the neutral zone following a high-stick in the offensive end on a power play. The other would see coaches lose the ability to call a timeout and rest players following an icing.

“I’ve sort of been thinking that way all along: Why do you not allow a change after an icing, but then you’re allowed to take a timeout?” said Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

The American Hockey League instituted that rule this season.

EXPANSION DRAFT

There is already considerable buzz around the expansion draft the Vegas Golden Knights will undertake in June, but GMs are hoping to keep a lid on the conjecture around that process.

They’d prefer not to have their list of protected and unprotected players made public after submitting it to the NHL by 5 p.m. ET on June 17. At this point it appears as though the only formal announcement around the expansion draft will be the 30 players ultimately selected by Vegas, according to Daly.

That is scheduled for June 21.