The November general managers’ meeting is now done. As usual, nothing was really decided, although some concerns were raised. Some insiders would suggest the Tampa Bay-Philadelphia trap issue and the Milan Lucic-Ryan Miller collision in the past few days made the meetings worthwhile. The agenda was rather thin without those two events.
The managers did voice their opinions concerning Brendan Shanahan’s process and rulings, but as expected when the decibels increased, the commissioner stepped in to defend the new system, and preach patience. Probably the right call, when you consider that we’ve only been playing regular season hockey for 45 days (of a 185 day season).
The only potential rule change that appeared to get any traction was hybrid icing, which appeared to have a bit more support this fall. When you consider the results of the Eric Nystrom-Taylor Fedun collision in pre-season, additional support isn’t surprising. Hockey operations used the USHL hybrid icing video to explain the execution and success of the rule, which appeared to help the managers understand it better. But I’m told while there will be further discussion in March, “It doesn’t have enough traction to go any further.”
Little or no realignment talk in Toronto Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean the league is closer to any type of agreement. This is a wide open topic, with teams in the East trying to protect their travel advantage at all costs. Keep in mind, Atlantic teams probably spend no more than 50 hotel nights on the road and have contracts with charter airlines for about 90 hours (at just under $ 20,000 per hour). A West Coast team could spend upwards of 150 hours for a charter plane contract, and probably more than 70 nights in hotels. The disparity of travel alone should be a consideration for realignment. All eyes will be on Pebble Beach, Calif., Dec. 5-6 for the realignment topic. It is hoped that a new system will be unveiled following that meeting.
There was a little CBA talk at the meetings. Bill Daly’s task over the next few months, with the help of NHL general counsel David Zimmerman, is to poll teams on their biggest contentions about the agreement. Daly presented a few of those issues to the managers Tuesday.
On that list is the future of the competition committee. And while there is always a discussion on who sits on the committee (players, managers, owners), the next CBA will hopefully better define its role, if in fact it has a role at all. There are many that think it has not done its duty for the game. I, for one, feel the exclusion of coaches from the group is a terrible mistake. Coaches find ways to win. In changing the rules of the game, the competition committee is challenging any coach to find loopholes in the rules.
Our pal Damien Cox’s item this week about Phoenix is spot on. The City of Glendale has maintained all along that they would not pay another $25 million in expenses after this year, and the owners have no appetite to carry another year alone. That means either a move or a local owner will have to step in. And while no one will go on the record, I am still hearing only one name as the person who would keep the team in Phoenix. Yup, that name is Jerry Reinsdorf.
On the topic of moving, the suitor would have to be a growing city with an antiquated building, strong economy, close proximity to rivals, and willing owners. While most would yell out Quebec City, I am told that Seattle is at the top of the list for relocation.
Key Arena, in the shadow of the Space Needle, was built in the early 1960s for the Seattle World’s Fair, and has always had a leaking roof and no private boxes. That’s why the NBA’s Sonics left for Oklahoma City a few years back, leaving a hole in the sports fans’ calendar for the winter months. I am told there are at least two groups capable and interested in moving a team to the Pacific Northwest, but (like Quebec City) the issue of a new building will handicap their chances.
Seattle is a top 25 media market, only 125 miles from Vancouver and has a rich tradition in minor pro and junior hockey. During my time with the league, I often lobbied for us to look at Seattle and still believe in its viability. And before all of Canada rips me, I think the NHL would be better suited going to Seattle, rather than Quebec City. That said, if two teams move, Quebec City would be there.
News and Notes:
– The other team that has been up for sale for a while, St. Louis, is inching closer to a deal with Matthew Hulsizer. Hulsizer still has a couple of conditions on his deal to satisfy the NHL and the current owners. I was told by someone close to the scene who said things are progressing at a faster rate than most expected, and we might even know more by the weekend. There are still a couple of questions to be answered, including the role of Dave Checketts and his SCP Group. If the Hulsizer deal does fall through, expect minority Blues owner Tom Stillman to be next in line.
– There are those in the league office who are now admitting that the NHL playing in Sochi is much closer than others realize. The pressure to play will only grow over the next three years, but if the owners agreed to go now, they would be losing a huge bargaining chip in the next negotiation with the players. Talk in the halls of the office would suggest the NHL knows it has a duty to the game to be at the Olympics in 2014. Just give the owners better accreditation, tickets and access and life is good.
– The GMs walked out of their meeting Tuesday with a little gift, courtesy of author/researcher Jason Farris. Farris delivered copies of his new book “Behind the Moves” to all of the managers. It is a fascinating account of the role of the manager, the history of the position, how they got their jobs and who influenced them. It is an absolutely fantastic coffee table book. Don’t believe me? Check it out here.