LAS VEGAS – Gary Bettman says the NHL has received "no pushback whatsoever" from owners about the expansion draft rules that helped propel the Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup final in their inaugural season.
The commissioner reiterated during his annual state of the league address Monday that Seattle would be subjected to the same guidelines if it’s granted the NHL’s 32nd franchise.
"I think clubs have learned a lot," Bettman said before Game 1 of the Vegas-Washington Stanley Cup final. "There was a lot of talent that maybe wasn’t being utilized to their fullest extent, but it’s been exciting, and we needed to make the team more competitive at the outset than prior expansions because we’re in the salary cap era. This was the first expansion in the salary cap era, and as we afford all of our clubs an opportunity to be competitive, it wouldn’t have made any sense to not have the expansion team the same way.
"There’s been no pushback whatsoever."
The NHL doesn’t have a firm timeline on when its board of governors will formally vote on Seattle’s pending expansion application. It won’t happen at next month’s meeting here in Las Vegas but could be on the table as soon as the September gathering in New York.
"There is no delay. We just haven’t gotten the train to the station on time," said Bettman. "There are a number of bases we have to touch, a lot of due diligence that has to be done, a lot of interaction with the prospective ownership group, David Bonderman’s group, and so we think we’re on target. Depending on how everything goes, it wouldn’t surprise me that there is a possibility that in the fall, early winter at the latest, that this could be addressed by the board.
"But we’re not there yet, and there’s still work to be done."
On Monday night, deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed that Vegas will be exempt from the next expansion process. As Sportsnet reported earlier this year, the Golden Knights won’t share in the $650-million fee due to be paid by Seattle and therefore won’t have to lose a player.
The hopes of bringing a NHL team back to Quebec City appeared to be on thin ice earlier this month when Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs told reporters: "Quebec is challenged, OK? I’m going to put it nicely. They’re challenged. Look at the income base and the population base and there probably isn’t a smaller market, so they’re going to really have to distinguish themselves in some other way, I would think."
Jacobs is the chairman of the board of governors, but Bettman indicated that he wasn’t expressing a view shared by the league’s head office.
"He has one vote – equal to the other clubs," said Bettman. "And he may have an opinion, but in the final analysis, on important business matters, each club, each governor, decides, having reviewed all of the facts and circumstances and whatever materials are put together."
Quebec applied for expansion when Vegas was awarded its team two years ago but wasn’t successful in that process. The city also opened the NHL-ready Videotron Centre in September 2015.
A more appealing market for the league could be Houston, where Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has shown an interest in bringing a hockey team.
"We’ve had some discussions with Houston," said Daly. "I don’t think at this point in time there’s an interest in filing for an expansion franchise. I think they’re relatively new NBA owners, I think they’re getting their feet under them in terms of operating an NBA franchise, knowing what that means. The guess is at some point in time we’ll have a discussion with them as to whether there’s an NHL team that they want to pursue."
Daniel Alfredsson made headlines Sunday when he was quoted as saying that he hopes the Ottawa Senators get a new owner. But Bettman doesn’t expect owner Eugene Melnyk to sell the team any time soon.
"I can tell you for sure that the franchise is not for sale," said Bettman. "Eugene Melnyk is committed to the Senators and is passionate about them. What I found more intriguing about the article was there was no direct quote from somebody who’s not with the organization that was supposedly off the record. So I’m prepared to let it go."
The NHL is projecting the salary cap to rise from $75-million to somewhere between $78- and $82-million next season, according to Daly.
The final number will be decided on by the NHL and NHL Players’ Association. They’ve yet to sit down to discuss how much of an inflator they’ll apply for 2018-19 and expect to do so before the entry draft in Dallas next month.
Discussions continue on staging another World Cup, but it’s unclear when and where it might be held. The natural place for it on the calendar is September 2020, but an opener in the collective bargaining agreement means that it might come at the same time a lockout or work stoppage occurs.
That’s made it tough for the NHL and NHLPA to nail anything down.
"Without a focus on where and when we can have it, it’s difficult to kind of play it all out," said Daly. "We have had conceptual discussion on what we think the World Cup might look like and where we may fit it in and where they want to have it and where we want to have it. So we’ve had those discussions.
"It is difficult. The labour complications do make it difficult to have any kind of concrete discussions or planning."
For what it’s worth, Bettman noted during his remarks that he’s open to getting an early start on negotiations for the next CBA.
"There’s always good reason to see if we can work with the Players’ Association and ensure labour peace and stability for the game and our fans and the players and all the people that work at the clubs," he said. "We would love nothing more than to have an extended runway out of labour peace, and anything we can do to achieve that on a more than timely basis would be great."
Since Lamoriello was employed by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the time and Tavares remains under contract with the Islanders until June 30, the face-to-face meeting raised questions about tampering. But the league believes everything was above board.
"I wouldn’t be concerned about any potential tampering," said Daly. "The two organizations who really control that process are certainly comfortable with everything that transpired. From a league standpoint, certainly if the two franchises aren’t concerned, the league has no concerns."
The NHL is still holding out hope that the Arizona Coyotes might get a new rink. The team has struggled with attendance issues while playing out of the Gila River Arena in suburban Glendale and has seen a couple potential solutions fall through in more favourable locations.
Daly indicated that the Coyotes are still considering "at least three" different arena options.
"They’re working on it," he said. "We actually had a conference call on Friday of this week, so I think there continues to be a high level of confidence that they can get something done. A lot of different moving pieces, a lot of communities in the Valley are interested in helping them out and the benefits an arena can bring."