Gary Bettman was right, NHL compensation policy didn’t work

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman discusses the elimination of the league’s executive compensation policy, as decided by at the board of governors meetings.

PEBBLE BEACH, California—Gary Bettman can be a persuasive guy, doubly so when he’s in an I-told-you-so mood.

So a measure adopted by the NHL 18 months ago against Bettman’s advice – forcing teams to compensate other teams for hiring coaches and executives – died a quick death Tuesday at the league’s board of governors meetings.

“The system we had worked well,” said Bettman. “We deferred to the will of our GMs for a year. We tried it. Now we’ve scrapped it.”

While teams who signed coaches and GMs under contract to other teams since June, 2014 will still have to cough up those draft picks, from here on teams won’t be required to do so.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, for example, will still have to pay a third round pick to Detroit for signing coach Mike Babcock, and a third round pick to New Jersey for hiring Lou Lamoriello.

“It’s water under the bridge,” said Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum. “Those were the rules at the time.”

Calgary Flames president Brian Burke was one of the fiercest proponents of the compensation system, but he backed off that position as well.

“Once I heard the NHL’s reasons. . .they were compelling reasons,” he said.

The NHL went away from any kind of compensation system in 2006 after the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins got in a nasty squabble over Boston’s hiring of Peter Chiarelli. Some teams, however, felt they were losing quality people from their hockey organizations that they had worked hard to recruit and develop, and last year the GMs convinced Bettman to try a new compensation system under a specific set of rules.

But when teams found themselves compensating other teams for coaches or executives who had been fired – Columbus was outraged to have to pay Vancouver a second round pick to be able to sign fired head coach John Tortorella – the new plan started to attract more critics.

Now, teams with coaches or executives under contract can simply agree to let other interested teams talk to those individuals, or they can refuse it. 

“The old system worked better,” said Bettman. “The new system wasn’t worth the debate and uncertainty that flowed from it.”

This was the one solid piece of news from these meetings, which otherwise were dominated by expansion talk. Las Vegas and Quebec City are being considered, but the league hasn’t given approval to having those cities join the league, and has no timetable for doing so.

It’s expected the expansion issue will be revisited again next month when the board meets at the All-Star Game in Nashville.

Bettman was also asked about the news that the family of the late Steve Montador is suing the NHL for the “repetitive head trauma” Montador received during years in the league when he found many times.

Bettman said he was aware of the suit filed in federal court.

“But we’re not litigating publicly,” he said.

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