NHL nearing final decision on possible expansion

Gary Bettman spoke ahead of the Stanley Cup Final , saying expansion news will come after the NHL board meets later in June.

PITTSBURGH – A decision on where the NHL is heading with expansion is down to its final days, although we won’t know for sure what the league has planned until a June 22 board of governors meeting in Las Vegas.

This has been a long, complicated process – longer than commissioner Gary Bettman originally anticipated – and clarity will arrive in one of three ways:

• The NHL will decide not to expand.
• It will choose to expand to one of Las Vegas or Quebec City.
• It will elect to expand to both Las Vegas or Quebec City.

The first decision will be made in the form of a recommendation from the board’s nine-member executive committee. That group is scheduled to meet in early June, according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, with a source suggesting it could come as soon as Thursday or Friday when the Stanley Cup Final takes a break to shift to San Jose.

From there, a two-thirds majority of the 30 team owners is needed to approve the recommendation.

“I’m not going to handicap what is going to happen,” Bettman said Monday during his annual state of the league address. “But when the board meets in Las Vegas on June 22, I am fairly certain we will know more than we do today.”

Many around the NHL feel that Las Vegas will likely be chosen as the sole expansion team at this time, with possible entrance coming during the 2018-19 season, rather than 2017-18 as originally expected.

However, expansion in general is far from a unanimous issue among the board so there is still some level of unpredictability to the process.

Bill Foley’s Las Vegas group is basically waiting to gain official entrance to the club – with T-Mobile Arena now complete and more than 14,000 season-ticket deposits already collected. The same goes for Quebecor’s Videotron Centre bid, although the weak Canadian dollar is thought to be an impediment there.

Bettman fielded several questions on the topic during his press conference before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, but didn’t want to reveal too many specifics.

“We’ll all know more after the executive committee makes a recommendation,” he said. “I have no doubt that recommendation will probably get leaked in advance of the board meeting. There will be plenty of time to speculate.”

The natural question that follows an expansion announcement is how the expansion draft will work, and it’s clear that progress has been made on that front. The NHL and NHL Players’ Association have essentially hammered out all of the details and they differ slightly from what was announced at the GMs meeting in March.

It was originally contemplated that the total salaries exposed by teams would have to amount to at least 25 per cent of their previous season’s payroll. That has since been dropped.

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They’ve also worked through how no-movement protection will be handled – with players that have full no-movement clauses required to be included among a team’s list of protected players. There are varying degrees of trade and waiver protection included in standard player contracts, but those with only no-trades can be exposed.

“A trade is a trade, and if you have a no-trade clause it doesn’t mean you can’t be exposed in an expansion draft,” said Daly.

The changes were made after an extensive look at how the rules would impact each individual offer. The soonest an expansion draft could be held is June 2017.

“We’ve kind of looked at everybody’s roster and kind of seen where they fit, seen what kind of protection they have to have,” said Daly.

Another important aspect of the conversation is what happens if a team has too many no-movement clauses and can’t fulfill the specifics outlined in the expansion draft rules. Daly indicated the penalty would be “significant.”

“It’s a loss of draft picks and/or players,” he said.

Finally, he added that an expansion team would be included in the draft lottery to determine how high it selects in the first round of its first draft. It has already been assigned an unannounced slot in Rounds 2 through 7.

The other big piece of news to come out of Bettman’s address is that the NHL’s participation in the 2018 Olympics is in serious jeopardy.

Thomas Bach, the new president of the International Olympic Committee, is against subsidizing athletes to come to the Games and that is a non-starter for the NHL. In the previous five Olympics the league has sent its players, the travel, accommodation and insurance costs were all covered.

If that doesn’t happen again, the NHL won’t be in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“I’m pretty sure our teams don’t want to pay for the privilege to disrupt our season,” said Bettman.

That amount of money in question is believed to be in the range of $10-million.

Even though there is still time to hammer out a deal – Daly says an agreement would have to be reached by December or January – the NHL isn’t very optimistic that one will emerge.

NOTES: Daly said the 2016-17 salary cap is “looking relatively flat” from its current spot at $71.4 million, which will come as bad news for those flying close to the sun. At one time it was projected to rise by as much as $3 million. … Bettman said that Penguins owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle aren’t feeling any urgency to sell the team after putting it on the open market last June. … It sounds like the World Cup sweaters will feature advertising on them: “I wouldn’t rule it out,” said Daly. … The Russian federation has been informed that defenceman Slava Voynov is ineligible to compete in the World Cup. He was added to that team’s roster last week.

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