NHL Notebook: New-look international hockey event in 2021?

Elliotte Friedman goes 1-on-1 with the NHL commish who talks about the journey to get to puck and player tracking implementation, outdoor games for Dallas and Nashville and labour negotiations with the NHLPA.

SAN JOSE, California – In the heart of Silicon Valley, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy Bill Daly unveiled the revolutionary player and puck tracking technology, which the league has been developing and testing for three years and has been given the thumbs-up by the players.

Of course, a number of state-of-the-union topics were also brought up as reporters grilled the NHL brass on a variety of subjects.

Here are the highlights.

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New data off-limits in contract negotiations

The greatest concern from the NHLPA’s side on the fancy player and puck tracking that will be introduced for the 2019-20 season is that all this new data (skating speed, shot strength, etc.) now available to teams could be used against players in contract negotiations.

“There’s a segment of players who are concerned the stats could be too dominant in terms of measurables on how good a player is,” Daly said Friday.

No, the GPS chips won’t be able to calculate heart, map leadership, or measure character.

As a result, the sides have agreed that the data will be off limits in contract negotiations and arbitration cases.

Fine. But how does the league make sure the clubs don’t use the information they have?

“You tell ’em,” Daly said.

Stat accuracy an added benefit

Besides the smorgasbord of gambling and broadcast opportunities the tracking will open up, Mathieu Schneider of the PA noted the importance of improved statistical accuracy to the players.

Categories such as hits, giveaways, takeaways and even shots have fallen victim to human error and vary from game to game or venue to venue.

“The chip won’t lie,” Bettman said.

Schneider had his concerns about the implementation reducing athletes to series of numbers, but the players ultimately decided to not fight the future.

“The positives are going to far outweigh the negatives when it all shakes out,” said Schneider. “There’s a lot more to a hockey player than just the stats.

“How does Brett Hull score 80 goals when everyone knows he wasn’t the fastest skater on the ice?”

Bettman wants labour peace

Bettman described preliminary CBA discussions between the league and the PA as “cordial and constructive.”

Although there is a chance to extend the labour agreement prior to September’s reopener window, Daly said a CBA extension is not an essential result of these meetings and stressed that the sides are still in the “very early stages” of an agreement.

“I still consider ourselves three-and-a-half years out from contract expiration, so there’s a long way to go,” Daly said.

“Our relationship [with the PA] has evolved to a point far beyond where it’s ever been before. I think we communicate well on virtually every aspect of our business, and I think our interests are aligned.

“It’s about growing revenues in the sport.”

Under Bettman’s reign, an expiring CBA has always spelled a work stoppage, but as of now, the tone is definitively rosy.

“I’m certainly not looking for a fight,” the commissioner reiterated.

International best-on-best hockey returning in February 2021?

Although a 2020 World Cup has been ruled out, the idea of hosting an international competition in February 2021 is on the table, and the players have an appetite for one.

This hypothetical event would not be a traditional, two-week World Cup. A Ryder Cup–style contest and other formats are being considered.

One hurdle regarding player and puck tracking and all the second-screen fun it will offer: The wi-fi in the majority of NHL arenas will need to be upgraded to meet the tech’s standards.

That won’t be cheap.

“I think it’s at our expense,” Daly said.

Islanders’ playoff site unknown

If the New York Islanders, who enter the break at first place in the Metropolitan Division, qualify for the playoffs, no one knows (yet) where they’ll host playoff home games: Barclays Center or Nassau Coliseum.

That call will be made by the league in conjunction with the club and Barclays, which owns both facilities.

“I suppose the league has final say but at the appropriate time, all parties will get together and figure out what the best way to approach the playoffs would be,” Bettman said.

“The reports that we’re getting on the Belmont project are that everyone seems to be on track, we hope to have a groundbreaking in May or June.”

One-Timers

Installing a chip in the puck presents an opportunity to definitively know where it has crossed the goal line, but the NHL isn’t committing to using the chip for that purpose right away. … Seattle’s NHL franchise is targeting late summer to decide on its nickname and unveil its brand identity. … Although Bettman has offer some consult from the sidelines when called upon, he is staying out of the Ottawa Senators’ downtown mediation, describing it as “a party I haven’t been invited to.” … The NHL anticipates holding a couple more games in China early in the 2019-20 season, and Daly said the league is “enormously pleased” with the traction hockey has gained in that market. … The Predators get to participate in their first outdoor game, New Year’s Day versus the Dallas Stars at Cotton Bowl Stadium. … No, Gary Bettman, 66, hasn’t even considered retiring yet.

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