SEA ISLAND, Ga. — As the prospective ownership group from Seattle anxiously checked into this resort on Monday afternoon, the folks running the other 31 NHL teams got a business run-down on the opening day of Board of Governors meetings.
There was good news for general managers: Gary Bettman projected that next year’s salary cap will rise to about $83-million, meaning that there will be about $3.5-million more available to spend on payrolls in 2019-20.
“It could be a little bit more, could be a little bit less,” said Bettman.
Those managing a cap crunch certainly appreciate it.
The cap has risen steadily in recent years, going from $64.3-million in 2013-14 to $69-million to $71.4-million to $73-million to $75-million and finally $79.5-million this season.
“I think the fact the the salary cap continues to increase means revenues continue to increase, which means the state of the sport and the business is very healthy,” said deputy commissioner Bill Daly. “As healthy as it’s ever been. That’s good for us, it’s good for the players. I think it’s good for everybody.”
Seattle will take the floor on Tuesday morning following a vote on their expansion bid. They need three-quarters support to become the 32nd franchise, which is all-but assured.
The Seattle Hockey Partners are due to pay a $650-million expansion fee — 30 per cent more than Vegas doled out in June 2016 — which is another sign that league business is pretty strong right now.
Whispers coming out of the room Monday had Seattle starting play in 2021 rather than in 2020, as they’d originally hoped.
That could make for an interesting announcement on Tuesday morning. At one point the NHL Seattle group had a flag with “2020” flying on top of the iconic Space Needle, so this is definitely a change of plans.
However, with the KeyArena project already being forecasted for a November 2020 completion, this is the sensible choice. You can’t launch a team with six weeks of road games and expect to make a big impact back home.
On another note, the realignment that will see Arizona moved to the Central Division with Seattle joining the Pacific Division won’t come into effect until that 2021-22 season as well.
TROUBLE IN OTTAWA
Eugene Melnyk didn’t make it down to Georgia for the Board of Governors meeting, but his Ottawa Senators were still a hot topic of conversation.
Bettman updated owners on the status of Melnyk’s unravelling plan to build a new arena at LeBreton Flats, and his $700-million lawsuit against former business partner Trinity Development Group.
The commissioner told reporters that he’s “disappointed with how this played out, but these are complicated matters.”
He’d like to see the Senators find a home downtown eventually.
“I think it would be, for a whole host of reasons, nice,” said Bettman. “But Mr. Melnyk has said if he has to make Canadian Tire Centre work he can do that. But, again, let’s not draw any conclusions yet. This is a complicated situation.”
The league is willing to wade into the situation and offer support if needed, according to Bettman. He believes that they’ve been helpful in getting new arenas built in Edmonton and Pittsburgh in recent years.
Bettman said that nothing should be read into the fact Melnyk missed this meeting. He was in New York when the board last met on Oct. 2.
“There’s a variety of things going on, particularly in early December,” he said. “We have a number of owners who aren’t here — can’t make this meeting — he makes a large majority of our meetings. No, I don’t view that to be a source of concern.”
The future of the World Cup, which is currently linked with a potential re-opener of the collective bargaining agreement, remains undecided with time ticking on a decision.
The league has told the NHL Players’ Association that it needs to know by next month if the union is willing to go ahead with a World Cup in the fall of 2020. That involves extending the CBA, which would expire on Sept. 15 of that year if the re-opener were triggered.
“They know the timeframe,” said Bettman. “So the puck’s in their end.”
The commissioner didn’t seem to have any indication of which way the players are leaning.
He’s anxious to stage a World Cup four years after the last one in Toronto in order to build some momentum for the event. But the work has to start soon if it’s going to happen.
“The discussions that we have [with the NHLPA] were that if we’re going to do a World Cup, and do all of the planning necessary, if we don’t know by the 1st of the year or all-star then there’s no sense in trying to pull off a World Cup for 2020,” said Bettman. “For the last year and a half, two years, we’ve been anxious to anchor plans for a World Cup but for whatever reason the players’ association hasn’t been prepared to do that.”
CHUCK IN PHILLY
Seven months after electing not to renew Chuck Fletcher’s contract, Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold was singing his praises.
Leipold was thrilled to see Fletcher named the Philadelphia Flyers new general manager on Monday night.
“I think he’ll be absolutely fantastic in Philadelphia. He’s a great general manager,” said Leipold. “I think it’s just what Philly needs. I think everybody’s going to be happy: win, win, win.”
Fletcher spent nine years with the Wild before his contract expired after last season. He then joined the New Jersey Devils as an advisor before being called on to replace Ron Hextall by the Flyers.
Team president Paul Holmgren has made it clear that he expects his new GM to be aggressive in trying to improve the Flyers immediately.
“He was bold with us,” said Leipold. “We made some big moves. He’s not afraid to make moves. I can tell you that. Bold he can do.”
We’re told an expanded playoff format is not on the official agenda here, but that didn’t keep a couple governors from broaching the topic in the swanky hallways at The Cloister resort.
Bettman is not in favour — the commish made that very clear during his appearance on the 31 Thoughts podcast with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek — but a couple governors think he might eventually be won over if a plan can be formulated that limits the travel involved and doesn’t extend the length of the current playoffs by an appreciable amount.
So not an idea for today, it seems, but an idea that hasn’t completely gone away.