PALM BEACH, Fla. – There is no need to head south to learn that NHL owners hold a dim view of allowing their players to participate in the Olympics.
And yet, we’ve come here this week to find out if there might still be a way forward in negotiations.
With the NHL Players Association having formally declined a league proposal to extend the collective bargaining agreement by three years in exchange for a fixed international hockey calendar that includes the 2018 Games, the question of “what’s next?” looms large.
Key members of the International Ice Hockey Federation gathered Wednesday in Switzerland to discuss the plan for financing travel and insurance costs associated with the event. The NHLPA’s executive board has conducted conference calls and the players remain keen to partake in a sixth straight Olympic tournament.
Now the NHL’s 30 team owners – the folks who sign the cheques and receive nothing tangible in return for shutting down during the Games – are set to discuss the issue at their annual December board of governors meeting on Thursday and Friday.
The group’s collective feelings aren’t expected to be voiced in the form of a vote, or even a major pronouncement, but it will be interesting to see how they instruct commissioner Gary Bettman to proceed from here.
A final decision needs to be made by the end of January – “This isn’t drifting into the spring,” Bettman said at the recent Prime Time Sports conference in Toronto – and talks have essentially been at a standstill since the NHLPA declined the NHL offer at the end of last week.
“Ultimately, it’s a decision from an NHL standpoint that the owners are going to make,” Bettman said in November. “I know there’s some grumpiness, I don’t know exactly how much, on the whole process of disrupting the season.”
He’ll gain a lot more clarity in the days ahead, and perhaps the rest of us will as well.
There are a lot of voices and a lot of moving parts in the Olympic discussion, but the owners are the linchpin to any potential agreement. That’s why the topic is expected to generate the biggest headlines at this gathering.
Here’s a look at some of the other items the NHL’s powerbrokers will be talking about:
The amount of money teams can spend on players hasn’t grown to the degree many expected coming out of the 2012-13 lockout. The salary cap went from $64.3-million in 2013-14 to $69-million to $71.4-million to its current spot at $73-million.
So what happens next?
An update of the league’s business situation will include an early projection of where things look to be headed with the cap in 2017-18.
We’re still months away from the final calculation – the official number won’t be finalized until late June – but teams will gain a clearer picture as they start to make personnel decisions early in the new year.
Those include possibly extending their own players (veterans currently on one-year deals, such as Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Radulov, aren’t permitted to sign new extensions until after Jan. 1) and the busy period leading up to the March 1 trade deadline.
COACH’S CHALLENGES, CONCUSSION SPOTTERS, GOALIE EQUIPMENT, HITTING AND MORE
This is more of a business gathering than a hardcore hockey talk – although several current general managers and former star players have an alternate governor title and are eligible to attend.
Colin Campbell, the NHL’s senior vice-president and director of hockey operations, is scheduled to deliver an update on issues around the game.
He’ll review items discussed during last month’s GM meetings, including the implementation of league-appointed concussion spotters this season, a potential rethinking of how Rule 48 governing blindside hits is enforced and some concerns voiced by teams about the way expanded video review and the coach’s challenge is working.
The board previously approved changes to goaltending equipment for this season, but they aren’t yet in effect league-wide. Some goalies are already using the more streamlined pants – Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy has posted two shutouts with them – while others are resisting.
You never truly know what might come out of these meetings.
Two years ago, without any prior speculation or media leaks, Bettman announced to reporters that a Las Vegas group headed by Bill Foley was given permission to start taking season-ticket deposits to gauge the suitability of the market.
Just like that, the path to a 31st franchise appeared.
There isn’t expected to be any formal discussion about Quebec City, Seattle or the opening of another formal expansion bid process here this week – according to those who would know – but it’s pretty safe to assume that the NHL will look to balance its conferences with the creation of a 32nd team at some point in the future.
When that ultimately happens, it will be the men and women who control existing NHL clubs that make the determination on timing.
Yes, we’re talking about the same group of people who are gathered at The Breakers resort for meetings Thursday and Friday.