Hardly a decent bonfire in sight.
Oh, there’s the usual grumbling in hockey circles, naturally. People who love the game of hockey, and those who don’t, are always looking to tinker, to find ways to improve either the sport or the industry.
You can bet Gary Bettman welcomes all of our helpful suggestions.
Bettman and his NHL board of governors will meet next week on the California coast near Pebble Beach to consider the usual array of topics and issues without any headline-grabbing announcements likely to emerge. Stability is the name of the game right now, it seems, with the first World Cup of Hockey since 2004 now scheduled for next summer, an event that could significantly impact how the NHL looks at a wide variety of growth possibilities in the second century of its existence.
Does the Chinese market beckon? Will NHLers be part of the Olympics going forward? Will we ever see teams outside North America?
None of those specific topics will be resolved or even formally addressed next week. They’re more like larger issues hovering around the meetings at a time when the biggest threat to the game may be the declining Canadian dollar.
Here’s what they will be talking about:
What you need to know is there won’t be a formal recommendation from the board’s executive committee, which has interviewed the prime investors for both the Quebec City and Las Vegas expansion bids. Neither Quebecor nor would-be Vegas owner Bill Foley will be in attendance, either. Basically, with all the relevant information now in hand, the governors are expected to give Bettman a sense of where they want this expansion process to go, although it’s likely he already knows.
Splitting up at least $1 billion in expansion fees will be all that this means to some teams, who could use the immediate cash even if it means divvying up the yearly television revenues into slightly smaller pieces in a 32-team league.
A few clubs would prefer to look at relocation, but that seems unlikely. A very large problem is that the league doesn’t want to put a Quebec City team in the Western Conference, so realignment may be necessary if the league wants to go with two new teams.
This might be a brief discussion, or it could generate some extended debate. But there will be no decision on expansion next week, with the next meetings at the all-star game in Nashville next month a possibility to decide if Quebec City and/or Vegas will soon join the club.
What the governors will also hear again is that all the chatter about possible interest in a team in Seattle is just that, chatter.
DEPARTURE OF JOHN COLLINS
Unlike the extended departure of Tim Leiweke, chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Collins won’t be hanging around. In fact, his last day at the league’s New York office is Dec. 4.
Bettman will want to assure the governors that a succession plan is in place and that in the short term, the league won’t suffer with the loss of it’s No. 3 man. There is also likely to be discussion on player tracking and the progress of the much-ballyhooed deal with Major League Baseball’s Advanced Media (MLBAM), a decision announced in August that will see BAM take over the NHL’s digital initiatives. Both of this and player tracking were Collins initiatives.
COMPENSATION FOR GMS, HEAD COACHES
This is likely to be the biggest news out of the meeting as once again the NHL will go back to a system in which teams that hire executives and coaches under contract away from other clubs will not have to compensate their former teams.
Bettman was always against a compensation system, but several teams wanted it until clubs were forced to pay draft picks for individuals who had been fired by other teams.
Don’t expect any “grandfathering” of the system, however. Those teams that signed coaches or GMs under contract while the compensation system was in place – Edmonton with Peter Chiarelli, Columbus with John Tortorella etc. – will still have to pay those picks.
DROP IN SCORING
This may be a hot topic for fans and media, but Bettman has already indicated to the league’s GMs that if there’s going to be a debate on whether attempts need to be made to perk up scoring, it will occur at the GM meetings in March when there will be three days to spend on the issue.
That said, goal-scoring is down this season – Thursday’s eight games had a combined 36 goals, another night with less than an average of five per game – and you can expect that owners and governors will end up chatting about it informally, at the very least.
The biggest concern is that the league doesn’t want to return to the scoring patterns of the 1980s when there were more goals per game but the average nightly differential between winners and losers was significantly greater.
In other words, if there’s going to be more scoring, can it be done without creating more blowouts?
REPLAY REVIEW FOR GOALIE INTERFERENCE
This is gaining a great deal of attention these days, with the process of allowing referees to review their own calls at ice level using new tablet technology generating quite a few inconsistent results, particularly on goalie interference.
The league says the system is working, and it was only intended to allow the officials to overturn egregious missed calls. Instead, any number of goals have been disallowed by various bumps on goaltenders that weren’t initially called, and there have been suggestions it would be more effective to let the command centre in Toronto make these replay review calls.
There won’t be a decision on this, but governors will hear a report on it from hockey ops.
CONCUSSION SPOTTER PROGRAM
There’s a great deal of confusion, particularly with the public and media, over how this system is supposed to work, or whether it’s working at all. The governors will get a report on this along with other safety issues. Right now, there are league-appointed concussion spotters at every game, and it’s up to teams whether they want to use them or use ones they’ve hired themselves.
What actual power these spotters have in terms of removing players from games is unclear. Mostly, at this point, this seems to be a data-gathering exercise, with the league and NHL players association trying to devise a formal concussion detection system.
This, of course, is going on with a major class action lawsuit percolating in the background. The suit involves former players alleging negligence and fraud by the league in how it dealt with concussions over the years.
PLANS FOR 100TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS
There’s a great deal of chatter that while Toronto will get an outdoor game as part of it’s 100th birthday, which coincides with the league’s, Los Angeles may get the all-star game next season as that team celebrates 50 years in the league.
There are other cities hoping to land outdoor games as well, including Ottawa and Montreal.