NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman offered pessimism on Olympic participation, optimism about the coach’s challenge and some frustrating vagueness on the League’s potential expansion before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh.
First, the good news: The NHL announced that its average attendance of 17,481 fans per game is a new “full-season” record. (With the usual caveat that the League tabulates attendance via tickets distributed.)
Here is what Bettman and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said on several topics:
The Executive Committee will recommend on expansion well ahead of that Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas, which takes place ahead of the NHL Awards on June 22.
The options, according to Bettman, are to expand by one or two teams; to defer expansion; or to decide that the NHL will not expand.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said that the earliest the NHL could add expansion teams was for the 2017-18 season, but that the NHL could defer expansion “for a year or more.”
Bill Foley, the potential Las Vegas owner, said rumors that he would pull his bid if an expansion team isn’t awarded in 2017-18 were “bad info.”
Bettman said that the potential for an expansion candidate to pull their bid because of a deferment “is not something that we’re focused on right now.”
Bettman said he’s not concerned about the Oakland Raiders potentially moving to Las Vegas.
“Our own belief if the NFL comes to Vegas at some point: So be it,” said Bettman. “If Vegas is going to get a hockey team and/or a football team, a lot is involved in that. I don’t think anyone can say with certainty that that’s close to being a done deal.”
Bill Daly said the rules have “continued to develop over time,” but that the rules are “nailed down” to the extent they need to be.
The NHL expansion draft outline was reported earlier this year, and caused a stir. Since then, there’s been some clarification.
1. Daly said that first and second-year “professionals” will be exempt from the draft, but there’s a “specific procedure” in place to define what a professional is.
2. Daly said that the “minimum cap hit” provision has been dropped; i.e. having a minimum amount of cap-related salary made available in the expansion draft.
3. On the no-movement and no-trade clauses, Daly said the latter wouldn’t prevent a player from being exposed in the draft. A no-move clause, however, means a team would have to protect that player and they would count against a team’s total.
4. If a team, for whatever reason, violates the expansion draft rules, there will be “significant penalties” including loss of draft picks or players.
Also, Daly said that an expansion team or teams wouldn’t be handed the first or second overall pick in the NHL Draft, but would be placed in the draft lottery.
Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins Ownership
One year ago, Bettman was surprised by an announcement by the Pittsburgh Penguins that owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle were looking to sell their shares of the team. But as the Penguins play in the Stanley Cup Final, Bettman said that the team is not actively seeking a buyer at this moment.
"My understanding is there's no urgency, immediacy, for a variety of reasons. They listen, they look at options. There is nothing pressing, no process in place for Penguins to sell the club,” he said.
As for the Carolina Hurricanes, owner Peter Karmanos has been looking for a partner to buy into the team’s ownership for some time. That shouldn’t however, mean that the team is relocation bait. “There’s no issue related to the Hurricanes,” said Bettman.
Daly said “he’s certainly looking for a partner, but there’s nothing urgent on that front.”
Bettman drew a line in the sand on the Olympic participation issue, said that the IOC and the IIHF have handled costs for sending NHL players to the Winter Games and interrupting the League’s season, but that new IOC president Thomas Bach has indicated that might no longer happen.
“Anytime there’s a chance in the IOC leadership, there’s always an issue about whether what we do will be embraced,” said Bettman, who said Bach has spoken out against any subsidies for pro athletes to participate in the Olympics.
In the past, the NHL has had its transportation, insurance and accommodations paid for in part by the IOC and the IIHF. “I’m not sure our teams are enthusiastic about paying for the privilege of disrupting our season,” he said.
Bettman said that if this status changes, all of the other issues facing League participation in the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics are moot.
“From our standpoint, I would guess from an owners’ standpoint, if the IOC and the IIHF doesn’t pay the expenses they’ve paid for the last five Olympics, that’s almost a showstopper. You don’t have to have any other discussions.”
Expect an NHL decision on the Olympics later this year.
Bettman said that the idea the coach’s challenge “costs the NHL goals” is one he disputes, because the rules are the rules.
“The notion that we call back a goal because a toe is over the line … the rule is the rule. I have no doubt that if we didn’t make the call when the toe is over the line, there would be a lot of screaming if we didn’t get it right,” said Bettman. “You either enforce the rule or you don’t.”
Said Daly, “I don’t think there was a large hue and cry over the offside rule and it needing to change. I don’t believe, currently, there will be any rule changes going into next year.”
As for whether we’ll see linesmen using small hand-held devices to check offside calls while giant HDTV sets collect cobwebs in Toronto’s Situation Room, that might change.
“There has been discussion about moving the offside review to Toronto and do it in the Situation Room like we do other black-and-white calls,” he said. “When we use the officials, it was more for judgment calls. To make a better call. But when it comes to offside, it’s a black and white call, like a puck over the goal line. So why not review it in Toronto?”
Slava Voynov, who entered a plea of no contest to domestic violence and then left the Los Angeles Kings to play in the KHL, was named to the Russian World Cup of Hockey team. But his chances of playing in the NHL/NHLPA event aren’t good.
“There’s no change on Voynov’s status. He’s been suspended by the League. The Russian Federation has been told he’s not eligible to play in the World Cup of Hockey,” said Bettman.
Ads On Jerseys
The Philadelphia 76ers have become the first team in the NBA to put advertising on its jerseys. Will the NHL follow suit?
“There’s been no change in status on that,” said Daly, “I guess we’ll see what happens at the World Cup of Hockey.”
Are there going to be ads on jerseys at the World Cup?
“I guess we’ll see. I wouldn’t rule it out.”
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