NHL GM meetings: Gary Bettman talks playoff format, expansion, salary cap and more

The commissioner spoke to reporters about the rumblings around the general managers meetings in Florida on Wednesday.

With the NHL’s general managers meetings continuing in Florida on Wednesday, commissioner Gary Bettman took some time to speak with the media on several topics discussed at the assembly and beyond.

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The salary cap

For the first time, the NHL has added a small wrinkle to its stance on next year’s salary cap projections.

With escrow “approaching $100 million,” per Bettman, general managers left today’s meetings with the impression that the cap would only rise by a meagre $1 million. However, while speaking with the media, Bettman made one point that had some insiders perking up their ears.

“I think it is more likely than not that we will still see an escrow balance,” Bettman shared. “But I suppose there is always a possibility of discussions once the new executive director of the players association (starts).”

That new executive director, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, officially begins his post with the players association on Monday, which would seem to indicate that working towards next year’s cap could be the first big ticket item on his agenda.

Playoff format

As has been echoed in the past, Bettman and the NHL remain steadfast in the current divisional playoff format. Bettman’s message this time around was once again status quo — despite certain general managers publicly disagreeing — in that the league has no interest in making any playoff format alterations.

“We think what we’ve got works really well,” Bettman said. “I know some people have a preference for doing things differently but this is working well and we’re not looking to make any changes.”

Bettman also pointed to the standings in recent weeks and how they have mirrored the 1v8 format that existed before 2014.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spoke to reporters following general managers meetings in Florida on Wednesday. (Reuters)
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spoke to reporters during the general managers meetings in Florida on Wednesday. (Reuters)

Update on Senators sale

With the sale of the Ottawa Senators ongoing, Bettman provided a small glimpse into the bidding process, though neglected to divulge any specifics. The NHL commissioner confirmed that the first round of bids had been submitted, with TSN’s Chris Johnston reporting that there are between four and five bids total at the moment.

“It's a work in progress. I think it's fair to say there is robust interest in a meaningful and significant way in (purchasing) the Senators,” the commissioner said.

Bettman also noted that, while the second phase of bidding was still a bit down the line, the situation at that point would be weeks from materializing.

Longer overtime

While Bettman didn’t discuss the item publicly, TSN’s Darren Dreger indicated that work towards expanding overtime — as much as seven minutes — was in the works and had been discussed during the meetings.

Dreger explained that with testing done in the ECHL, results had been positive, though the decision would likely come down to entertainment value rather than competitive integrity.

Additionally, any rule change of this nature would need to go through the NHL’s competition committee, which includes the players association, which leaves the final say on the matter likely down to the superstars that presumably would take on the additional time if games were extended.

Expansion on the horizon?

As ESPN’s Kevin Weekes and John Buccigross have both reported, there remains interest in NHL expansion to markets including Atlanta. Bettman confirmed as much on Wednesday, but also made sure to pour some cold water on how imminent any of those plans were.

“There continues to be a number of people, entities, and cities expressing interest in having an NHL franchise where they don’t have one,” he told reporters. “Places like Atlanta, Houston, Quebec City. But we’re not in an expansion mode right now.”

Trade-related scratches

Bettman’s final point of emphasis during his Wednesday availability surrounded this year's explosion of “trade-related scratches,” though his words and demeanour didn’t seem to indicate anything pressing on the matter.

“That's something we’re going to have to keep an eye on to see if this year was an aberration based on how teams were playing,” Bettman shared. “If it's a continuing trend we need to think about if it is a problem and what we’re going to do about it. And that's a long way off from where we are.”