PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Gary Bettman says NHL owners probably won’t have to cut any cheques to cover the losses of the Phoenix Coyotes.
The commissioner reassured some members of the board of governors on Tuesday that they won’t be on the hook for the money-losing team if a proposed sale to the Ice Edge group goes through. The league paid US$140 million to purchase the Coyotes out of bankruptcy earlier this season and expects to recoup that amount – plus operating losses – from Ice Edge.
Some NHL owners arrived to the board of governors meeting thinking they would ultimately have to pay money to keep the Coyotes afloat.
“There seemed to be a lot of confusion,” said Bettman. “Some of your colleagues have been calling some of the clubs and asking how they feel about the assessment. There are no assessments.
“We don’t believe that ultimately it’s going to have cost us anything to have bought the club and resold it.”
While that was obviously good news for the governors, at least one was quietly upset with news that Bettman wants the Coyotes to receive a full amount of revenue sharing even though they won’t meet all the criteria. Teams who meet the full standard will receive in the neighbourhood of $10-$11 million from the wealthier clubs.
Ice Edge signed a letter of intent to purchase the Coyotes last week. Details of the group’s bid, including sale price, have yet to be revealed publicly.
Bettman indicated that the Coyotes are currently on pace to lose less than the $60 million they were down a year ago.
The commissioner gave a broad state of the league address on the opening day of meetings and expects to go into much more detail Wednesday. Part of his presentation involved a look at projected revenue that left Bettman predicting next year’s salary cap will only change slightly from its current level of $56.8 million.
“My own view is it’s not going up dramatically and it’s not going down dramatically,” said Bettman. “My guess is within a million, a million-and-a-half or two million either way is the swing we’re looking at.”
One of the biggest factors in determining where it ends up is the success of the Canadian dollar. It’s currently resting around 95 cents, which is helping offset some of the losses the league has experienced because of the recession.
“If it’s at 95 cents and remains there the rest of year, the cap may go up a million,” said Bettman. “If it goes down to 90, it may go down.”
That’s a stark change from what most governors expected a year ago, when they had two economists paint a pretty bleak picture during the December meeting. At that point, some people were speculating the salary cap for the 2010-11 season could fall by as much as $10 million.
“It’s not as bad (as we thought),” said Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford. “Some markets get hit harder than others. Some of it’s from the economy, some of it’s from performance, but overall I think the league’s held its own through this time.”
Rutherford acknowledged that his own market is “down” and attributed it to a combination of the economy and the struggles of his last-place team.
Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks has also been feeling the effects of the economic downturn, but confirmed he intends to try and hold on to his hockey team. On Tuesday, Hicks announced that he’ll negotiate a sale of the Texas Rangers baseball club, which he also owns, with a group fronted by Chuck Greenburg and Nolan Ryan.
That should help pay some of his bills.
“The HSG holding company has too much debt,” said Hicks. “We’re no different than a lot of companies around the world. We just have to de-leverage. And that’s a process we’re working hard at.”
Bettman has been working particularly hard trying to find a buyer for the Coyotes – the fourth NHL team he’s trying to save out of bankruptcy following Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Ottawa.
A somewhat controversial part of that sale is the fact the group wants to play a five home games per season in Saskatoon, an idea the commissioner didn’t completely shut down on Tuesday.
“That’s something that obviously requires further discussion,” said Bettman. “It’s something the board will have to ultimately approve.”
The schedule for the meetings was juggled a little bit because deputy commissioner Bill Daly had to return home for a family medical emergency. He had been scheduled to talk about a variety of topics, including a presentation on an extensive 12-year study the league has put together on concussions.
Colin Campbell, the NHL’s director of hockey operations, was given the floor for roughly 45 minutes Tuesday to give a detailed talk on the evolution of hitting in the sport, with a focus on headshots.
“Our goal today is to really frame where this is for the owners and team presidents,” said Campbell. “The manager’s have been through this time and time again. (It’s important for the owners) because it’s their players they’re losing through these hits and concussions.”
There is no shortage of items up for discussion over two days at this posh golf resort.
New York Islanders owner Charles Wang stopped on his way into the meeting and took a couple questions about the uncertain future of his team after an Oct. 3 deadline passed with no decision on the Lighthouse project that would see a new arena built on Long Island.
Wang acknowledged that he’s taking calls from people interested in bringing the Islanders to their city, but declined to identify them: “I don’t want to do this in the press. You understand.”
He was noncommittal when asked if the team still have a future in Long Island.
“Yeah, I hope so,” said Wang. “Whatever happens, happens.”
In other news, a league executive confirmed that Columbus, Boston, Minnesota, San Jose, Phoenix and Carolina will be the six teams that start next season in Europe.
The NHL is also close to finalizing the date for its award show in Las Vegas, having narrowed its choices down to June 22 or 23 at the Palms Casino. That will be just days before it holds the entry draft at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.