DENVER - NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly held court at Ball Arena before the beginning of Game 1 in Denver, holding a state of the union for the NHL and updating the media on a number of topics. Here are some of the highlights of the press conference, which included an extended Q & A section with the media.
The Salary Cap and Financial Picture
Revenues for the 2021-22 NHL season will be a record high, somewhere in excess of $5.2 billion and that might be conservative. The most recent season before the pandemic, 2018-19, was around $4.6 billion. Corporate dollars (through sponsorships and partnerships) and building attendance were among the drivers this season and that has Bettman bullish on the salary cap - which has been flat recently due to the pandemic's impact on finances.
"Within two, possibly creeping into three years, we anticipate resuming the more regular increases people had grown to expect in the salary cap," Bettman said.
Opening night in North America for the 2022-23 season is slated for Oct. 11, with NHL regular season games kicking off in Prague between the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks on Oct. 7. The Winter Classic will be in Boston, the Stadium Series hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh and the All-Star Game in Florida, hosted by the Panthers. The schedule for the 2022-23 season will be released in early July.
Hockey Canada Scandal
According to Daly, the NHLPA is co-operating with the NHL's investigation in regards to the Hockey Canada player scandal relating to the 2018 world junior team, helping arrange interviews with players. The NHL expects to interview each of the players from that team. Bettman assumes the findings of the investigation will be made public (unless there's a legal reason not to). Hockey Canada did not make the NHL aware of the scandal when it happened and the league only learned about it recently when the lawsuit became known.
Something a lot of fans (and media) have wanted for years is more specifics surrounding player injuries - not just "upper body" or "lower body." There were some who thought the advent of gambling partnerships in hockey would lead to change, since bettors and betting houses need as much specific information as possible when deciding on wagers, but apparently that will not move the needle.
"The most important thing for us is what happens on the ice and the health and safety of our players is paramount," Daly said. "If that means our betting partners have to take a backseat to the safety of our players, then we plead guilty to that."
The argument against injury disclosure is that opponents could target players on the mend - though the NFL has never worried about that.
The Coyotes are always a hot topic amongst the national media and Bettman said he was pleased that the franchise's plan to build a new arena in Tempe is making strides.
"Obviously there's some work to be done before we can get a shovel in the ground, but from all the reports I get, everyone is doing what they need to be doing as efficiently as possible," he said.
As for the small Arizona State rink that will serve as the Coyotes' temporary home, Bettman was unfazed.
"It's not unprecedented," he said. "When the Flames moved from Atlanta to Calgary, they played in a very small venue for a couple years. When the Tampa Bay Lightning came into the league, they played at the fairgrounds and the San Jose Sharks played at the Cow Palace while they were building their arena. You do what you have to do if you believe in a market. We remain excited and optimistic about the project."
Evander Kane's contract termination grievance will take a bit more time as arbitrator Shyam Das is unavailable in June so dates are still up in the air. According to Daly, a decision could come past the opening of free agency.
Cable provider problems in Denver and parts of NYC have irked fans and the NHL is certainly keeping an eye on the issue.
"I think what you're going to see over time is a transformation to more streaming to avoid possibly dealing with satellite/cable carriage," Bettman said. "And in fact, our new national deals have a bit of that in terms of games being worked over to ESPN Plus."
World Cup of Hockey
A World Cup in February 2024 is still a work in progress, but the league is "very much aligned" with the NHLPA on the matter, said Daly. Discussions with IIHF have been a little more complicated because of timing with Euro leagues but February is the priority for the NHL and important to the long-term success of the tourney in their mind. Bettman would actually like to plan more than one in order to set a cycle.
Russia and Belarus
No directive has been made on drafting Russians or Belarussians next month. Daly said he wouldn't be surprised if some of those players slide down, but teams are free to pick whomever they want. The Stanley Cup however, will not go to Russia or Belarus this summer for the players' days with the Cup (both Tampa Bay and Colorado have Russians on their roster).
Daly said those players affected may be "owed" a day in the future, which also happened during the pandemic.