Translating NHL exec quotes from the board of governors meeting

SEA ISLAND, Ga. — The NHL held its board of governors meetings this week at a sprawling, slightly hard-to-get-to resort with a lobby featuring a 50-foot Christmas tree and a distinct scent that led attendees to believe somebody must have walked around the properties with a Bed Bath & Beyond bottled spray called “Holiday Dreams.” It was quite the scene.

The big news to emerge, of course, is that the league will welcome Seattle as its 32nd franchise for the 2021-22 season. But there were a few other nuggets to trickle out of the two-day session as well. ESPN parsed through some quotes to help you translate why they were said and what they actually mean.

“While it’s an estimate — some would call it a guess, although we’ve been pretty good about this — we think it’ll be about $83 million, give or take. It could be a million more, it could be a million less, but the number we told our clubs to focus on was in the $83 million range, which would be up about three-and-a-half million over where we are this season.” — commissioner Gary Bettman on the salary cap

The $83 million cap number for 2019-2020 has been discussed on several occasions by Bettman. It’s a safe, middle-ground number to go on for next season because the ultimate number is determined by whether the NHLPA triggers its inflator clause.

The players can raise the cap by up to 5 percent. Last season, the NHLPA used only a 1.25 percent inflator, which was just the third time it didn’t use the maximum inflator. It’s a decision fueled by matters such as escrow: the higher the cap, the higher the potential withholding from players. If they decide to inflate the cap by 5 percent again, it could crest more than $85 million for 2019-20.

“We certainly harbored hope. I have business cards I’m going to have to toss out that say Seattle 2020. This is an organization that’s going to be built around our fans, and as we thought about this on behalf of our fans, we realized that perhaps we wouldn’t open the season with our fans in our new building, perhaps the training center wouldn’t be ready. Now, an expansion draft will be held in our building. Our players can skate at that training center in time for our first camp, and we know opening day will be truly spectacular. So waiting a little longer seemed to make a lot of sense, and we ultimately agreed with the league.” — Seattle president and CEO Tod Leiweke on the team entering the league in 2021 versus 2020

The Seattle ownership group targeted a 2020 entry date all along. They believed they would be ready. But the league had reservations about whether the renovations to Key Arena — which have reached $800 million — would be completed in time. It isn’t exactly easy to build in Seattle, and the Oak View Group would be pushing up against a deadline to get it done.

That led Leiweke and his partners to acquiesce to the NHL’s preferred timeline, which conspicuously avoids an awkward entry when the league might (gasp!) be in another work stoppage. It was a concession, but Leiweke is smartly spinning it forward, saying the new timeline could be an advantage. Another year to scout players. Longer time to hire, which means a better crop of candidates for the GM and coaching openings. When Seattle enters the league, the team will be fully ready to make a splash, just like Las Vegas did.

“If we’re going to do a World Cup and do all the planning that’s necessary, if we don’t know by the first of the year, there’s no sense in trying to pull off a World Cup for 2020. For the last two years, we’ve been anxious to anchor plans for a World Cup. But for whatever reason, the players’ association hasn’t been prepared to do that. I don’t know enough about what the players’ association is doing right now to have any reason to be optimistic or pessimistic because there hasn’t been any meaningful dialogue about those issues.” — Bettman on the World Cup of Hockey

The NHL would like to do a World Cup of Hockey in 2020, the second edition of the resurrected international tournament. The league is expected to jettison the popular Team North America, which was filled with 23-and-under stars, and the oddly successful Team Europe, which lost in the final to Canada, in favor of two new national teams. The tournament is also expected to be multisite after being held in only Toronto in 2016.

The question is whether there will be enough labor peace for the World Cup. The NHLPA has a chance to reopen the collective bargaining agreement in September 2019. The NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation have both said that reopening the CBA would mean no World Cup. “Our position is we don’t want to hold it if there is labor uncertainty,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said earlier this year. “We really need labor certainty to play it. It didn’t work so well in 2004 when we tried that.”

Essentially, Bettman has set a deadline of the 2019 NHL All-Star Game for the players to indicate whether they want to participate in the World Cup. Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHLPA, has said that he doesn’t believe the CBA negotiations should be tied to the World Cup’s future for 2020.

“Look, there is a great demand for NHL hockey, and we’re in a great spot, as we think our franchises have never been more stable. The commissioner alluded to it, but at some point, there is some limit to the amount of markets that add value to the league. My quote was interpreted as an invitation [for] further expansion. It wasn’t intended to be interpreted this way. Somebody asked me, ‘What is it with 32 franchises?’ and I was like, ‘There’s really no magic to 32. There could be 30, 31. There could be 35.’ It’s really — the equation our board considers in the addition of another franchise is, does it add to the asset value of the league?” — Daly on the future of expansion

Daly and Bettman have said that there is no magic to the number 32. But it is a nice, round number that allows for four divisions of eight teams each. Even though the league has, in Bettman’s words, “never been healthier,” there’s probably no rush to expand too quickly or expand for the sake of expanding.

Instead, the league will probably take a pause and use this as a chance to assess its current franchises and the health in their markets. Instead of expansion, expect the next potential move to be relocation. The most attractive city right now is Houston, considering its size (No. 4 in U.S. population, which helps the league grow its American footprint) and the fact that it already has a hockey-amenable arena.

“I would say I’m more disappointed with how this played out, but these are complicated matters. … I think it would be, for a whole host of reasons, nice [to have a downtown arena]. But Mr. [Eugene] Melnyk has said that if he has to make Canadian Tire Centre work, he can do that. But again, let’s not draw any conclusions yet. This is a complicated situation, for a lot of reasons. The project, as originally envisioned, isn’t viable.” — Bettman on the Ottawa Senators‘ arena deal

The Senators’ arena situation was updated to the Board of Governors, as Melynk (sadly, not in attendance) has filed a $700 million lawsuit against his partners in what was to be a new downtown arena on LeBreton Flats, calling it a “failed joint venture.” The Senators have an announced average home attendance of 14,217 at their arena, though Ottawa has given away and discounted tickets this season. There’s concern around the NHL that the Senators need a downtown arena to be viable in that market, which is a concern shared often by Melnyk himself.

“Andy Barroway has made it clear that he’s asking for a partner. There’s been a lot of discussion about that. He’s hopeful there can be something in the near term. … Look, the efforts are on getting a new arena. We have some patience.” — Daly on the Arizona Coyotes

If it’s an NHL Board of Governors meeting, then someone is asking about the future of the Arizona Coyotes. Barroway became the sole owner of the Coyotes in June 2017. One year later, it was reported that he was seeking to sell 49 percent of the franchise that he valued at $500 million.

While that process plays out, there’s the matter of the team’s next arena. The location of Gila River Arena in Glendale has been blamed for the team’s woeful attendance. A deal with Arizona State University on a new building fell apart last year, and there has been little discussion about what the next option is for the Coyotes.

But the biggest Coyotes news out of the board of governors meeting was that the team will be shifted to the Central Division in 2021-22, when Seattle enters the Pacific. It’s a move that has done little to quell speculation about the franchise relocating (again), as many observers have noticed that Houston would be open to an NHL franchise and can, apparently, read a map.

“We’re going to take our time. There’s a group of owners involved. We’re going to listen to our fans, and we’re going to do it right, and we’re not going to have a time pressure, but it’s something we’re working on each and every day.” — Leiweke on choosing a team name

Let’s be honest: What’s the No. 1 thing fans care about regarding this new franchise? The name (and the color scheme). Once you settle on a name, though, it sticks. And it appears that the ownership group understands just how serious a decision this is. They’re going to take their time, conduct some market research, consult experts and decide upon what’s right: the Seattle Sasquatch (please?).

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