PALM BEACH, Fla. – In a board meeting that yielded so little news, perhaps the most intriguing thing I learned was an article that was Not formally discussed.
At least, it was for me.
I did an informal poll of governors for two and a half days. The question was simple: Do you support the idea of a play-in before the Stanley Cup playoffs?
I asked 12 governors. It was a 12-0 favor with the NHL adding a round of play-ins. I could not find a single dissenting voice.
Now, I’m sure if I could poll the governors on all 32 teams, I’d find some in opposition. But still: 12 governors, 12 people who like the idea of a play-in.
None of the governors wanted to talk about it in the minutes because they know they would suffer the wrath of Commissioner Gary Bettman if they did.
Because Bettman remains adamantly against the idea. He’s been very consistent with that over the last few years. To which, well, I posed the question to Bettman once again on Tuesday following the conclusion of the two-day board meeting:
How about the idea of expanding the playoffs with a play-in like the NBA did?
“If you tell them, ‘Would you be open to a play-in?’ Some of them might say, “We can talk about it.” We don’t get that feedback,” Bettman insisted. “People think the system we have in place right now is working extraordinarily well, and frankly it doesn’t get any better than our first round sports playoffs. And so, I don’t feel much of an appetite for change.
Perhaps it’s true that the team’s owners and executives aren’t yet on his ear about this. It certainly wasn’t the time to do that during the pandemic. There were other priorities.
But the more I hear from some of these clubs, the more I have a feeling that there will come a time in the next few years when there will be a push for a play-in. And the tipping point could be if US broadcast partners ESPN and TNT decide they want to back the idea and pressure Bettman to consider it.
On Tuesday, I asked Bettman why he doesn’t like the idea.
“You’re trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” Bettman said.
Another reporter asked about the potential extra revenue that could result.
“I’m not sure it will increase revenues,” Bettman said. “Diluting the regular season and diluting the playoffs doesn’t make much sense to me. I think having a system where half the teams make the playoffs and half don’t, I think it’s perfect.”
This week marks the 30th anniversary of Bettman being voted in NHL commissioner at the board of governors meeting at this very hotel.
At the time, 16 of 24 teams made the playoffs. Before that, it was 16 out of 21. Which was silly, of course. Too easy. But now I’m 16 out of 32.
Now is absolutely the right time to discuss the merits of a play-in. The most discussed concept would see the n. 7 against No. 10 and the no. 8 against No. No travel; the highest seed can host the entire series. This is what some people would like to see.
He would have more teams playing big games in March, there’s no doubt about that.
And this concept still protects the traditional 16-team playoff field. It’s a play-in to get into the 16.
But for all of this to see the light of day, the landlords will have to start backtracking with the commissioner. And I would suggest that it needs to happen at the executive committee level. This is the smallest group of owners who have the commissioner’s ear.
Bettman was asked about the league’s ongoing investigation into Canada’s 2018 World Junior Team, which appears to be nearing its end.
“We still have work to do,” Bettman said. “We know that two other investigations are still ongoing. We still have some work to do in terms of coordination, particularly with the Players’ Association, but I think we are definitely in the pipeline.”
What seems clear is that the NHL does not want to interfere in any way with the ongoing police investigation in London, Ontario, which means that I think the league is sensitive that by announcing the results of its investigation before the police in London have finished with their criminal investigation could be a problem.
Bettman was specifically asked if the league would announce its findings to London police.
“It depends on the London police. If they asked us not to go public, we wouldn’t do it,” Bettman said.
Since 2005, it has been a tradition for the league to provide governors with a preview/projection of next season’s salary cap at this meeting.
To that end, it would appear that despite some hope at the October meeting that the cap could rise by more than $4 million if a certain revenue threshold is hit this season, HRR will fall short, players won’t be quite finished. of paying the pledge since the pandemic, and so we’re probably looking at a $1 million increase in the cap this summer, to $83.5 million.
“Based on current projections, there will still be escrow at the end of the season, and if so, we will raise the cap by $1 million,” Bettman said. “The budget projections that we have now are pretty solid – we expect to have a very good season – but if we do even better, factoring in another $140, $150 million, it’s conceivable that the escrow will go away and then the cap will go down as we go up in the mid-range $86 (million) more. We’ll have to see. We’re just going to look at it. Clearly, it seems that if we don’t finish paying the escrow this year, after next year it should all be over and there should be no problems at the regard.
The third option would be to negotiate a “smoothing” of the cap escalation over the next few years with the NHLPA. The league has not yet been approached by the NHLPA (which is currently discussing it internally with players, according to sources familiar with the matter but not authorized to speak about it publicly).
“It’s not something we’re discussing right now,” Bettman said. “It is what it is. If it needs to be changed, that is something that obviously should be discussed with the Players’ Association.
Based on what I’m hearing, I’d be surprised if the NHLPA doesn’t approach the league at some point about it.
The other factor that could potentially negatively impact revenues is a lower Canadian dollar. Canada’s seven clubs have a huge impact on HRR, so a lower Canadian dollar isn’t ideal.
“We considered it,” Bettman said. “That was marginally, very marginally, a factor out of our initial projections, maybe in the $10 million to $15 million range. Last year, we closed at about $5.4 billion, roughly — I’m rounding — which is about half a billion higher than we anticipated. It’s one of the reasons we’re debating. We expect another good year of HRR increases. But when we declared it, there was about a billion and a half to be paid. Collectively, i.e. we and the players, we’ve done quite well getting things back to how strong they were, where it’s clear that, of course, this will pay off in the not too distant future.
Current revenue projections see player debt to owners down approximately $70 million by the end of the season.
Bettman revealed Tuesday that there were at least 12 ownership parties interested in selling the Senators.
“I believe there are more than a dozen parties that have signed non-disclosure agreements and have expressed interest in the process,” Bettman said. “I believe the process requires the data room to be opened up, which should be done fairly soon, and they’ll probably start a more structured process after New Year’s Day.”
Could Canadian Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds be involved in a new Senators ownership group, no matter which side ends up with the team? This appears to be what the NHL is hoping for. Bettman said he and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly met with Reynolds.
“Bill and I met Ryan Reynolds, who really impressed us,” Bettman said. “If we can figure out a way to include that, I think it would be great for the Senators and I think it would be great for the league.”
On what Reynolds stood out:
“He’s very smart. He has a range of pursuits other than acting, he understands sports and he understands promotion. I think he told us that her followers across all of her platforms combined are well over 100 million. He is someone who is very popular and very busy.
As for a timeline for the sales process, it’s not 100% clear yet.
“In terms of soliciting who wants to participate in the process,[it’s]something that’s been going on and I think a more formal process won’t start until after the holidays are over and people are back and focused,” Bettman said.
Interesting little nugget at the end of Daly’s media availability. I asked for an update on the league’s desire to centrally record no-trade lists in player contracts across the league in the wake of last season’s Vegas-Anaheim trade cancellation involving Evgenii Dadonov.
The league announced in March that it would work with the NHLPA to build a clearing house for no-trade slates.
“We have already been in discussions with the Players Association about creating a requirement that all non-trade documentation be filed at the Central Registry and the Players Association at the same time,” Daly said at the time.
But after months of back-and-forth between the league and the NHLPA, it looks like there won’t be a joint clearing house after all. Daly said on Tuesday it looked like the league would go on its own and that from next season clubs would share no-trade list information with the central register.
(Photo by Gary Bettman: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)