NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman met with the media on January 28th following a meeting of the league Board of Governors. Here’s my analysis on the salient points.
CBA Negotiations: Bettman told the press his hope was the next round of collective bargaining with the NHLPA would be “painless and quiet and quick”, as it would best serve everyone’s interest.
That’s going to be up to the league, as they always call the tune in CBA talks. If the owners’ demands become unreasonable, and if we see another round of demonization of the PA by the league as negotiations go on just like we saw in the last two lockouts, it’ll be anything but “painless and quiet and quick”.
While Bettman and PA director Donald Fehr expect to open negotiations soon, I wouldn’t expect talks to ramp up in earnest until this summer. That’s when we’ll truly see just how painless, quick and quiet negotiations will be.
Phoenix Coyotes ownership: Bettman reiterated his claim there is “a third party” interested in purchasing the Coyotes and keeping them in Glendale. Bettman didn’t want to discuss alternatives if the franchise had to be relocated, though Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly suggested Quebec City could be among the options.
The Coyotes have been in limbo going on three years now, but the franchise’s fate will finally be determined this year. The other team owners are weary of carrying the Coyotes, and if there’s no buyer in place by this summer willing to keep the team in their current location, they’ll be moved.
Quebec City appears the likely destination, though there’s currently no new arena in place yet, meaning the team would have to play in the ancient Le Colisee (former home of the Quebec Nordiques) until the new arena is constructed.
Seattle has also been suggested as an option, though like Quebec City, there’s currently no NHL ready venue for a team, although there appears an effort afoot to get a new arena built there. Kansas City has a venue, but there’s no owner stepping forward willing to put a team there
For the sake of the Coyotes players, their families, and the fans of the team, I hope a new owner can be found who’ll keep the team where it is.
I realize that’s not a popular opinion, as most pundits, bloggers and hockey fans prefer to see the Coyotes in “ a real hockey market”, but I believe this team, now that it has quality people in management and behind the bench, can become good enough over time to turn Phoenix into a viable hockey market.
Regardless, one way or the other, this soap opera must come to an end this year.
Devils ownership woes: The Commissioner finally acknowledged reports of difficulties between principal owners Jeff Vanderbeek and Ray Chambers were true, saying the pair weren’t seeing eye-to-eye. Bettman also said the league is trying to work out a solution involving one of the co-owners to take control of the Devils.
Deputy Commisioner Bill Daly also admitted the team had advanced the Devils their share of league revenue (taking pains to say it wasn’t a “loan”) to meet their operating expenses this season.
Since reports emerged last fall in the New York Post of the Devils ownership problems, this situation has been growing uglier. It remains to be seen if this will be resolved before next summer, when the club will have to re-sign top star Zach Parise before his eligibility on July 1st for unrestricted free agency.
Concussions: Though reported concussion injuries are up by ten percent this season, Bettman wasn’t overly concerned, citing the increase as a result of better awareness, diagnosis and treatment of the injury, plus the players are growing more comfortable in acknowledging such injuries.
While the increase of injuries is troubling, I concur with the Commissioner as to the factors behind it. Hopefully, over time, stricter rules on head shots and blind side hits, equipment modifications and player awareness will bring about a decline in these injuries.
Islanders arena: The Commissioner said it was “hard to believe” a deal won’t be worked out to replace or renovate the aging Nassau Coliseum before the NY Islanders lease expires in 2015.
Considering how long “the Lighthouse Project” was kicking around, and the apparent unwillingness of the township of Hempstead, where the Coliseum is located, to approve the construction of a new venue, it’s not hard to believe there won’t be a deal in place by 2015.
That would mean the Islanders could pull up stakes and move on, perhaps to Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center, though it would be the smallest venue in the league. Still, considering how low attendance has been for the Isles in recent years, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
Hockey Fights: Bettman observed fighting majors are down 25 percent this season, but denied there was internal pressure upon teams to eliminate fighting.
The decline in fighting majors is due to the reduction of “staged fights”, as well as the need for enforcers now to possess other skills besides the pugilistic kind. This is a good thing for hockey.
Sale of the St. Louis Blues: Bettman expressed the hope the sale of the team to minority owner Tom Stillman could be completed by March.
This will certainly be important for Blues management heading into the off-season, as they’ll need to know how much money they’ll have to work with when it comes to re-signing key players and restocking the lineup.