Tuesday December 9th, 2014

Off The Draw

Gary Bettman tried to be coy on the topic of expansion at the Board of Governors meeting on Monday. But we know he likes the idea. He likes it a lot

The commissioner’s enthusiasm was evident from his decision to grant Bill Foley, the man behind a bid to bring the NHL to Las Vegas, permission to stage a season-ticket drive in the city.

“The sole purpose here would be to give, in this unique circumstance, Mr. Foley and his colleagues an opportunity to measure the level of interest in the market by conducting a season-ticket drive,” Bettman said. “All it's doing is letting him measure for his interest and ours whether or not the market will support a team, at least from that measure alone.”

Uh-huh. Sounds like someone’s going to ask someone to the dance.

Trying to downplay his season-ticket drive decision, Bettman came off like an embarrassed teen, asking reporters, “Please don't make more out of this than it is."

He added, “This is purely a request from someone under a unique situation asking for an opportunity to measure interest, and for example, I don’t think that would be necessary in [another possible expansion target,] Quebec City.”

Fair enough. But there’s a spark here. A spark between the league and Foley. He’s the real deal, too, a bona fide suitor, the billionaire chairman of mortgage giant Fidelity National Financial and a rescuer of struggling wineries. His background demonstrates an understanding of the bottom line and a passion for nurturing troubled businesses. Both traits would be required to make the Vegas market click.

And now, with Bettman’ permission in hand, Foley can get to work.

There’s no telling when a ticket drive might get underway, or what conditions would have to be met for it to be deemed a success, but we do know this: It is the first official step toward bringing Las Vegas into the fold as a member in good standing of the Original 31.

Expansion was certainly the most buzz-worth topic on the BOG docket, but it was not the only one of significance. Elliotte Friedman reported that Bettman told the board that next year’s salary cap will be around $73 million if the Canadian dollar stays at 88 cents against the U.S. dollar. That was music to the ears of teams, like the Blackhawks and the Bruins, that could be up against the ceiling again next year. But there’s reason to believe that Bettman’ projection might be a bit optimistic.

Pounded by the falling price of oil, the Canadian dollar was worth just 87.09 U.S. cents at the end of the day on Monday, its weakest close since July 13, 2009. And that may be just the beginning of a deeper slide. There's concern that the Canadian dollar’s decline could accelerate rapidly in the coming months.

According to Reuters, the CIBC expects the Canadian dollar to hit 81 U.S. cents by the third quarter of 2015, about the time frame the 2015–16 salary cap will be set. And while the hockey-related revenue that factors into next year’s cap will be safely in the bank by then, the impact of a falling C-dollar could still be felt.

While there’s a chance that the cap will rised slightly above this year's $69 million, revenue projections for 2016–17 based on a lower loonie would likely force general managers to adjust their spending plans, crushing an already soft free-agent market and affecting long-term contract extensions.

Finally on Monday, Bettman also denied reports that the sale of controlling interest in the Coyotes to Andrew Barroway had gone off the rails.

“[The deal] isn’t done, and that’s the only reason that there wasn’t a vote,” Bettman said. “We weren’t ready from our standpoint in terms of the process that we need to go through.”

There’s a lot of smoke billowing from this story, suggesting that Bettman’s protestations might just be cover, but we’ll have to wait for further developments to know what’s going on.

What to watch tonight

Canucks at Canadiens (7:30 p.m. EST; SNP, RDS, SNE)

You can't stay angry at P.K. Subban

The evening will start with a solemn, respectful remembrance of Jean Beliveau, the man who embodied the qualities that define the Montreal organization. Then comes a game in which the Canadiens will seek to redefine themselves. During their recent 1-5-1 run, the Habs’ ineffectiveness down the middle has been exposed, leading to significant changes heading into this game. If Monday’s practice was any indication, Michel Therrien is going to put Alex Galchenyuk on the top line between Max Pacioretty and Brendan GallagherDavid Desharnais, the former first-line center, will drop down to the third line alongside Michael Bournival and P.A. Parenteau. The attempt to jump-start the offense, which Pacioretty himself has described as “stale,” is long overdue. Whether it will work, and how long these new lines will stay intact, remains to be seen

Vancouver has some correcting of its own to do after dropping a pair in Ontario over the weekend, but expect minor adjustments rather than wholesale changes. The Canucks were on a 6-1-1 roll going into games against the Maple Leafs and the Senators, but was victimized by bad luck (and some soft goaltending from Ryan Miller) more than anything.

Capitals at Lightning (7:30 p.m. EST; TVA, CSN-DC, SUN)

Play our new daily fantasy hockey game!

Both teams hope that this game will be the moment when their elite snipers break through. Steven Stamkos has scored 16 goals this season, good for fourth in the league, but Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper is unhappy with his star’s totals. He wants Stamkos to be more selfish. "He's a shooter and we want him to continue to shoot the puck because not a lot of guys are as gifted putting the puck in the net,” Cooper told the Tampa Bay Times.

Alex Ovechkin’s troubles are more pronounced. He comes into Tuesday night’s game ice cold: goalless in his last four games, and having taken just five shots in his last three. He has only 12 goals and nine assists this season, putting him on pace for 38 goals and 66 points—nearly identical to his career lows of 38-65 in 2011–12. Coach Barry Trotz says that Ovechkin is simply not getting the bounces, and that’s true to some extent. But to be effective he needs to get more pucks to the net. Shot-volume has been missing from his game. Look for him to try to change that against the Lightning.

Rest of the schedule: Blackhawks at Devils (7 p.m. EST; CSN-CH, MSG+); Flyers at Blue Jackets (7 p.m. EST; CSN-PH, FS-O); Kings at Sabres (7:30 p.m. EST; NBCSN, FS-W); Flames at Maple Leafs (7:30 p.m. EST; SNW, TSN4); Islanders at Wild (8 p.m. EST; MSG+ 2, FS-N); Jets at Stars (8:30 p.m. EST; TSN3; FS-SW+); Predators at Avalanche (9 p.m. EST; FS-TN, ALT); Oilers at Sharks (10:30 p.m. EST; SNW, CSN-CA)

What you missed last night

• Kevin Klein lost a piece of his ear, but still won the game for the Rangers by scoring on the Penguins in overtime.

Martin Brodeur won his home debut as the Blues beat the Panthers.

• The Sharks made their contribution to the holiday song catalog. Watch and listen if you dare.

• Winnipeg’s Evander Kane earned himself two games on the sidelines for boarding Ducks defenseman Clayton Stoner.

The numbers game

• Ageless Jaromir Jagr enters Tuesday night’s game against Chicago needing one assist to tie Steve Yzerman for seventh on the NHL's all time list, with 1,063.

• New York’s Rick Nash is now one game away from tying his career-best nine-game point streak.

• Central Division-leading St. Louis is 14-1-0 this season when it scores at least three goals. The Blues are also riding a six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1) on home ice.

Hot links

• P.K. Subban goes house hunting and ends up in The New Yorker.

• Tim Baines explains how Paul MacLean went from savior to scapegoat in Ottawa.

• At least this guy still has his job.

• Here’s the Blackhawks’ Andrew Shaw talking chirps, pranks and yanks.

• You hate to see this: Josh Harding was pulled from a minor-league start because of MS-related complications. We wish him all the best.

• This shot of Guy Lafleur during the viewing for Jean Béliveau at the Bell Centre .... oh, man.

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