The Senators' arena project, the Coyotes' owner looking for a partner and an increased salaray cap were Gary Bettman's topics of discussion on the eve of the Board of Governors' vote on the Seattle expansion.
SEA ISLAND, Ga. — Things are going well enough that the NHL is ready to expand to Seattle and the salary cap keeps going up.
But the league is still dealing with a few uncertain situations on the eve of what should be a slam-dunk expansion vote to bring Seattle into the fold.
The Ottawa Senators’ downtown arena project is in danger of falling apart, and Arizona Coyotes owner Andrew Barroway is looking for a partner as he tries to secure a long-term home in the desert. Meanwhile, the league would like to begin making plans for a 2020 World Cup of Hockey but has no guarantee of labor peace that would allow such a tournament to take place.
“If we’re going to do a World Cup, and do it with the planning necessary, if we don’t know by the first of the year or All-Star, then there’s no sense in trying to pull off a World Cup for 2020,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday. “For the last year and a half, 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.”
Bettman updated the Board of Governors on those topics and others before the vote that’s expected to award Seattle the league’s 32nd franchise. The team would begin play in the 2021-22 season, a year after original plans because arena renovations aren’t scheduled to be finished until the fall of 2020.
Seattle expansion and the realignment that comes with it will be announced Tuesday.
Those topics weren’t discussed on the first day of the board’s annual December meeting that was more about league business. Bettman says the salary cap is projected to go up to roughly $83 million next season, up from the current $79.5 million limit. That’s a sign revenues are continuing to rise after the success of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
“The fact that the salary cap continues to increase means revenue’s continued to increase, which means the state of the sport and the business is very healthy — as healthy as it’s ever been,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. “And that’s good for us, that’s good for the players. I think it’s good for everybody.”
There isn’t yet agreement between the league and the Players’ Association that would ensure neither side chooses to terminate the current collective bargaining agreement in September 2020.
“There hasn’t been any substantive dialogue on any of the topics that I assume (players) may or may not want to conclude,” Bettman said. “They know the time frame. The puck’s in their end.”
An NHLPA spokesman said the group did not have anything to add on the topic of potential CBA talks.
Situations with the Senators and Coyotes are league concerns that bear watching with particular attention on Melnyk suing his partner for $700 million in the aftermath of the failing arena development plan. Bettman said he’s “disappointed” with how things have gone in Ottawa, which ranks 27th in attendance at its rink outside Canada’s capital.
“I think for a whole host of reasons (a new downtown arena) would be nice, but Mr. Melnyk has said if he has to make Canadian Tire Centre work, he can do that,” Bettman said. “This is a complicated situation, although in its original form, for a lot of reasons, some of which you’ve read in the complaint that’s been filed, the project as originally envisioned unfortunately isn’t viable.”
It’s unclear what’s viable long-term for the Coyotes, who have been fighting for years for a stable arena situation in the Phoenix area. Barroway, who became the Coyotes’ sole owner in June 2017, is now looking to sell a portion of the team in what would be another shakeup atop an organization all too used to changes and uncertainty in recent years.
“I think Andy Barroway’s made clear that he’s looking for a partner,” Daly said. “There’s been a lot of discussion around that, and I think he’s hopeful that something can happen in the near term. ... I think the efforts there will be on getting a new arena. So we have some patience.”