Rumblings: Bettman gives update on salary cap, expansion and outdoor games

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Cap-challenged teams were relieved Saturday to hear from the NHL that the plunging Canadian dollar won’t impact the salary cap as much as many feared.

"It’s not as bad as everyone is predicting," Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said after the Board of Governors meeting. "Some of the stuff we heard from them is more reassuring."

What they heard is what NHL commissioner Gary Bettman later told media at a state of the game news conference: "I assure you, even with the decline in the Canadian dollar, the salary cap does not fall off a cliff. When we gave you the rough estimate/projection in December, the same estimate I gave to the clubs, we were projecting a cap of $73 million, assuming the 5 percent increment under the CBA, based on the Canadian dollar at 88 cents to the US dollar to the rest of the year. At 82 cents, the cap would be $72.2 million and at 80 cents, the cap would be $71.7 million.

"No one can project where it’s going, but the point I’m making is, you are not going to see a dramatic difference. The cap is computed based on currency on a daily basis, it’s averaged over the season. So even with an 80-cent Canadian dollar, still looking at a cap of almost $72 million."

And the reason for that is the NHL’s fiscal year is already three quarters of the way through. That’s very important to note.

Of interest, however, is that the NHL’s projected $72 million cap number includes the 5 percent escalator/inflator.

"Yes it is," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. "The CBA actually contemplates the 5 percent as standard. I don’t anticipate that’s going to be an issue. Because I think the players’ association wants to make sure where the cap goes, as well, because it’s in their interest to do it. I don’t anticipate any issue on the 5 percent inflator."

Perhaps. But if the NHLPA fears rising escrow costs for its players, it’s not out of the question for the union to balk at the 5 percent inflator. In which case, a $72 million cap suddenly becomes $68.4 million instead.

One cannot stress enough how the difference of just $1 million on the cap makes for clubs struggling to stay beneath it. It greatly affects their offseason planning, the money they have to spend to re-sign players, etc. Just ask the Los Angeles Kings, for example, who are right at the cap and trying to re-sign some players. It’s also a big deal for other clubs such as the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, among others. Every dime under the cap counts.

Not willing to tip his hand, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr simply said Saturday that the 5 percent inflator is a matter for him to discuss with his players.

At the end of the day, the NHLPA has only not wanted the 5 percent inflator used once since the cap system was enacted in 2005. Odds are the inflator will stay in for next season’s cap calculation, which means a cap around $72 million, up from the current $69 million cap this season.

Thing is, some clubs a year ago figured the cap would go up to around $74 million or $75 million by the 2015-16 season and negotiated contracts with some players based on that belief.

Even just readjusting the projected number from $73 million to $72 million is not insignificant.


As reported before, the Toronto Maple Leafs would like to host a few major events in conjunction with their centennial year in 2017.

We’re talking outdoor game and All-Star Game potentially, and already there’s a World Cup of Hockey coming to the Air Canada Center in September 2016.

Bettman said no official negotiations or decisions have taken place yet about whether the Maple Leafs would get an All-Star Game or an outdoor game, but clearly those discussions are coming at some point.

"I actually talked a little bit about it with Montreal today, their experience in going through it three years ago," Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said of Toronto’s centennial plans. "I don’t know if it’s a great idea to do it all in one year, but we’ll talk a little bit more about it with Montreal and see what they gained with their experience."

Shanahan was asked if the Leafs wanted to host it all in one year: All-Star, outdoor game plus maybe the draft?

"I think we’ll talk about it a little more before we start doing it through the press," Shanahan said. "I think we have to go through it with the league. But needless to say, we have very big expectations as to what it should be like and how, whether we can do it all on one year or do it over the course of a few years."


The league gave governors an update Saturday on potential expansion cities Las Vegas and Seattle.

"Las Vegas is getting ready to launch the season ticket campaign," Bettman said. "We continue to get interest from others, including Seattle. The mayor [of Seattle] visited, and we had a nice chat. But the building status downtown is still uncertain at best."

Which means the NHL is in a holding pattern on Seattle.

But the Vegas ticket drive starts next month. I asked Bettman if he had a timeline in mind as far as knowing whether Vegas will be a go or not.

"I’m glad you asked because we’re not controlling that process," Bettman responded. "We haven’t put hard deadlines/numbers. Bill [Foley, the potential Vegas team owner] asked to do it, so we could get a sense as to whether or not the market would support at the grassroots level, if you will, a franchise. He has to make those judgments. My guess is the campaign kicks off in February. If he’s still running it in next October, my guess is tickets didn’t sell so quickly. If he’s able to get to a number that makes a lot of sense and shows a great deal of enthusiasm in two to three weeks, we’ll have a better sense of the market. No firm commitments."


While the NHL confirmed the outdoor games for Boston, Minnesota and Colorado next season, there was no mention, of course, of Winnipeg. The Jets announced last week that the game planned for Winnipeg was postponed over a disagreement with the CFL’s Blue Bombers over the football stadium availability.

"We had hoped to have a fourth outdoor game in 2015-16 season, the Heritage Classic in Winnipeg," Bettman said Saturday. "We were unable to agree with the Blue Bombers on a date that would make each comfortable. Hopefully we can schedule something for the following season. No firm plans to announce other than it’s something we’d like to do because we very much wanted an outdoor game next season in Winnipeg."


The Minnesota Wild have tried for many years to get an outdoor game and finally got their wish, they’ll host Chicago on Feb. 21 next season.

"It’s a great day for our organization," said Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher, on hand for the announcement Saturday. "It is a great day for the State of Hockey. Everyone knows we’ve been pursuing an outdoor game for a while, and it is a great day to finally be able to announce we’re hosting one. Our fans deserve it. Certainly our players are excited to play in it. Our staff is excited to put on a good show. We call ourselves the State of Hockey. We produce more players than any other state. Hockey thrives at every level outside of the NHL. We have college hockey, high school hockey, girls hockey, women’s hockey. Besides the great game with the Wild and the Blackhawks, we’ll hopefully have a chance to showcase the other levels of hockey and the passion our fans have for the game."

If the Wild have their way, it won’t be the only outdoor game they host.

"Our owner Craig Leipold has been adamantly pursuing this game and very passionate about it. I think down the road we’d even like to get a Winter Classic as our team continues to improve and we make strides," Fletcher said. "To land a Stadium Series game is a great accomplishment, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Hopefully we can create a lot of great events around the game itself, but the opportunity to play the Blackhawks outdoors in Minnesota will be a lot of fun.

"Playing outdoors is part of our culture and part of our tradition. Today in Minnesota there will be countless kids outdoors playing on ponds. It is what we do naturally. It is a very authentic environment. It is something people love to do. Outdoor hockey is part of our blood in Minnesota."


Speaking of the Wild, word leaked out Saturday that Matthew Hulsizer, who has sniffed around owning an NHL club for years, is in the process of buying roughly 27 percent of the Minnesota Wild.

The transaction is pending Board of Governors approval, which Daly said Saturday will be done by fax vote over the next week or so.

Leipold remains very much the majority owner, but Hulsizer finally gets into the NHL family.