Latest on Ice Edge bid, Kovy talks, 2010 rosters

December, 13, 2009

I'm off to Pebble Beach, Calif., on Monday for the two-day NHL board of governors (owners) meetings Tuesday and Wednesday.

Of course, the headliner for owners will be the letter of intent signed by the Ice Edge investment group to buy the Phoenix Coyotes. I received mixed reaction on the announcement. While some governors are relieved there's finally a buyer, others are skeptical that the Ice Edge group has the financial wherewithal to pull this off.

"Unless I am presented with evidence to show me the contrary in terms of their finances, I'm probably going to vote against it," one governor said.

Another governor had the opposite feeling.

"This is great news; this is a blessing," he told on Saturday. "I mean, what's the alternative, the league continuing to run the team? These Ice Edge guys have said and done all the right things so far. I'm OK with them."

Daryl Jones, a partner in the Ice Edge group, said he understands the concerns from some board members but told on Saturday that people should not be worried about the bid's financial backing.

"Our financing is the least of our worries," said Jones, whose Ice Edge group held an internal conference call Saturday to go over the next plan of action. "We feel like we have more than enough money to do it."

The Ice Edge group also plans to reach out to Wayne Gretzky as early as this weekend to see whether the Great One wants to be part of their ownership group or managing structure once/if the purchase of the team is completed.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix discussion among owners in Pebble Beach will very likely spill into a conversation about other viable markets -- Quebec City, Toronto or Winnipeg -- and that could also be an interesting discussion.

"The real question is, do we want a second team in the Toronto area, and I think the overwhelming response in the room will be yes," an NHL governor told on Saturday.

The Maple Leafs, of course, have a different view on that.

"If someone makes that case and the league comes to us and demonstrates that this won't cripple our team, or Buffalo's, or hurts Detroit -- because the Wings' market as far as East as London [Ontario] -- then we would be open to that discussion," Burke told on Saturday.

In other words, fat chance, from Toronto's perspective.

So what else will happen at the meetings? One NHL governor suggested that the agenda, led by the Phoenix situation, was "pretty vanilla, reads like any other year," but he predicted the tone of the meeting would not be.

"People want to know what's going on, more than ever," he said.

Perhaps sensing the board's anxiety, the league decided to form a breakout group to examine a review of league office finances. "This is unheard of as far as I can remember," the governor said.

A league source confirmed the breakout group was a first, but downplayed the significance, saying it was only appeasing the governors who wanted to get a more detailed look at the league office budget.

The owners gather in the midst of tough financial times, much of it caused by the global recession. According to internal reports another governor shared with us, team sponsorship sales, as well as the sale of suites and premium seats, are down in most NHL markets, and markedly down in some cases. If that's the case, how can the salary cap possibly not go down next season? Well, because the Canadian dollar is up to 95 cents U.S. these days, a major bonus for the league since the six Canadian NHL teams reap more than a third of league revenues.

"So, in other words, ticket sales and sponsors are down, but the Canadian currency makes up the difference," the governor said.

Other agenda items:

• A second breakout group of governors will examine the future of digital media. "This is a big deal," one NHL governor said. "There's a lot of money to be made in this area."

• A report from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly on concussions, a detailed 12-year study of how the league has handled them, etc.

• A report from NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell on head shots, picking up from last month's GM meetings, where the group decided to take a hard stance on blindside hits.

Olympic updates
Dec. 30 is fast approaching, and the short list for Canada's star-studded Olympic team is dwindling.

I was told Saturday that the Team Canada brain trust was down to watching nine defensemen and 16 forwards, with a couple of each on the back burner. Obviously, it's a fluid exercise and things can change in the next two weeks, but that's the group right now, around 30 to 32 guys (including three goalies) who are essentially on the "list."

Now the easy part, getting down to 23 for the Dec. 30 announcement.

Meanwhile, Team USA has narrowed its short list even more, down to 26 or 27 players. A source told us Saturday that 18 of the 23 spots were essentially decided. The American management group will meet Monday in Pebble Beach ahead of the board of governors meetings.

Thrashers and Kovalchuk
Is it getting close to brass-tacks time for Ilya Kovalchuk and the Atlanta Thrashers? There have been talks and meetings, and talks and meetings, and yes, an offer, but is it finally time for the superstar winger finally to make up his mind?

Kovalchuk has a meeting with his agent, Jay Grossman, on Monday in New York, which the Thrashers hope will help nudge the team captain into a decision. Grossman and Thrashers GM Don Waddell spoke again Thursday.

This much is clear: If he hasn't signed an extension and January is upon us, the Thrashers will finally begin the process of opening him up to the trade market. That doesn't mean they'll deal him at that point, but it means Waddell will begin his due diligence just in case. I don't think he'll have a hard time finding some dance partners.

And as my colleague Scott Burnside wrote last week, if a trade is indeed in the cards, it's not going to wait until the March 3 deadline. The plan would be to move him before the Olympic break at the latest.

Still, the priority is to sign Kovalchuk to an extension. Both sides remain positive a deal can be reached.

It is Kovalchuk's right as a player slated for unrestricted free agency to decline the extension and try out the free-agent market July 1. No problem there. But just let the Thrashers know already so they can get on with their business.

The part that continues to intrigue is just how much communication there has been from the KHL in Russia. As we've reported earlier this season, KHL president Alexander Medvedev has made it a priority to try to sign Kovalchuk and bring him home. The money we're hearing would blow away anything an NHL team could offer under the salary cap. And to make things even more interesting, I'm told Medvedev went to visit Kovalchuk in Atlanta last month when the KHL president was in North America (the same trip that saw Medvedev meet with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman).

The Kovalchuk saga is about to get more interesting. Will he sign an extension? Will he be traded? Is he going to Russia? Perhaps we will finally get some answers next month.

The LeBrun proposal
I've been getting a lot of feedback from hockey people on the LeBrun Proposal, Part 2. (I've got such an ego.)

This from one NHL team executive who e-mailed me Friday.

"I just read about your proposal. My two cents: the trade-deadline proposal is better because it would generate buzz for the game right before the NHL playoffs (which should be our biggest showcase) and at the time of year where most teams are asking their fans to renew their season tickets.

"The buzz generated around July 1 doesn't translate into growing the game's popularity as much because it is followed by 10 weeks where there are no games to attend or watch on TV."

Food for thought.

And this from agent Matt Keator (Zdeno Chara, Mike Komisarek, Paul Stastny), who looked at my idea from a broader perspective:

"The CBA is all about raising HRR [hockey-related revenue] so that players and owners can profit," Keator said. "The more attention and publicity we bring to our game is great for our fans and raises awareness in all NHL markets and in Europe, which will ultimately drive interest and revenue."

And finally, a very important voice on the matter, Bill Daly:

"To the extent if can create attention for the sport, that's good," Daly told "I'm all for anything that brings attention to the league and our game."

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer


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