Lester Patrick winner Bill Daly: Number of NHL U.S. cities 'should continue to grow'

Lester Patrick winner Bill Daly: Number of NHL U.S. cities 'should continue to grow'

Exactly 10 years after the lockout of 2004-05 began, the news broke that NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly would receive the Lester Patrick Trophy for “outstanding service to hockey in the United States.”

In a way, that’s appropriate.

Daly helped lead the NHL in labor negotiations with the NHL Players’ Association in 2004-05, when the league sacrificed an entire season to secure the salary cap, and again in 2012-13, when the league lost almost half of another season to tighten the system.

We know the negative. Here is the positive spin: The NHL created an economic system that helped non-traditional markets in the United States – and may lead to teams in places like Seattle and Las Vegas in the near future. (The Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg in 2011. The Phoenix Coyotes almost moved, but they stayed in Glendale, Ariz., and are now called the Arizona Coyotes – thanks largely to Daly’s efforts and the latest CBA.)

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“If you ask USA Hockey kind of where they’ve seen their growth opportunities, it’s almost always related to the location of an NHL franchise and the relevance of hockey in a market – and sometimes the newfound relevance of hockey in a market on the basis of the existence of an NHL franchise,” said Daly after the announcement Tuesday.

“I have no doubt and no qualms in answering that there is a symbiotic relationship, that hockey grows where the NHL is. The fact that we’re in more markets in the United States – and that may continue to grow and should continue to grow – means that hockey will continue to grow. It’s all tied together.”

Wait. May continue to grow and should grow? Was that an allusion to expansion?

“Well,” Daly said, laughing, “that’s a logical conclusion. If you ask me a specific expansion question, I would tell you that obviously we have made no decisions in that regard. But we’re certainly at a stage where we feel like our franchises are as healthy as they have been, and there’s interest out there. So you listen to the interest, and at the appropriate time, if you believe it’s the appropriate time, you bring it to the board and you have that discussion. We haven’t had that yet but at some point that discussion might be had.”

Daly, a 50-year-old from New Jersey, became the first deputy commissioner in NHL history in July 2005 largely due to his role in labor negotiations. He is commissioner Gary Bettman’s right-hand man in labor and business matters. He is also the point person for the NHL’s dealings with USA Hockey, NCAA hockey and the American Hockey League, and he oversees the NHL’s participation in international events, such as the upcoming World Cup.

He and Flyers executive Paul Holmgren will be honored Dec. 4 as part of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Minneapolis. Ask about his impact on hockey in the United States, and he talks about the NHL’s impact as a whole – how the league has supported the American Development Model and National Team Development Program, how that has helped make the Americans consistent contenders in international competition.

“While I’m sure they’d like to win every gold medal, the fact they’re in every gold medal conversation in every major tournament they play in is a credit to kind of the development strategy and the way hockey has grown in the United States,” said Daly. “Those are all things that obviously we as Americans are proud of but USA Hockey in particular and our board of governors and the National Hockey League should take great pride in. …

“Part of my profession and my job, I have to root for all NHL players – and I want to root for all NHL players. There’s kind of a world community when it comes to hockey at the professional level. That would be my priority. But do I like to see hockey in the U.S. thrive and succeed? Absolutely. I’d say the same thing about hockey in Canada. I mean, I think it’s important from a professional standpoint that hockey be as strong everywhere that it can be.”