NHL still unsure about Vegas, Quebec expansion; confident on Canadian dollar

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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking to media prior to game three NHL playoffs between the Winnipeg Jets' and Anaheim Ducks in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking to media prior to game three NHL playoffs between the Winnipeg Jets' and Anaheim Ducks in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Monday, April 20, 2015. (Trevor Hagan/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

NEW YORK – Quebec City and Las Vegas have successfully reached Phase III of the NHL expansion process, which earned their representatives an audience with the League’s executive committee in New York on Tuesday. 

So when will the fate of these expansion bids be determined? Is there a Phase IV? And is there a Phase V following that?

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“How many phases do we have?” asked NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to his staff, rhetorically.

“As many as we need, actually.”

Potential Las Vegas owner Bill Foley and potential Quebec City owner Quebecor Media presented their pitches – each in excess of an hour – to the NHL executive committee at the League offices. The committee, comprised of NHL executives and several team owners, didn’t have time to deliberate as they hoofed it 10 blocks to the afternoon’s Board of Governors meeting.

“No decisions were made in the executive committee meeting,” said Bettman.

At the B.O.G., the governors heard about the pitches for about 10-15 minutes; according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, that was extent of the expansion talk.

“There have been no deliberations about whether or not we want to expand, how many teams or where,” said Bettman. “This is an ongoing process. It doesn’t have a specific timetable, and it doesn’t have a predetermined outcome.”

So the League continues to play coy about whether there will even be expansion at the end of this process, let alone expansion to two cities. Bettman said that even though the application process is completed, the NHL will continue to ask Las Vegas and Quebec City for more information about their bids, which will then be vetted by advisors from outside the League.

The expansion fee is expected to be $500 million in U.S. dollars, which could mean upwards of $670 million in Canadian dollars based on the exchange rate.

The next Board of Governors meeting is in December, before which time the executive committee could meet again to further the expansion process. When the time comes for a vote, Bettman said that three-quarters of the Board of Governors has to approve expansion.

As this point in his commissionership, Bettman should have upwards of 23 owners willing to support him should he push expansion through. But privately, there are still some that wonder about the long-term viability of the Las Vegas market, and wonder if Quebec City wouldn’t be better served as a better landing spot for a relocated team.

One thing Bettman said is clear, and was evidenced by the sellout crowd at Quebec’s new arena for an NHL exhibition game on Monday night: “We understand the interest that people in Quebec City has for hockey.”

In other Board of Governors news:

* We wrote about the early returns on the 3-on-3 overtime here.

* Bettman said the Coaches’ Challenge, another new innovation this season, will be ready for the regular season after not being tested in the preseason.

TSN reported recently that the NHL was having trouble wiring the new monitors for the challenge, that would allow on-ice officials to analyze and rule on the play. Said Bettman: “We’re not having difficulties. We’re not ready for the preseason, but we’ll be ready for next week."

* The Canadian dollar, current valued at 74.33 cents US, was a big topic of conversation.

Avery Shenfeld, Managing Director and Chief Economist of CIBC, spoke to the Board about the dollar and where it could be headed. “One of the things he said that’s notable is that while people can make predictions, when it comes to predicting the dollar, they make weathermen look good,” said Bettman.

The NHL still expects revenues in excess of $4 billion this season, and they are “are continuing to grow even with the Canadian dollar softening,” said Bettman, who said the NHL’s current economic model makes the League equipped to handle this storm.

“It’s the reality that we live with. In my two decades plus of doing this, I’ve seen the Canadian dollar lower and I’ve seen it [higher]. It’s something the system accounts for,” he said.

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