SAN JOSE, Calif. – NHL expansion is going to happen, with either Las Vegas or Quebec City or both applicants getting franchises.
Or maybe it won’t.
Or maybe it will, but a while from now.
Those are the three scenarios that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is spelling out in the last week, both at his “State of the NHL” speech and in other media appearances. The Executive Committee will recommend on expansion well ahead of that Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas, which takes place ahead of the NHL Awards on June 22.
Let’s take a look at where the various moving parts on expansion (and relocation) are at the moment.
NHL EXPANSION TIMELINE AND DEFERMENT
The “deferment” option was one that hadn’t really been mentioned by the NHL before, so that perked up some ears.
Discussions about expansion have been seemingly centered on the 2017-18 season, and deputy commissioner Bill Daly said that “Nothing about our current timing precludes '17-18.” But there seems to be some smoke around the idea that the owners will ultimately defer expansion by a year to 2018-19.
We asked Gary Bettman if that deferment might have a deleterious effect on either of the ownership groups bidding for the teams. He said that issue is “not something that we’re focused on right now.”
THE PROBLEM WITH DEFERMENT
If expansion is kicked down the road one year to 2018-19, it might do more to agitate Las Vegas owner Bill Foley, who will have an arena and everything else he needs in place for a 2017 launch.
As Elliotte Friedman notes, there’s also an issue with the expansion draft:
My personal guess is the NHL will expand to Las Vegas, but for 2018-19. However, a couple of GMs disagreed. “Bettman has made it clear any expansion team is going to be competitive,” one said. “If we are given two years to prepare our rosters for a draft, that’s going to weaken the pool of players available to them.”
“We all know the league hates no-move clauses,” another added. “They don’t want to help teams who might escape some with an extra year. And, if you had a terrific rookie this past season, you want expansion next year if it’s going to happen. That way, you probably don’t have to protect that player. In two years, you will.”
Giving teams an extra year of loopholes around the expansion draft is bad news, although it would lead to some interesting contracts. Let’s say David Backes signs a six-year deal somewhere – would be get a no-trade for the first three years and then a no-move after that, just so a team keeps its expansion draft options open?
We ask, because …
THE EXPANSION DRAFT IS COMING INTO FOCUS
The current plan, according to the NHL: Teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie, or eight skaters and a goalie. Rookies and second-year players are exempt.
What we know about that plan, after speaking with Bill Daly last week:
1. Daly said that first and second-year “professionals” will be exempt from the draft, but there’s a “specific procedure” in place to define what a professional is.
2. Daly said that the “minimum cap hit” provision has been dropped; i.e. having a minimum amount of cap-related salary made available in the expansion draft.
3. On the no-movement and no-trade clauses, Daly said the latter wouldn’t prevent a player from being exposed in the draft. A no-move clause, however, means a team would have to protect that player and they would count against a team’s total.
4. If a team, for whatever reason, violates the expansion draft rules, there will be “significant penalties” including loss of draft picks or players.
WHAT ABOUT SEATTLE?
Obviously, with any talk of deferment comes talk that they’re deferring to buy Seattle more time to build an arena and rally around one ownership bid.
Bettman reiterated that the two bids in front of the NHL are the only bids they’re considering.
“It’s not like we’re pining after Seattle. There were three different groups from three different places in Seattle saying they had interest, but nobody seemed to get their act together as far as a new arena,” he told Sportsnet 590 this week.
In April, Bettman said the lack of arena plan had slowed the city’s momentum. “It’s clear, at least to this point, that there appears to be no arena process. And I think that has discouraged lots of interest. And I’m not opining as to whether or not it’s anybody’s fault or responsibility. It is what it is. And so we have other things to focus on,” he said.
While the NHL likes the market, the area is a sticking point.
“Do I think Seattle is a nice city that has a fair amount of hockey interest and might geographically might be good for a whole host of things? the answer is yes, but that’s a superficial analysis. No one came to the table, with the absence of an arena plan,” he said. “If you talk to one of the prospective owners, he said he won’t build an arena without an NBA team.”
The NBA’s return to Seattle, potentially, is a consideration when the NHL’s looking at how many dollars are really there for the taking.
“There are places where based on the market size, maybe you don’t want both teams there,” said Bettman.
WHAT ABOUT CAROLINA?
Right after Bettman said there was no concern about the future of the Carolina Hurricanes, the news hit that owner Peter Karmanos is being sued by his children after he allegedly “defaulted on more than $100 million he borrowed from a trust established for his three adult sons.”
As Luke DeCock wrote: “With the NHL only a few weeks away from an expansion decision, the lawsuit raises all the wrong questions about Karmanos’ cash flow and his ability to sustain the Hurricanes. That’s a big issue related to the Hurricanes, no matter what Bettman says.”
Well, Bettman says it’s no big deal.
“I think what’s going on in Carolina is being overblown. It’s a family dispute going on. As far as we can tell, it’s not about the franchise. It’s something about a father and his sons,” said Bettman on Sportsnet 590.
“I think Peter Karmanos would tell you that maybe they can do a better job of marketing, being part of the community. But I think it’s a good market. I think they have a good young team. I’m not really concerned about that market. I know there are people who say it would be great to pick it up and move it somewhere. But I don’t see it moving anywhere.”
WHAT ABOUT KANSAS CITY?
Hey, they still have a fairly new arena and no NBA competition! What about them?
“Kansas City, as far back as I can remember, has never really been in the mix. It’s not a market that’s been focused on. It’s not a market that’s had people with potential ownership aspirations bang our doors down,” said Bettman on Sportsnet 590.
Well OK then.
Two geographic issues came up recently regarding expansion
If the NHL goes to Las Vegas and Quebec City, will both teams go to the West, to balance the conferences? Would Quebec go East, with an East team going West?
Will there by an realignment?
Bettman made it clear that the NHL doesn’t intend to move the Detroit Red Wings or Columbus Blue Jackets back to the Western Conference, no matter the scenario.
“Columbus and Detroit belong in East. It would be unfair to ask them to move back,” he said. “I don’t view Columbus and/or Detroit moving back to the West as a viable option.”
Bettman said the Board of Governors wouldn’t approve that move, either.
The other geography issue has to do with Las Vegas and its television market. From Friedman:
“Apparently, one of the issues to sort out in Las Vegas is the local broadcast “map.”
The NHL’s cone of silence makes it difficult to determine if there’s been a resolution, but it comes down to this: currently, Vegas is Anaheim/Los Angeles territory. Those are the televised teams in the region. John Shannon, expert on all things television, points out there will have to be some kind of payment made to the Ducks and Kings. (A similar negotiation would play out between Quebec City and Montreal.)
“When Ottawa came into the NHL, it badly wanted Kingston to be part of its broadcast zone and had to pay Toronto to get that done.”
So there's that.
I still think it’s expansion by one team, and that team will be in Las Vegas. But all the chatter we’ve heard during the Final has me really wondering if it’ll launch in 2017 or 2018.
MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY