It's been a rather big, front-facing week for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, with the league signing a landmark broadcasting agreement to return to ESPN after 17 years in addition to the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 shutdown.
In the ensuing media blitz, Bettman has provided important updates on the league's processes, but also reminded us of the certain realities of a business still recovering from a damaging financial year.
Namely, Bettman told reporters that, despite the league signing its massive seven-year partnership agreement with ESPN and the fact that another licensing deal is on the way, it's still likely going to be several years before the NHL's salary cap increases on a normal trajectory. That's because the estimated losses are believed to be roughly $1 billion, and even a substantial increase in television revenue and the expansion price paid by the Seattle Kraken isn't enough to make the NHL whole.
"We did a four-year extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement and as part of that the salary cap is basically going to be flat until we recover the overpayments through the escrow that we have built up, both in the return to play from last season and this season, where there is major escrow building up due to the fact that there's no attendance," Bettman said in a conference call Wednesday with ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro.
"I think everyone is focusing on a flat cap or near flat cap for the immediate future."
While it seems somewhat shortsighted that the league wouldn't take the necessary steps to improve the game knowing that money is to be paid into the system, reason is hardly as strong as the mechanisms that keep the NHL's owners comfortably in the green.
Also as expected, Bettman indicated Thursday in a separate call that the NHL will revert back to its normal divisional alignment when it's appropriate to do so, meaning the all-Canadian North Division is likely a one-time only arrangement in an effort to complete this season.
Bettman did, however, indicate that there will be more focus on divisional play moving forward, which could be a decision made based on the findings from this season at the halfway point.
In another important note, Bettman said the NHL does not plan on hosting the league semifinals and Stanley Cup Final in a bubble, but that arrangements have not been finalized when it comes to the participation of the Canadian entry.
Finally, if there is one thing that will stick from this pandemic-playing season, it's that the league will keep the advertising decals on helmets, with the commissioner stating that they "haven't been distracting."
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