June 3, 2023, 9:03 PM
LAS VEGAS – Finally, the process of selling the Ottawa Senators is nearing its end.
Commissioner Gary Bettman did not wish to rule any of the four bidding groups out at this stage and preached patience as there is still some runway left.
“I know that they’re trying to move forward as quickly as possible to conclude the process. The bidding was robust. The interest was great. And I’m being advised by GSP, Galatioto Sports Partners, that they expect a very good outcome in the next few weeks. So, we’ll all have to sit back and see,” Bettman said Saturday at his annual Stanley Cup meeting with the press.
“I know there’s been a lot of speculation about the process and how long it takes. I think there’s probably two reasons for that. One, I think there needs to be a recognition that buying a billion-dollar asset isn’t the same as buying a new car. It takes a little more diligence and work to do it.
“I also think most times when franchises are being sold, you don’t know about it until it gets to the end. I think Eugene Melnyk’s untimely passing sort of began the clock running, and I think that’s why at least in some quarters there seems to be fatigue covering this. But there shouldn’t be. The process, run by Mr. Galatioto, has been done well and right.”
‘Clock ticking’ on Coyotes in Arizona
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The story that won’t die. The team that won’t move.
Despite voters rejecting plan for a new Tempe arena for the Arizona Coyotes in May, the club’s owners, led by Alex Meruelo, are being granted more time to explore multiple options to find the team a home in the greater Phoenix area.
“And we’re going to monitor that closely,” Bettman said. “Our hope is that the one of the options that are being explored and considering will come to fruition.”
In the near term, the Coyotes plan to run it back at their 5,000-seat college rink, Mullett Arena, for 2023-24.
“There’s already been a lot of money spent on Mullett to make it a short-term, viable option and NHL-ready. And while not ideal because of its size, it’s actually a nice rink,” said deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
The uncertainty is not sitting well with Coyotes players, who cannot predict where they will be playing, are not getting proper big-league treatment, and are worried that the team’s predicament will make Arizona an undesirable signing spot for talent.
Prized prospect Logan Cooley already cited the team’s shaky future as a reason for deciding to return to school for the upcoming season.
“They’re concerned about, ‘Will players go down there and play?’ in free agency. Every team wants to be competitive,” NHLPA chief Marty Walsh said.
“This is important for me to represent them and to fight for them, so they are treated like National Hockey League players in a National Hockey League building.”
Daly declined to divulge the “options” the Coyotes are exploring. But feel free to rule out a return to Glendale or the Phoenix Suns’ basketball-specific Footprint Center, which underwent a recent renovation that “didn’t make it any friendlier to accommodate hockey,” Daly noted.
“I don’t view that to be a solution, a long-term solution anyway.”
OK. So, with several other western U.S. markets hungry for the NHL, why does Bettman keep giving Arizona so many chances to get this right?
“It’s a terrific market. There are a lot of sports fans here. It’s a growing market. And it’s one of the larger markets in North America,” Bettman said. “The club and, by implication, its fans have been in situations that have been unfortunate. And maybe they’ve been a little bit of a victim of circumstance.
“We’re at the stage now where the league, ownership, and our teams are strong. We’re in a better position to resist moving than maybe we were 20 or 30 years ago. And we want to make sure we explore all options at this stage of where we are before we would consider having to relocate a club. And I’m hopeful we won’t have to.”
They will need to if this instability is still dragging on by this time next year.
“Obviously, there is a ticking clock for sure in terms of finding a resolution,” Daly conceded.
“It’s fair to say that we’re going to need to understand the franchise’s future before the end of next season.”
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Many on the outside believe placing a second NHL franchise in the hockey-mad, population-rich Toronto area would be a boon for the league’s bottom line. (Think: New York Yankees and Mets.)
And yet both Bettman and Walsh say the notion of another Toronto club has not been a significant topic of conversation in either the NHL or PA offices, while speculation buzzes over locales like Atlanta, Kansas City, Salt Lake City, and Houston.
“The discussion takes place in your world more than it does in our office. It’s a matter of speculation. It’s a matter of putting things out there,” Bettman said of Toronto 2.0. “But in terms of the interest, the reality, what’s involved, it’s not something that seems to be resonating the way other markets and other ownership requests are resonating.”
Salary cap won’t spike yet
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Despite raking an estimate of nearly $6 billion in hockey-related revenue in 2022-23, the salary cap should only rise by approximately $1 million for the 2024-25 season.
A much larger bump will be anticipated for 2025-26, once the players’ escrow has been taken care of and the owners are made whole.
“The debt is nearly paid off,” Walsh said.
When will we get a World Cup of Hockey?
The short answer: No one knows.
The league and the players had originally targeted February 2025, but that date is now flexible.
Walsh and Bettman met a couple weeks ago to begin to outline an international plan. The sides have both identified the World Cup as a priority and are “off to a great start,” per Bettman.
• Exiled coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman — both working for the Chicago Blackhawks during a sexual assault scandal — have each requested meetings with the league, eager for reinstatement. Bettman will hear them out following the Stanley Cup Final.
The same applies to Montreal Canadiens prospect Logan Mailloux, who is currently ineligible to play after he secretly photographed an 18-year-old woman who was engaged in a sexual act with him, and then shared the image with his teammates without her consent, while he was playing in Sweden in 2020. He too wants to meet with the league but must wait until the Cup is awarded.
• Billionaire Ryan Smith has met with Bettman, hopeful to buy an expansion team for Salt Lake City. (the Utah Jazz owner would be open to a relocated club, but that is not the preference.)
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NHL expansion will not, however, be on the docket at the June board meeting, per Daly.
Check out Smith’s appearance on the 32 Thoughts podcast for more insight into his plans.
• Daly on the mysterious Valeri Nichushkin incident and the player’s disappearance during the Colorado playoff series: “It was handled appropriately both at the club level and I think at the league level, and he’s eligible to play.”
• As was the case with the Avalanche’s victory in 2022, the Stanley Cup will not be visiting Russia this summer.
• The NHL’s investigator has completed the look into the Hockey Canada alleged sexual assault case and is preparing a report that is expected to be completed in July.
“We have been in contact with the London police and continue to want to be in contact with them, make sure that there’s visibility with respect to what our process is and to the extent we can understand theirs is,” Daly said. “I can’t prejudge what happens from there.”