SBD/October 1, 2013/NHL Season Preview

NHL Appears On Stable Ground As It Kicks Off First Full Season Following Lockout

Bettman said the stability of the new CBA makes being an owner more attractive
The NHL is "remarkably stable as it enters its first full season since" the '12-13 lockout, as there is "no looming labour stoppage, few ownership worries [and] a TV deal," according to Bruce Arthur of the NATIONAL POST. The last six Stanley Cups have been "captured by big or powerful markets." There "won't be another lockout until 2021 or so," and there are new owners for the Devils, Panthers and Coyotes (NATIONAL POST, 9/30). NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, "The stability we have now with a long-term bargaining agreement has made owning a team more attractive." The CP's Stephen Whyno reported more than a year "removed from the start of the work stoppage," Bettman "isn’t looking back." He said, "In the course of operations of any sports league there are always going to be issues, and what you have to do is tackle the issues, make good, informed decisions, hopefully, and then look forward and move on." Bettman added that he "doesn’t think many people are thinking about a year ago." NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "considers his interactions with NHL personnel 'normal business-like." Fehr: "I don’t think people take things personally, not when you’re in a situation in which you’re bargaining. Sometimes you get mad, people are tired and on edge and wish it would end and all the rest of it, but it’s not personal. At least not with me." Whyno noted with "at least six more seasons until either side can opt out of this CBA, Fehr can finally settle into a different aspect of his job." Fehr said, "I understand the potential the sport has even better than I did before, I’m sure of that. And I really like it. I’m having a lot of fun, I’m getting a lot of satisfaction out of it" (CP, 9/30).

ROOM FOR MORE? Bettman downplayed the possibility of expanding to 32 teams, saying there is a "limited amount of space" for teams. Bettman: "If we started expanding tomorrow, people would say, 'We've diluted the product.'" Bettman also addressed whether a "troubled" team could relocate, saying, "We have no troubled teams." He added, "It's interesting because a lot of this speculation and rumor and commentary about troubled franchises was exaggerated. Some of it was wishful thinking by place that wanted (to get a team). ... You don’t move unless you have to" ("The National," CBC, 9/30). But in Vancouver, Ed Willes wrote while the league is "generally dismissive of any talk of new franchises or franchise moves, there does seem to be the distinct whiff of change in the air." Over the past couple of years, there have been "any number of reports identifying interested cities: Quebec, the greater Toronto area, Seattle, Kansas City, even Las Vegas." In fact, Seattle has "emerged as one of the front-runners for a new team." If the league "goes the relocation route, Anaheim is thought to be the franchise which will move." So "where does that leave Canada," specifically Quebec City and Toronto? It is "hard to say, but the problem isn’t a lack of interest." A second Toronto franchise "would instantly become an ATM for the league," as the market would "easily support a second franchise even if it encounters some resistance" from the Maple Leafs and Sabres. The "more intriguing" option is Quebec City. However, an NHL source said that teams in "larger American markets can receive double to triple the amount of corporate sponsorships the Jets receive and five times the local TV contract" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 9/30).

GRASPING FOR THE RING: SI's Sarah Kwak noted the Olympics have "given the NHL an international spotlight for two weeks every four years since 1998," but there is now a "growing list of concerns that imperils a powerful brand extension." Insuring the players "remains a big concern," as the estimated cost for the IOC of insuring players' NHL deals for the '14 Sochi Games will be $8-10M. But the NHL's "biggest grievance is the lost business it suffers by shutting down for a fortnight in the middle of its season." The league has "not committed beyond Sochi and doesn't plan to for a while." That decision will "reveal what's more important: international exposure or increasing revenue" (SI, 9/30 issue). In N.Y., Jeff Klein writes the '14 Sochi Games will "cast a long shadow over the season." If those two weeks "produce anything like the 2010 men's tournament in Vancouver ... it will be worth the wait." The Olympic question "will hang over every NHL game" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/1).
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