Gary Bettman would be right at home on an episode of Seinfeld.
Where better for the NHL commissioner, the man who can speak at length without saying much of anything, than the TV show about nothing?
Wednesday bore witness to Bettman in fine form, as after addressing the league’s 30 general managers to conclude three days of meetings, he led a cordial Q and A with two dozen curious media members.
At issue more than anything were the two pending gong shows facing the commish that will come to define his 2012.
No. 1 being – what else? – the collective bargaining agreement, which expires in September, but will be a hot topic all off-season as GMs grapple with how best to work under a salary cap that will rise in the summer and likely drop by the time hockey is finally played.
Should they spend to the upper limit on July 1 to improve their teams? Or hold back, knowing a new CBA could well mean less to spend overall?
“Everybody has their own situations and budgets,” New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said. “Everybody has to look in the mirror and do what they think is right.”
On CBA talks, Bettman wasn’t much for conversation, even as word leaked out later in the day that the league would cancel its games in Europe that were to start the 2012-13 season.
“The update is there was no update,” Bettman said, somehow keeping a straight face. “There’s nothing going on.”
The second pressing issue of the day, however, offered slightly more, with reporters’ questions on the three-year-old disaster that is the Phoenix Coyotes situation drawing a little information out.
Bettman admitted there may soon come a time when the league has to turn the page on the franchise – “I’m hoping not to get to that point” – but refused to set a deadline for a decision. He also denied there had been any work done on an alternate schedule that accounts for the Coyotes playing elsewhere.
“We’re not planning on moving a franchise,” he said. “If we have to, we’ll deal with [the schedule]at the time.”
And the “if” is where talk of Quebec City comes in.
Now, Bettman’s cone of silence is particularly effective when it comes to situations like the mess in Glendale, Ariz. So little information on the troubled franchise leaks out of the commissioner’s office that even his most trusted allies among the GMs have no idea if one of their franchises is on its way elsewhere.
The commissioner, after all, is an old hand with relocations at this point, and if last year’s experience with the Atlanta Thrashers proved anything, it was that a move can be thrown together in a matter of weeks.
Especially when there’s a landing spot with a committed owner ready to spring into action, as there was last season with Mark Chipman in Winnipeg.
The latest news out of Quebec City is the municipal government is prepared to spend $6.8-million to renovate the ancient Colisée if an NHL team is en route this fall.
A new site for a $400-million rink is all picked out and waiting for shovels to hit the ground in time for a 2015 completion date.
Late April, meanwhile, is considered deadline day in terms of getting a move done for next season, leaving the league six more weeks to keep the Desert Dogs in the desert.
So for all of Bettman’s success in keeping the league side quiet, that sort of progress in terms of contingency plans speaks volumes as to just how close we may be to the return of the Quebec Nordiques.
Given how little talk there was the Thrashers going anywhere, even as of early May of last year, it’s those sorts of subtle signs that offer an indication of what may come.
That’s the thing about Bettman’s show about nothing: There’s usually plenty going on, behind closed doors, and far, far away from the media’s prying eyes.
What you see is not always what you get, especially when it comes to the Coyotes.
“You’ve heard me say this more times than I care to say it,” Bettman said. “It remains a work in progress.”