The NHL’s board of governors will meet in Pebble Beach, Calif., beginning Monday, for two days of fun in the sun, a get-together that mostly will deal with housekeeping matters rather than anything explosive or sexy.
The new Canadian television deal, which will bring in $5.2-billion from Rogers Communications starting next year, will be ratified the first day and is the single biggest item on the agenda because of how it will reshape the NHL’s financial landscape in the years ahead.
The deal likely won’t get any opposition and it isn’t even clear if anybody will ask commissioner Gary Bettman to outline the process, which saw TSN shut out of the national cable picture and Hockey Night in Canada effectively emasculated, even though it will continue to air games on Saturday nights for the next four years, with Rogers calling the programming shots.
But the massive increase in Canadian rights fees only kicks in at the start of next season, meaning that it won’t have any salary-cap implications until two years down the road, which is why there’s so much uncertainty about next year’s number.
Generally, Bettman likes to use the December gatherings to give the 30 NHL teams a sense of what next year’s cap will look like, on the grounds that general managers need some basic parameters if they want to ramp up contract negotiations. The question isn’t if the cap is going up from the current $64.3-million (U.S.) level – it is – but by how much.
Estimates from a handful of NHL decision-makers vary.
Those with a conservative view think it could be as little as $68-million. A greater number suggest it could return to the psychologically significant $70-million plateau, which would leave it roughly where it was pre-lockout ($70.2-million).
Many NHL GMs anticipate the big bump will come in 2015, when the cap could go to $75-million or higher, because of the Canadian TV deal and a few other irons the NHL has in the fire, particularly relating to opportunities in Europe. If an agreement for a World Cup of hockey can be reached, not likely before 2016, the cap could approach $80-million.
Still, some, such as the Chicago Blackhawks’ general manager Stan Bowman, are cautious and want to hear the number definitively before they start doing business. In Bowman’s case, that will include negotiating expensive extensions for both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane after next season.
“I don’t know if I’m in the minority, but I’m hesitant,” Bowman told ESPNChicago.com. “There’s no accountability for these random people making these predictions the cap is going to be $80-million. I might be wrong. I think there’s folly. There’s so many factors that go into the salary cap.
“Because there’s a new television deal, I’m not going to assume it’s going to be $80-million. I don’t operate that way. If you base your assumptions on predictions and you’re wrong, I can’t say, ‘They said it was going to be $80-million.’ I’m going to wait to see where it goes. I think it’s safe to say it’s going to go up. I think it’s a little bit irresponsible to say where it’s going to be unless you have intricate knowledge of the cap.”
Just about everyone in hockey operations, including discipline czar Brendan Shanahan, will be at these meetings, reviewing player safety issues and how rule changes, such as hybrid icing, have been received.
Shanahan had a busy first month, but things had quieted down on the supplementary discipline front until Saturday’s game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins resulted in two hearings – a telephone chat with James Neal, for kneeing Brad Marchand in the head as the latter lay on the ice; and an in-person hearing for the Bruins’ Scott Thornton for hurling the Penguins’ Brooks Oprik to the ice and then punching him when he was helpless.
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