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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to reporters after the NHL board of governors meeting in Montreal, Wednesday June 24, 2009. The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes. (Graham Hughes)
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to reporters after the NHL board of governors meeting in Montreal, Wednesday June 24, 2009. The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes. (Graham Hughes)

David Shoalts

Bettman expects NHL to break even on Coyotes Add to ...

Gary Bettman still has another day to finish explaining the Phoenix Coyotes' mess to the NHL governors, but he emerged from the first day of their annual meetings to say they liked what they heard so far.

The NHL commissioner would not give many details of what he told the governors, other than to say he provided a general overview of what it is costing the NHL to pay the team's bills this season.

He also filled them in on the Ice Edge Holdings group that has signed a letter of intent to buy the Coyotes from the NHL for $140-million (all currency U.S.). Bettman said he will go into greater detail on the transaction with the governors today, although he assured the governors the league does not expect to lose money on the deal.

"What I told the governors is our expectations are to get out of it with what we put in," he said. "I think it's pretty clear what we put in, $140-million, it's a matter of public record."

Bettman added the league's revenues are flat this season but the salary cap will not change much from this season's $56.8-million. If the Canadian dollar remains in the 95-cent range for the rest of the year, he said, the cap could even go up by about $1-million.

The expectation was that the cap would drop significantly next season because this season's revenues were expected to fall because of the recession. But the strong Canadian dollar means the six Canadian teams, which provide 25 per cent of the NHL's income, all have strong revenues, which keeps the overall figure higher than expected.

"My guess is within a million, a million-and-a-half or two million either way," Bettman said of next season's cap. "I take that all back if the Canadian dollar goes to a buck-fifty."

Bettman also said no one raised the possibility of expansion or relocation into other Canadian markets such as Toronto, Winnipeg or Quebec City.

"The board has no interest in expanding or relocating right now but they are aware of the interest," he said.

One development, which Bettman declined to discuss, was that he asked the board to approve a full share this season for the Coyotes from the NHL's revenue-sharing program. The board has not voted on the proposal yet, but apparently no one voiced an objection.

A full share this season is expected to be between $10-million and $11-million, which is down from last season's $15-million because the softer revenues mean more teams are taking money from the program.

There is potential conflict over giving the Coyotes' a full share. Teams have to hit targets in revenue growth and ticket sales or their share could be cut by as much as 50 per cent, which could cost a team several million dollars.

Giving the Coyotes a full share would come at the expense of others. But one governor merely threw up his hands at the idea.

"What's the difference if we give them a full revenue share or not?" he said. "We've got to pay their bills anyway so it the money will go to them sooner or later."

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, always an important figure at these meetings, had to drop out yesterday. He returned home because of a family medical emergency. Daly was to give the governors a report on the NHL's handling of concussions but that will be presented by a league staff member who worked on the report.

Bettman was followed by Colin Campbell, the league's director of hockey operations. He gave a report on the general managers' efforts to deal with head shots. Last month, the GMs established a committee to study possible deterrents, including new penalties for offenders. The committee is expected to issue its recommendations at the major annual GMs' meetings in March.

New York Islanders owner Charles Wang sounded a gloomy note about his delayed hopes for approval of the billion-dollar Lighthouse Project real-estate development that includes the renovation of Nassau Coliseum. He is waiting for the town government of Hempstead, N.Y., to approve the project and has threatened to move his team when his arena lease expires in 2015.

News that the owners of a proposed new arena in Brooklyn, N.Y., for the NBA's New Jersey Nets sold more than $500-million in bonds for the project this week resulted in speculation Wang might move the Islanders there. The arena is scheduled to be completed in 2012.

Wang sidestepped the question but did not deny the possibility.

"I don't want to do this in the press," he said.

As for the long delayed Lighthouse Project, which was cleared by Nassau County but now awaits approval from Hempstead, Wang shrugged when asked if it would move forward.

"Yeah, I hope so," he said. "Whatever happens, happens."

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