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Gary Bettman calls Air Canada’s bluff on sponsorship withdrawal threat


If we’ve learned anything over the years with the NHL, it’s that you can never doubt the resiliency and staunch, seemingly stubborn, resolve of commissioner Gary Bettman.

With the NHL coming under fire the last two days after the Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty incident with the added twist of having major corporate sponsor Air Canada threatening to withdraw their money from the league over the state of the game stemming from that hit, how Bettman responded to all this was going to be curious.

Today, Bettman spoke out about Air Canada’s curious public stance. Once again, Bettman pulled no punches in his thoughts on the matter.

“Air Canada is a great brand as is the National Hockey League and if they decide that they need to do other things with their sponsorship dollars, that’s their prerogative,” the commissioner said, when asked if he took the threat to pull sponsorship money seriously.

Instead, he fired off a counter-threat. “It is the prerogative of our clubs that fly on air Canada to make other arrangements if they don’t think Air Canada is giving them the appropriate level of service,” he said.

All six Canadian teams have charter arrangements with Air Canada. So do five U.S.-based teams.

Air Canada needs the NHL’s continued business badly and while their threat of pulling their money made for good instant P.R. for them, ultimately it’s an empty threat. While Air Canada is Canada’s only major airline, all NHL teams can get access to whichever carriers they need to get around North America. Air Canada comes from a point of convenience in that they’re based north of the border and fly to all the cities that have NHL teams in the country, but they’re not the only airline in the business and that’s something Bettman is more than well aware of.

It seemed like a bold move for Air Canada to take such a stand, but in all honesty it rings hollow as a honest way to try and affect change in something that’s not under their control. With the numerous millions of dollars the NHL does in business with Air Canada for, it was a major risk for them to come out so boldly and it’s one they might ultimately end up regretting. As far as capitalizing on a major incident to generate attention for your company goes, Air Canada certainly picked the right moment to try and seize the spotlight.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.