The NHL Board of Governors wrapped up its December meetings and after Day One saw news about the finalized sale of the Penguins to Fenway Sports Group and employee training programs to combat abuse, there was plenty more to get to on Friday.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly met with reporters to discuss the 2022 Olympics, next season’s salary cap, and the Coyotes’ situation.
Olympic decision in the hands of the NHLPA
The NHL’s stance on player participation is well known, but when the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement was made, a promise was made by the league to the union to work out a deal with the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation. An agreement was hammered out, but COVID-19 concerns and a “whole host of issues” have raised further questions about going to Beijing in February.
There has not be a finalized announcement yet on what would happen if a player tests positive for COVID-19 in China. The Beijing Olympic Committee is expected to reveal details about how long a potential quarantine would be and if the person would be able to leave the country.
“Ultimately, this is going to have to be a players’ decision, unless we jointly agree with the [union] to the contrary,” Bettman said. “And so that’s why, for all the reasons [provided], I am concerned. And probably more.”
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It has been a reported that positive tests could lead to a three-week quarantine period in China and the inability to return him. This would affect not only national teams but also NHL teams upon conclusion of the Olympics.
“I actually find it difficult to believe that a player would want to go understanding he was risking being in China for an extra three weeks,” Bettman said.
We’ll see in the next month if players publicly express their concerns about one. One player who has already withdrawn is Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner, who is eligible to play for Sweden. He announced last week that he will not play in the tournament due to mental health concerns.
Salary cap still expected to rise in 2022-23
The NHL is projecting a record $5.2 billion in hockey-related revenues for this season, which means, as expected, the salary cap ceiling will increase to $82.5 million in 2022-23. Between the new U.S. televisions deals and the expansion fee from the Seattle Kraken, business is starting to rebound for the league 21 months after the COVID-19 pandemic began to have an effect on the league.
Teams have had to work under a $81.5 million cap ceiling for the past two seasons, but will likely see another $1 million bump for next season.
A flat cap world will only last a few more seasons at this rate, according to Bettman. The NHL projects that the players will have paid off their $1 billion escrow debt to the 32 owners by the end of the 2023-24 season. If that happens, a significant rise in the cap ceiling will likely happen for 2024-25.
“We could have recouped [the debt] it sooner but it would have required more from the players, so we smoothed it out,” Bettman said. “But our projections in that regard are holding pretty well, so the system is working as both it was intended and projected.”
No issues in Arizona
The Coyotes were in the news this week after the City of Glendale said the team owed money on bills and was threatening them with eviction from Gila River Arena. Glendale city manager Kevin Phelps told the team they owed $1.3 million in taxes, including $250,000 to the city.
“Humor error” was blamed and the situation was rectified, according to the team.
“There’s no issue with the Arizona Coyotes,” Bettman said. “It’s clear that the City of Glendale has either an agenda or an edge in the way they’re dealing with the Coyotes. I think there was miscommunication. All of the outstanding obligations have been brought current.”
“If Mr. Bettman and others want to believe that not filing 17 monthly tax returns was due to human error, then so be it,” responded Phelps to The Athletic. “As a reminder, this was the same excuse the team used when they failed to pay some of their employees in a timely manner. Glendale does not have an agenda. We just want assurances that the team pay all of their obligations to the city in a timely manner. Our approach is based on our actual experiences with the team. Perhaps the league will be willing to guarantee that the city is fully paid by June 30th, 2022.”
A report by Katie Strang on Thursday said the team still owes $2.7 million in rent and expenses despite this week’s payments. Bettman would only say the franchise is “fine” and “the Coyotes aren’t going anywhere.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.