Now that the NHL season has started, there will be no rest for Gary Bettman. He will be one busy NHL Commissioner. Here are the 10 most important issues he has to face on his to-do list.
1. Find A Suitable Owner For A Quebec City Franchise
Pierre Karl Peladeau, owner of Quebecor which made an unsuccessful bid to be the new owner of a returned Quebec Nordiques supports the separatist provincial political party, Parti Quebecois, and made unacceptable racial remarks about anglophone, Geoff Molson, who owns the Montreal Canadiens. Bettman and the NHL Board cannot tolerate such an owner and automatically turned down Peladeau. Now Bettman has to find a suitable owner for Quebec who is French Canadian. Mario Lemieux might have been the logical choice but it has recently been reported that the sale of the Pittsburgh Penguins has been canceled so a new Quebec City team with Lemieux as the main owner does not seem a possibility any more. The sudden resignation of Patrick Roy from the Colorado Avalanche makes one suspect that he will be involved in a returned Quebec franchise. Bettman would like to get this issue resolved quickly because he would like to able to announce a new Quebec team in time for the 100th NHL anniversary and the 150th anniversary of Canada in 2017.
Once the announcement of Quebec’s readmission is made, he will automatically move on to issue 2 which is
2. Realign The League
Once the NHL reaches the symmetrical number of 32 teams, the sensible thing to do is realign the league into the same structure the NFL has; 2 Conferences of 4 Divisions each, with each division having 4 teams. This will make it possible for the league to comfortably expand in the future to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams (5 teams to a division) and even 48 teams (6 teams to a division).
Unfortunately the combination of Quebec/Las Vegas expansion means that one of the two teams that were shifted to the Eastern Conference (Detroit and Columbus, probably Columbus) has to go back to the west which neither wants to do so Bettman now has to move on to issue 3 which is
3. Balance Up The Conferences
When Bettman announced NHL expansion, only two of his expectations came true; fanatical Quebec and Las Vegas went all the way through. What he and the NHL Board were really hoping for was a four-team expansion of Quebec and three new western cities, making the NHL a 34 team league completely balanced between western and eastern cities. Instead the NHL’s greedy $500 million entry fee plus $10 million “consideration” fee ($8 million refundable if you get turned down) was deemed unrealistic and unacceptable by the business world. Of 16 applications that the NHL handed out, only Quebec and Las Vegas went all the way. In particular, “done deal” Seattle and Portland failed to respond. Now most likely the NHL will wait in vain for two more western fanatics to appear which will mean that the NHL will remain unbalanced for a long time or he must consider issue 4
4. Reappraise The Expansion Fee Price
Most of the business world has said that paying $500 million for an NHL franchise is not the true market value. That means that the NHL has to let years pass (and no one can predict how many with any accuracy) until an NHL franchise reaches that value and remain in a state of unbalanced conferences for that time which is unacceptable to the team that is being shifted to the Western Conference. If the NHL wants to expand again as soon as possible so that the league imbalance can be corrected, the only way to lure more investors is to revise the current expansion fee downwards. And if that is only solution, Bettman will probably have to resolve issue 5 which is
5. Refund Money To Quebec And Las Vegas
Clearly before the 2016 expansion was announced, Bettman and the NHL Board had dreams of dividing up a neat, symmetrical, four-team $2 billion expansion pot. The disappointment of only luring a two-city response with absolutely no competition between rival cities at all (probably a “big 4″ North American professional sports league expansion first) was a real slap in the face to the league. (In contrast, the previous NHL expansion had 11 bidders.) So either publicly or privately in a manner to lose as little face as possible, money must be refunded back to Quebec and Las Vegas so that a new, realistic expansion fee can be set. Once that is done Bettman will do
6. Announce More Expansion
And unless you are from Hartford (a city that Bettman promised readmission terms to in 2010 along with Quebec and Winnipeg) or maybe Hamilton or Toronto, any eastern bidder will not get much consideration (Though if you show up with a stack of cash in hand, Bettman and the Board will show some interest, if not now then for the immediate future). The next NHL expansion will be about balancing up the conferences so that the unfortunate team that was shifted can move back east. Seattle, Portland, Houston, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, San Francisco, even small Saskatoon, Spokane, or some unlikely city like San Diego or Tulsa, the NHL wants to hear from you. Two of you will be chosen to be the 33rd and 34th NHL franchises. So if you are from the west and want to be an NHL team owner, your timing could not be better.
But as well as dealing with all these internal NHL issues, Bettman has to deal with some outside of North America starting with
7. Evaluate The World Cup Of Hockey
Unlike the Quebec problem, there is a four year window to do this but the sooner it is started the better. Bringing back the World Cup was a good idea and a success and Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr outlined some ideas for taking the concept further and for introducing new international competition tournaments. But the tournament revealed problems in international hockey, mostly about the level of play. Even before the tournament was announced Bettman recognized that there was a serious gap in the quality of play between the traditional “big 7″ countries, the next “B Level” countries, and the rest of the 50 ranked countries that play hockey. So he created teams North America and Europe to fill out the roster. In his mind, these teams would merely be credible opposition, respectable 7th and 8th placed teams. They were not designed to be the second and third best teams but that is what happened, thus revealing another wide gap in quality of play between champion Canada and the rest of the world.
If Bettman wants the hockey World Cup to get the same stature as soccer’s World Cup he has to face issue 8 which has never been properly dealt with in the 44 years since the Canada-USSR match of 1972
8. Raise The Standard Of Play In International Hockey
After the Canada-USSR match of 1972, there were boasts that soon hockey would be the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer. But in 2016, the same “big 7″ countries are still Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland, and Sweden. There has been no broadening of the base since 1972 to a “big 10″, “big 12″ or ideally “big 16″ and beyond. For some reason Slovakia was not allowed to ice a team at the recent World Cup (they had the most players on team Europe) and Bettman went with teams Europe and North America instead of more national teams. But he must know that if hockey’s World Cup is to gain prestige and stature, credible participation beyond the traditional “big 7″ countries has to occur. To fully achieve this, he has to find some way of raising the standard of play for both the remaining “big 6″ countries and the dozen “B Level” countries up to the standard of Canada. The situation is far worse for international women’s hockey where only the United States and Canada ice credible teams and the sport has been threatened with expulsion from the Olympics.
Almost the only steps that have been taken in the past 44 years are to host some clinics by the NHL and to send coaches from the “big 7″ countries to develop players in other countries. It is not enough and if Bettman wants to see real improvement, he will have to thoroughly examine why Canada has been able to create a system that develops hockey players of such quality and quantity that puts it continually above the rest of the world and then formulate and implement plans so that other countries can consistently reach that level of play. One unexpected bonus of the World Cup was that it revealed where to start. The composition of second place team Europe was mostly Slovaks, Germans, Swiss, and Danish players. So a tangible goal for the 2020 World Cup would be to raise standard of play for the remaining “big 6″ countries plus Germany, Switzerland and Denmark and to have a “big 10″ World Cup in 2020. Even the development of just three “B Level” countries to the higher standards of the “big 7″ countries permanently would be a real revolution in international hockey after the static development of the past four decades.
But even before 2020, Commissioner Bettman must resolve issue 9 which is
9. Decide If The NHL Participates In The 2018 Olympics
Bettman and Bill Daly announced that a final decision about NHL participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea would be made in December or January. The NHL has participated in every Olympics since 1998. Several players including Alexander Ovechkin have said they will play in the Olympics whether the NHL officially participates or not. It is a ticklish question and the easiest way out is for the NHL to remain an official participant. Money. specifically who pays for what is said to be the main stumbling block.
And finally there is the countdown to 2017 when
10. NHL Celebrates Its Centennial Anniversary
During the World Cup, Bettman outlined many plans for the upcoming 100th NHL anniversary. Wayne Gretzky has been named the NHL’s official ambassador for these projects. There are more plans being created for 2017. The founding of the NHL in 1917 was an all Canadian affair. The first American team, the Boston Bruins, did not join the league until 1924, so the focus of the upcoming celebration will be on Canada. One of the founding members of the NHL was the Quebec Bulldogs. So bringing back an NHL team to Quebec would be one of the main goals for 2017. Which brings us back to issue number 1…