MANALAPAN, Fla. – Taking a couple days with family, but editor Rory Boylen won’t allow any rest or relaxation without some thoughts on the GM meetings. So here goes:
WE’RE GOING TO GET A QUICK LOOK AT NEW NHL/NHLPA DYNAMICS
Marty Walsh officially begins next week as NHLPA Executive Director, and we’ve already got something to ask him. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman indicated that while the players’ COVID escrow debt is being paid off faster than expected, it probably won’t be eradicated by the time the 2023-24 cap number needs to be set.
So, we’re looking at a $1M raise, instead of, maybe, $4.5M.
“It could be a discussion,” Bettman said Wednesday. “We’re hearing around the bend from players and others that there may be interest in having that, but one thing to keep in mind if we’re going to raise the cap and the escrow hasn’t been paid off, is then we’re going to have to look at raising the escrow rates…The two are inextricably tied together.”
“Others” is undoubtedly GMs and teams. We saw how constipated the league was until right before the trade deadline. Too many clubs squeezed tight to the cap. They crave flexibility like a thirsty person craves water. Anyway, this is true insight into what the Commissioner is thinking.
Included in the CBA is the ability for the NHL and NHLPA to agree to increase the cap “in excess of $1M” once revenue surpassed $4.8B, which has occurred. There doesn’t have to be a modification in escrow rates. The two sides can find common ground in other ways.
What we now know is Bettman is not agreeing to anything unless that change occurs. (Or, something else the commissioner considers valuable.)
During negotiations for this CBA, the players had two options. They could accept higher escrow rates and pay off the debt sooner. Or, they could fight for lower rates, take longer to pay it off, and know the cap would be stagnant a longer time. Annoyed they’d lost too much over the years, the majority selected option B.
The players capped escrow at six per cent for the final three seasons of the agreement. (The first of those seasons is next year.) It was significant for them.
My crystal ball shattered last week, so I’m flying a bit blind here, but I don’t see any future where Walsh walks into the NHLPA and hears any support for raising those numbers. And, I don’t see Bettman agreeing to raise the ceiling more than $1M without something in place that protects team owners in case revenues go sideways. He’s about to get one debt paid off, he’s not going to create the possibility of another.
So, we’ll get an idea of how the Bettman/Walsh dynamic will work, but odds are against a solution. And, behind the scenes, I think everyone realizes that. I hope to be surprised.
Bettman had a gleam in his eye when Sportsnet reporter Sean Reynolds asked him about the Senators’ sale. “I’ve always believed that our franchises have been undervalued — particularly by some quarters in the media,” he said. “And I think this will be a real indication of what the true value of an NHL team is.”
That says he saw something in the opening round (of non-binding bids) he likes.
We’re now in the “check-bid” process where the NHL, the Senators and the sale facilitators go back to thoroughly vet those who submitted and, in some cases, to let them know they came in too low.
Information is not easy to come by, but here’s the best I can share: If there’s any concern Ryan Reynolds would not be a serious bidder — that’s over. He’s very serious and he’s very prepared. People who have heard his plan and seen what he’s put together recognize this is not someone to be underestimated. His share of Mint Mobile, sold Wednesday to T-Mobile, was valued at $340M, according to reports.
Initially, those around the NHL were excited about Reynolds because he’s Deadpool. Now, they’re excited because he’s Deadpool, he’s a smart businessman, he knows marketing and the “Wrexham Plan” would come to Ottawa with him.
He’s partnered with Remington Group. I’m not sure they had the highest bid, but they are competitive and determined. That’s what this round is for, to sort this out.
I do think there were a couple of bidders who came in a bit lower than expected. It could be a slow-play — don’t show all your cards too early. That’s very, very possible. But, if there’s any concern, it’s simply about how much revenue is available in Ottawa, which isn’t a huge market.
There’s a lot to like about the players, the fan base is re-engaged, and the organization was not exactly running at optimum levels for years. All of that is a plus. The NHL’s job is to get the Senators sold at a number that leaves us all agog. Judging from the commissioner’s confidence, that will happen.
Aiden McDonough is in Vancouver. Jayden Struble is in Montreal. Now, Buffalo fans ask, “Where’s our Northeastern guy?”
Make no mistake, the Sabres have made it very clear they want him in the organization right away. They weren’t thrilled by reports they were interested in adding a goalie prior to the trade deadline, because they’d made it clear to Levi and his advisors there would be a legit route to the NHL if he showed he was ready.
We’ll see where this goes on Thursday. Levi is thinking it over, and he’s shown he’s not afraid to consider non-traditional pathways. But he’s clearly ready for professional hockey, and the Sabres have Swiped Right for this Tinder Date.