Holding court on Wednesday with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning, Bettman praised the league and its partners at large for completing the first 82-game regular season in two years. That provided the foundation for a much-needed financial recovery.
“What we’ve done is we’ve (continue to operate), we’ve done the fundamentals of our business,” Bettman said. “We had a major increase in our national media revenues in the United States. Our buildings are back to basically where they were (with attendance), and maybe a little better. Our playoffs this year, the first two rounds generated 88% of the revenues that we did in the first two rounds the last time we had normal playoffs (in 2019). We continued to put on NHL hockey under the most difficult of times. … We were able to stabilize the business and power through.”
Bettman expects the NHL will continue to boom. He revealed a start date of Oct. 11 for next season, and that the entire 2022-23 schedule would be unveiled in early July.
“We anticipate revenues continuing to grow at a healthy rate,” Bettman said. “Two, maybe three years is my projection (for paying off our debts). I can’t really do a very good job of projecting next year or the year after that until we get a fix on this year. But things are very strong and very solid.”
“I think it’s correlated to increased interest in the game,” Bettman said. “Everything we do is only important to the extent that the game is healthy on the ice. And the game is healthy on the ice. Our competitive balance is unmatched by any of the other major leagues, and it gives us incredible races in the regular season, and it gives us playoffs that are as unpredictable as anything you can say.”
In addition to the league’s positive returns, Bettman and Daly addressed more recent lowlights. Most pressing was the NHL’s response to a recently settled lawsuit brought by a woman against Hockey Canada in 2018.
Late last month, the NHL pledged to investigate details behind the young woman’s claim she was allegedly sexually assaulted by eight Canadian Hockey League players, including some members of Hockey Canada’s World Junior Team. TSN first reported news of the lawsuit, and that a discontinuance of it was filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in May.
“We’re underway,” Daly said. “We’ve been in touch with the Players’ Association. They’ve been cooperative to this point in facilitating and arranging interviews with each of the players and we expect to be able to interview each of the players on that team. And we’ve also been in contact with Hockey Canada as well.”
The NHL also remains in the process of resolving its legal matter with Evander Kane. The NHLPA filed a grievance on Kane’s behalf in January after he was placed on unconditional waivers by the San Jose Sharks for breach of contract and violation of COVID-19 protocols.
Kane was in the fourth season of a seven-year, $49 million deal, and stood to lose approximately $22.9 million from his contract being terminated. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent after spending the second half of last season with the Edmonton Oilers.
A resolution to Kane’s issue has been delayed due to scheduling conflicts with the case’s arbitrator, and one may not be reached before free agency opens on July 13.
“(The arbitrator) is not available to us during the month of June unfortunately,” Daly said. “So, we have to work on some dates early in the summer. We’re currently in discussions with the Players’ Association as to what all that means, in terms of Evander’s status. I have no basis really to say (when the case will end). If it goes to the second day of hearing and we wait for a decision from the arbitrator, which will want a written award, my guess is that will be past the date of free agency.”
By then, the NHL will have crowned a Cup champion. But Daly also confirmed that amid the ongoing Russian invasion of the Ukraine, any Russian-born players will not be allowed to take hockey’s chalice home.
“We made both clubs aware already with respect to this summer, the Cup is not going to Russia or Belarus,” Daly said. “We may owe a Cup trip in the future, just like we did with the pandemic. But it’s not happening this summer.”