LeBrun rumblings: NHL play-in series for playoffs has traction, but not with Gary Bettman — yet

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PALM BEACH, Fla. – At a board meeting that yielded so little news, perhaps the most intriguing thing I learned was an item that not formally discussed.

At least, it was for me.

I conducted an informal survey of governors over two and a half days. The question was simple: Are you in favor of the idea of ​​a play-in before the Stanley Cup playoffs?

I asked 12 governors. It was a 12-0 in favor of the NHL that added a play-in round. I couldn’t find a single dissenting voice.

I’m sure if I could recruit governors from all 32 teams I’d find some against. But still: 12 governors, 12 people who like the idea of ​​a play-in.

None of the governors wanted to talk about it officially because they know they would face the wrath of Commissioner Gary Bettman if they did.

Because Bettman remains steadfastly against the idea. He has been very consistent in this over the years. To which, well, I put the question to Bettman again on Tuesday after the two-day board meeting concluded:

What about the idea of ​​extending the playoffs with a play-in like the NBA has?

“If you say to them, ‘Would you be open to a play-in?’ Some of them might say, “We can talk about it.” We don’t get that feedback,” Bettman insisted. “People think the system we have now works extremely well, and frankly there’s nothing better in sports playoffs than our first round. And so I don’t feel much hunger for change.

Perhaps it is true that owners and team leaders do not hear him about this yet. It certainly wasn’t the time to do it during the pandemic. There were other priorities.

But the more I hear from some of these clubs, the more I feel there will be a point in the next few years when there will be a push for a play-in. And the tipping point could be if U.S. TV affiliates ESPN and TNT decide they want to get behind the idea and put pressure on Bettman to consider it.

I asked Bettman on Tuesday why he doesn’t like the idea.

“You’re trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” Bettman said.

Another reporter asked about possible additional income that could be obtained.

“I’m not sure it increases revenue,” Bettman said. “Watering down the regular season and watering down the playoffs makes little sense to me. I think it’s perfect to have a system where half the teams make the playoffs and the other half don’t.”

This week marks 30 years since Bettman was elected as NHL commissioner at the board meeting at this hotel.

At that point, 16 of the 24 teams made the playoffs. Before that it was 16 out of 21. Which of course was stupid. Way too easy. But now it’s 16 out of 32.

It’s definitely the right time to discuss the merits of a play-in. The highest-profile draft would be No. 7 against No. 10 and No. 8 against No. 9 in each conference in best-of-three series held quickly over up to three days. No travel; the higher seed gets to host the entire series. That’s what some people want to see.

There would be more teams playing relevant games in March, no doubt about that.

And this concept still protects the traditional 16-team playoff field. It’s a play-in to get into the 16.

But for all of this to see the light of day, owners need to backchannel with the commissioner. And I would suggest that it should be done at the executive committee level. That is the smaller group of owners who have the Commissioner’s ear.

League research

Bettman was asked about the ongoing league investigation into the 2018 Canadian junior team, which appears to be nearing its end.

“We still have some work to do,” Bettman said. “We understand that two other investigations are ongoing. We have a bit more coordination work to do, especially with the Players’ Association, but I think we are definitely on the right track.”

What seems clear is that the NHL does not want to interfere in any way with the ongoing police investigation in London, Ontario, which is to say that I think the league is sensitive to the fact that disclosing its findings investigation for the London police finishing their criminal investigations can be a problem.

Bettman was specifically asked if the league would disclose its findings to London police.

“That’s up to the London police. If they asked us not to disclose things, we wouldn’t,” Bettman said.

Salary ceiling

It has been a tradition since 2005 for the league to give governors a preview of next season’s salary cap at this meeting.

To that end, it seems that despite some hope at the October meeting that the cap could increase by more than $4 million if a certain revenue threshold is met this season, HRR won’t meet that, the players won’t quite be done with paying off the bail from the pandemic, which is why we’re probably looking at just a $1 million bump in the cap this summer, to $83.5 million.

“Based on current projections, there will still be an escrow at the end of the season, and if there is, we will increase the limit by $1 million,” Bettman said. “The budget projections we have now are pretty robust – we expect a really good season – but if we do even better, by paying $140, $150 million extra, it is conceivable that the escrow will disappear and then the cap will go up. down to the mid range $86 (million) plus we’ll have to see we’re just going to look at it obviously if we don’t pay off the bail this year it should all be gone after next year and there should be shouldn’t be a problem at all.”

The third option would be to negotiate with the NHLPA for a “smoothing” of cap escalation over the next several years. The league has not yet been approached by the NHLPA (which is discussing it internally with players for now, according to sources briefed on the matter but not authorized to speak publicly).

“That’s not something we’re discussing now,” Bettman said. “It is what it is. If it needs to be changed, it must of course be discussed with the players’ association.”

Based on what I’m hearing, I’d be surprised if the NHLPA didn’t approach the league about it at some point.

The other factor that could potentially negatively impact earnings is a lower Canadian dollar. The seven Canadian clubs have a huge impact on HRR, so a lower Canadian dollar is not ideal.

“We took that into account,” Bettman said. “That was marginal, very marginal, a factor of our initial projections, maybe between $10 and 15 million. Last year we ended up at about $5.4 billion give or take — I’m rounding — which is about half a billion more than we expected. It’s one of the reasons we’re even having this discussion. We expect another good year with increases in HRR. But when we said this, there was about a billion and a half to pay. We collectively – that is, us and the players – have done a pretty good job of making things come back as strong as they have, where it’s crystal clear that this will definitely pay off in the not too distant future.

According to current revenue projections, player debt to owners will fall short about $70 million by the end of the season.

Bettman revealed on Tuesday that at least 12 property parties were interested in selling the Senators.

“There are more than a dozen parties that I believe have signed a non-disclosure agreement and expressed interest in the process,” Bettman said. “The process, I think, requires the data room to be open, which should happen pretty quickly, and they’ll probably start a more structured process after the first of the year.”

Could Canadian Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds be involved in a new ownership group of Senators, regardless of which party ends up on the team? That seems to be what the NHL is hoping for. Bettman said he and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly met with Reynolds.

“Bill and I met Ryan Reynolds, who really impressed us,” said Bettman. “If we can find a way to get him involved, I think that would be great for the Senators and I think that would be great for the league.”

On what stood out about Reynolds:

‘He’s very smart. Besides acting, he has some businesses, and he understands sports and he understands promotion. I think he told us that his followers across all his platforms are over 100 million combined. He is someone who is very popular and very involved.”

As for a timeline for the sales process, that’s still not 100 percent clear.

“In terms of asking who wants to be in the process, (it’s) something that’s ongoing and I think a more formal process won’t start until after the holidays are over and people are focused again,” Bettman said.

No trade lists

Interesting little nugget at the very end of Daly’s media availability. I asked for an update on the league’s desire to centralize no-trade lists to player contracts across the league in the wake of last season’s Vegas-Anaheim trade revocation involving Evgenii Dadonov.

The league announced in March that it would work with the NHLPA to build a clearinghouse for the no-trade lists.

“We have already had discussions with the Players’ Association about creating a requirement that all no-trade documentation be submitted simultaneously to the Central Registry and the Players’ Association,” Daly said at the time.

But after months of back and forth between the league and the NHLPA, it appears there won’t be a common clearing house after all. Daly said on Tuesday it appears the competition will continue on its own and clubs will share no-trade list information with the central registry from next season.

(Photo by Gary Bettman: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)


The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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