NHL Board of Governors notebook: Olympics concern, 2024 draft in Vegas and more – The Athletic

SEATTLE — Bob Nicholson probably was the most interested member of the audience in the Board of Governors meeting Tuesday when NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly delivered an Olympic update.

As an IIHF vice-president, the Edmonton Oilers executive has a bit more insight than your average NHL governor on the matter. And well, while some NHL owners don’t even want to go back to the Olympics, Nicholson has always strongly believed in NHL player participation.

But he’s also a realist. And the update from the NHL on Tuesday wasn’t a rosy one. There are still some issues that need addressing for Connor McDavid and his generation of star players to finally get to play in the Olympic Games in Italy in 2026.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,’’ Nicholson told The Athletic after the meetings wrapped up. “There’s the three major issues: insurance (on player contracts), looks like there’s some avenues to get insurance done but it’s still not completed. The second one is the family program (traveling/housing players’ families) and where those funds will come from, they’re exploring options.

“And the third one is facilities,’’ added Nicholson. “A lot of work to do. They need two facilities. They need one major facility. They haven’t broken ground on it yet. They’ve been looking at a second facility that has a lot of work to be done on it. And how many fans can get into it remains an unknown.’’

And while NHL commissioner Gary Bettman once again emphasized the league’s intention to do all it can to make it happen because they know how important it is to players, his tone after the Board meeting Tuesday was the most negative we’ve heard since this process began with Italy 2026.

“It’s not about making a decision, it’s trying to finalize the plans, some of which are beyond our control,’’ Bettman said. “It’s up to the International Olympic Committee and the IIHF to put things in place that need to be there. And, not insignificantly, they have a lot of work to do on the arena. I don’t think they’ve actually begun construction on it, which is a matter of some concern.’’

Bettman reiterated what Nicholson said that player contract insurance and travel remain issues that need resolving.

“The accommodation for players and players’ families is of particular concern,’’ Bettman said. “I’m not worried about it from our standpoint, that’s not significant to us.

“But the thing I’m most focused on and most concerned about is the building.’’

Bettman said Olympic hockey rinks are normally built at least a year in advance so that there’s time to have test events in them.

“They’re projecting that it won’t be done until the fourth quarter of ’25 which is like six or eight weeks before the Olympics, if they’re on time; and I think they’re already late,’’ Bettman said. “But that’s nothing we can control, it’s an IOC and a Milano-Cortina organizer issue.’’

The other wrinkle Daly provided is the potential because of the arena issues for the hockey tournament to be played outside of Milan if a Plan B arena solution is needed.

“The question is whether it’s going to be in Milan or not and that’s a concern for sure, I would imagine that’s a concern for the players as well,’’ Daly said. “Going to the Olympics but not participating in the Olympic experience is a problem, I would think.

“But you know, it’s ongoing (discussions), it’s productive, I can’t say I’m pessimistic at all.’’

The vibe from NHLPA headquarters is more positive as far as things getting figured out but even from the players’ union there’s no denying the issues presented above by the league.

But the impression one got Tuesday not just from what was said but the manner in which it was delivered is that the league is preparing an early defense just in case Olympic participation doesn’t get ironed out.

Which would be an awful outcome by any measure.

In the shorter term, Bettman confirmed the speculation that instead of a World Cup of Hockey in February 2025, the league and NHLPA will likely hold a best-on-best, four-country, in-season tournament featuring Finland, Sweden, Canada and the U.S. (using NHL players, of course).

“It hasn’t been finalized but that’s what we’re focused on,’’ said Bettman, who also figures that the event will be held in multiple locations.

“It would be a preview of international best on best with the goal being in 2028 to unveil a full World Cup and that’s something we continue to work on,’’ Bettman added.

The commissioner also stressed that the ultimate goal is to have the Olympics and a World Cup of Hockey follow each other every two years in a normal, fixed rotation, long term.

“That’s the cycle we’re trying to get on,’’ Bettman said.

One can only hope. — LeBrun

The NHL will host the 2024 draft at the Sphere near the Las Vegas Strip. (Jeff Speer / Icon Sportswire)

2024 draft details

In a draft the NHL expects to be the last of its kind, the league is planning to go out with a bang.

Gary Bettman told the league’s Board of Governors on Tuesday that the NHL has finalized plans to take the June 2024 draft to the Sphere in Las Vegas.

Not only will it be the final draft that brings together the front offices of all 32 NHL teams under one roof, it’ll mark the first time a professional sports league has staged an event inside the $2.3 billion venue that opened to rave reviews earlier this year.

“The Sphere is a spectacular property,” said Bettman.

The biggest hurdle in securing the building for the June 28-29 event was the cost — not just for booking the 18,600-seat auditorium, but for creating a production that maximizes the capabilities of a 16k resolution wraparound interior LED screen, plus another massive one on the exterior of the building.

While league officials declined to reveal how much they’ve budgeted for the 2024 draft, one team governor said that the NHL commissioner called it “crazy expensive” while discussing the subject during Tuesday’s meeting.

The NHL intends to make a splash on a weekend where it initially planned to hold the draft at T-Mobile Arena, only to get bumped from the home of the Vegas Golden Knights by a UFC fight card.

“I think it’ll be a pretty well-viewed event, both in terms of the draft itself and the viral use of the Sphere — inside and outside, using the globe,” said Bettman. “So we think it’ll be fun. We think it will be dramatic and compelling.”

The event will mark the end of an era for the NHL, which has held its annual draft in a single location since 1963 — save for the 2020 and 2021 versions, which were conducted virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A poll of NHL teams in October showed overwhelming support for moving to a decentralized format similar to what the NFL and NBA use, with team staff remaining in their respective cities while the prospects gather in one location.

That will take effect starting in 2025.

“Draft is still going to be a big deal,” said Bettman. “The families are going to be there, the prospects are going to be there, (the media are) all going to be there. But this gives the teams who felt it was important (a better work environment).

“There are more and more people with computers and data involved in the draft and doing that type of work on the floor, they are all more comfortable in their home environments.” — Johnston

Coyotes’ Groundhog Day

The Board got an Arizona Coyotes update in which there appears to be hope of finalizing a land deal in January somewhere in the Phoenix area to build a new arena.

“It seems to be moving along in a positive direction,’’ Daly said. “So we’re hopeful that continues.’’

Stop me if you’ve heard that before.

“They’re looking at a particular piece of property and they’re hoping in the next few weeks, the next couple of months, to get it finalized,’’ Bettman said. “And they understand that it’s important that it gets finalized in time for us to do next season’s schedule.’’

Dating back to last June’s Stanley Cup Final commissioner’s news conference when Bettman put the Coyotes on notice in a manner publicly like he never had before, there is again a sense that either the Coyotes finally produce a concrete, shovel-in-the-ground arena plan by the end of January or else the team could get relocated. — LeBrun

International in-season tournament

The NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament has captured the attention of players and fans — with a $500,000-per-player payout hinging on Saturday’s final and TV ratings far outpacing typical regular-season games — but it hasn’t captured Bettman’s imagination.

When asked if there was anything the NHL might consider borrowing from the concept, he indicated that it was a solution in need of a problem.

“We like our regular season,” said Bettman. “For us it doesn’t address anything that we think we need. To the extent we’re going to do an in-season tournament, it’ll be an international best-on-best.”

The next one of those is expected to be the Four Nations event the league is planning for February 2025 involving players from Sweden, Finland, Canada and the United States. — Johnston

Expansion talk

Expansion was not on the agenda at this week’s Board meetings, but Bettman reiterated the league continues to get interest from places like Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Houston and Quebec City.

“We’ll listen to expressions of interest, will one of them come to fruition? Presently I’m not focused on it,’’ Bettman said. “I wouldn’t rule anything out at some point in time. But it’s not anything that’s front-burner for us.’’

Reading between the lines here, especially given the $2 billion or so expansion fee that’s likely the cost next time around, expansion will happen eventually but the league has to iron out the Coyotes first in case relocation is needed. — LeBrun

Michael Andlauer became the majority owner of the Senators in September 2023. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press via AP)

Andlauer’s Senators assessment

Michael Andlauer is only a couple of months into his ownership of the Ottawa Senators, but he already feels the frustration of the fan base.

That includes those who have called for head coach D.J. Smith to be fired during recent games at Canadian Tire Centre.

“They’re passionate,” said Andlauer. “They’ve also gone six years without making the playoffs, so I totally understand their angst. The only thing I can say is I’m as big a fan. I know that I cannot socialize when the game’s on. I’m pretty intense.

“It’s a process. I’m the new boss, I’m looking at all of our key employees, let’s say, and trying to understand and making sure that they have the right tools to be successful.

“I can feel the fan’s angst.”

Andlauer is trying to guard against making any hasty or emotional decisions with a team that has played by far the fewest games of any NHL team. The New York Rangers visit to Ottawa on Tuesday night was just the Sens’ 20th game of the season.

“We’re making our notes,” said Andlauer. “It’s so early in the season, you know, we’re not even a quarter of the way there. At least we’re not.”

It’s been an eventful time since he finalized the purchase of the team from Eugene Melnyk’s estate in September.

Andlauer parted ways with general manager Pierre Dorion on Nov. 1 after the Sens were docked a first-round draft pick for their role in not properly disclosing Evgenii Dadonov’s trade list as part of a July 2021 deal to Vegas involving that player. That came days after news that Ottawa forward Shane Pinto was suspended 41 games by the NHL for violating gambling rules.

Andlauer is also working on plans to get a new arena built for his team in downtown Ottawa, and took the opportunity during his visit to Seattle to tour Climate Pledge Arena on Monday.

“They showed us pretty much everything, including the electric Zambonis,” he said. “I got to learn a bit about some of the new modern arenas in the NHL and this one’s pretty special.” — Johnston

Perry’s status

While there’s no indication that Corey Perry will seek to resume his NHL career after having his contract terminated by the Chicago Blackhawks last week, it’s not clear what a potential path back to the league would even look like for the veteran forward.

Bettman declined to say if it would, for example, include a visit to his office for a meeting or some kind of league-initiated approval process.

“That’s something that I’ll have to determine if the case arises,” said Bettman. “You’re asking me to speculate at this point and I’m not prepared to do that.”

The circumstances behind what caused the Blackhawks to terminate Perry’s $4 million, one-year contract weren’t revealed publicly. In a statement, the 38-year-old apologized for his actions and said he would be seeking treatment for his struggles with alcohol.

The Blackhawks conducted an internal review into what they deemed a “workplace matter” involving Perry before cutting ties with him. The NHL didn’t do any independent diligence beyond that.

“We were comfortable with the investigation that the club did,” said Bettman. — Johnston

2018 World Junior investigation

I asked Bettman for an update on the 2018 World Junior team investigation, and contrary to the status quo type response we were getting over the past year on it, the commissioner gave a different kind of answer Tuesday.

“The process is continuing and we’re trying to bring it to a conclusion; it’s complicated, it hasn’t been easy for a whole host of reasons,’’ Bettman said. “But we’re continuing to progress on the process.’’

That’s all he would say on it, but I believe that answer plays into what I speculated on a few days ago, that while no one at the league or NHLPA will confirm this, my suspicion is that the delay in announcing potential suspensions has to do with the NHL and NHLPA being in active discussions with the agents for certain players involved as far as negotiating what discipline would look like. Which is similar to how the Shane Pinto gambling suspension played out with all sides signing off.

But again, I will reiterate, I’m not convinced that all sides in this case will get on the same page. So, who knows how this ultimately plays out.

Other items that Bettman said were covered during the two days of meetings:

• Colin Campbell and Stephen Walkom gave a hockey ops update which included officiating, George Parros also spoke on behalf of the Player Safety Department;

• There was an update from the league’s Industry Growth Fund as well as an update on the two-year-old Respect Hockey initiative;

• The league as expected gave an update/reminder to governors on its gambling policies in the wake of the Shane Pinto suspension;

• USA Hockey presented to the Board, making a pitch for greater involvement from the NHL;

• There was a presentation on Artificial Intelligence and its potential application in the NHL (some governors told us they found it fascinating, some also admitted they didn’t really get it);

• The sports apparel company Fanatics addressed the governors, they’re taking over making NHL uniforms next season;

• The league’s chief medical officer addressed the Board and discussed what the league’s emergency procedures are in each of the NHL buildings;

• Steve Mayer, the league’s events and content guru, updated the Board on some all-access content the league is aiming to create over the next year. — LeBrun

(Top photo of Sidney Crosby at the 2014 Olympics: David E. Klutho / Sports Illustrated / Getty Images)

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Mark Evans

Hey there, I'm Mark Evans, a student at The King's University in Edmonton. I'm passionate about fitness and gaming, and I love writing about both. You can usually find me pounding away on my keyboard, crafting blog articles for various websites and news outlets. I've been interested in fitness for as long as I can remember, and I've always loved trying out new workouts and experimenting with different diets. On the gaming side of things, I'm a huge fan of all kinds of games, from action-packed shooters to immersive RPGs. When I'm not hitting the gym or diving into a new game, I love spending time with my friends and family, exploring the city, and trying out new restaurants. Thanks for stopping by my blog, and I hope you enjoy my articles as much as I enjoy writing them!

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