Owners and general managers converged on Pebble Beach last week to, among other things, get an update on expansion, receive a projected salary cap figure for next season and, of course, work on their golf games.
The key number that emerged was 74.5, that being the salary-cap upper limit in dollars, not the average round on the links. That’s a little more than a $3 million increase on this year’s cap, something that is still very much an estimate but still a little more than many teams, including the Wild, expected.
When you’re a team that wants to find a way to re-sign key restricted free agents such as Jason Zucker, Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba, every dollar counts, so last week’s cap estimate was welcome news in Minnesota.
The Wild has begun contract talks with Zucker and Spurgeon. Zucker should get done at some point, but the Spurgeon talks are interesting because his number in millions would likely need to start with a “4” considering that’s where the contracts of Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin landed.
Re-signing Spurgeon to a lucrative extension could then trigger trades at some point depending on where everybody fits in the salary-cap pie.
In terms of pure news, this was one of the lighter Board of Governors meetings unless you consider the elimination of the ridiculous draft pick compensation for hiring a terminated coach or GM still under contract to another team headline material.
But even though Commissioner Gary Bettman tried to pump the brakes on expansion a bit and there was no actual vote on expansion or timetable for a vote even announced, it’s becoming clearer that an expansion team in Las Vegas is destined, maybe as soon as 2017-18.
The board members, some of whom are worried about expanding into such an untraditional, tricky market, received detailed updates on potential expansion in Las Vegas and Quebec City. But as I have indicated for a while, it certainly sounds like the league could go with one expansion team — Las Vegas — initially and not two. That would put 31 teams in the NHL for at least one season, upping the Western Conference from 14 to 15.
Quebec City then could come in either as a future expansion team or even be relocation protection with Arizona’s lease up in two years and Carolina owner Peter Karmanos looking to sell or at least find a minority owner. The Hurricanes have proved they can fill that rink when they’re relevant, but they are struggling big time at the gate right now. That’s what happens when you’re staring at seven years out of the playoffs.
It’s the same reason Florida struggles with attendance. It’s hard to stay popular in a market like that when you’ve made the playoffs once since 2000 and haven’t won a playoff round since 1996. No lease restructuring and bailout by Broward County (that happened last week) and no complete rebranding (Miami Herald reports that will happen next year) can fix that.
One expansion team would also give Seattle more time to figure out an arena. Of course, Bettman poo-pooed that at the Board of Governors meeting, saying, “I know I’ve seen articles speculating things have slowed down to wait for somebody else or somewhere else to apply, but those stories are categorically untrue.”
But you know things are getting serious with expansion when the mechanics of an expansion draft were discussed during the board meeting. The salary cap and contract no-move and no-trade clauses complicate the situation (the league did allow for players with those clauses to be dumped during the two-year compliance buyout period after the 2012-13 lockout).
“There are a number of these things,” Bettman said. “That’s after you get past the point [of] do we want to expand? Are these the right markets? Are these the right applicants? Are we comfortable with the arena? I mean, the list goes on and on. It’s an important, significant business decision and it’s being treated in a businesslike way.”
NHL short takes
A little trolling?
We’re going to give Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s not trolling Lightning and Maple Leafs fans by always “liking” Stamkos free-agent Twitter rumors.
Sure, it’s a tad coincidental that he has “accidentally liked” such a similar subject twice, but liking things on Twitter by mistake is actually fairly easy to do (heck, I accidentally follow and unfollow people daily) and what would be the point of Stamkos creating such a stir last week by liking a TSN tweet asking if the Maple Leafs should go after him?
That still doesn’t mean Lightning fans shouldn’t be concerned. It sounds like Stamkos is looking for a new benchmark contract, something the Lightning has so far been unwilling to do. The Lightning, off to a rocky start in defending its Eastern Conference crown and fresh off signing coach Jon Cooper to an extension, has to make sure it can re-sign Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov after this season and Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat after next.
Last year at this time, many people had Mike Babcock earmarked for Toronto as coach. Similarly, many believe Stamkos is destined for Toronto.
Best of luck to Original Wild Pascal Dupuis, the very funny winger who decided to retire last week after chest pain forced him to leave a Penguins game.
Dupuis, who missed most of last season because a blood clot traveled to his lung, was terrified when he thought about his family. “If all this was on me, or if I would’ve taken a selfish approach to this, I’d probably still be playing.”
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Tuesday: 7 p.m. vs. Vancouver
Thursday: 7 p.m. vs. N.Y. Rangers
Saturday: 7 p.m. at Nashville
Player to watch: Ryan McDonagh, Rangers
The former Minnesota Mr. Hockey from Cretin-Derham Hall led the Rangers to a President’s Trophy during his first season as captain last year.
“This can’t continue. It’s frustrating.”
— Mike Yeo, after the Wild’s fifth OT loss of the season Monday and one game before the Wild’s six