Sunday NHL Insider: Economic outlook brightens for NHL

  • Updated: December 14, 2013 - 10:19 PM

TV money is increasing for NHL teams, the salary cap is likely going to rise, and there’s expansion interest.

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Outdoor games, such as the one between the Flyers and Rangers in 2012, are big money-makers for the NHL. There are six this season.

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It’s not often you get an NHL Board of Governors meeting that’s not full of doom and gloom.

But last weekend when Gary Bettman addressed a bunch of suits that lead the league’s 30 franchises in Pebble Beach, there was no talk of labor disputes and ownership problems in such places as Glendale, Ariz.; Newark, N.J., and Sunrise, Fla.

Instead, the NHL commissioner watched as his record 12-year, $5.2 billion Canadian TV deal was approved, announced that revenues are expected to exceed a record $3.3 billion this season and revealed that next year’s salary-cap ceiling is expected to rise nearly $7 million to surpass $71 million.

And that number should only rise in future years. The TV deal kicks in next year. Outdoor games are generating big revenue (there are six this year). And there seems to be definite traction toward the NHL expanding by two franchises in the next few years.

There’s been ample interest. Seattle is the biggest front-runner, with Quebec City or a second team in Toronto also a possibility. But unless a team from the East like Columbus is going to move back to the Western Conference (there are 16 teams currently in the East, 14 in the West), the West could actually be in line for two expansion teams.

There is a well-organized group interested in putting an expansion team in Las Vegas, and AEG and MGM Resorts International are building a new $350-million arena on the Las Vegas Strip near New York-New York that should be completed by 2016.

The league keeps growing, which, of course, is good news for the Wild. This past summer, the Wild had a difficult time getting cap compliant thanks to last year’s lockout resulting in a $6 million decrease in the salary cap.

Once the Wild couldn’t buy out injured Dany Heatley, the complexion of the entire offseason changed. The Wild had to buy out defenseman Tom Gilbert, let center Matt Cullen go via free agency, and trade Devin Setoguchi.

It also meant the Wild was forced to play a bunch of 21-year-old forwards who arguably aren’t ready yet to produce offensively with consistency.

But with the cap again rising and Heatley, Mike Rupp and maybe Zenon Konopka coming off the books next summer, the Wild will have more than $20 million at its disposal. That includes re-signing restricted free agent Nino Niederreiter and potentially going after a pure goal scorer like unrestricted free agent Thomas Vanek and/or a defenseman or goaltender.

“Last summer was a difficult summer for every team in the league, and certainly for us,” Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. “We had to move some players to become cap compliant. Next summer we’ll be in a situation where we have $6 or $7 million in additional cap space. The challenge always will be to use that cap space wisely, but we will have that flexibility to make some decisions.”

The cap increasing significantly in the next few years also relieves some pressure in re-signing its key restricted free agents. Next season Jonas Brodin, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Marco Scandella all will be entering the final years of their contracts.

The Wild would be permitted to sign any of them to contract extensions after July 1. It wouldn’t be a shock if the Wild looks to sign a youngster like Brodin to the maximum eight-year contract extension.

“Everything is trending upward in this league,” Fletcher said. “I don’t think the game has ever been better on the ice and we’re fortunate the fans have really come back and supported us strongly after the work stoppage.

“It’s remarkable when you look back to where we were a year ago and how far things have come in a year.”

Feaster is a goner

Most figured Jay Feaster was a goner as Calgary Flames GM the minute Brian Burke arrived to guide the ship, but the timing last week to dismiss Feaster still came abruptly.

But after a 60-plus-day evaluation of Feaster’s drafting and trading, Burke decided the time was now.

“I’m not patient. I was born impatient. I’m going to die impatient,” he said. With Buffalo also looking for a GM, Burke said “time could be of vital essence here” in case there is overlapping of candidates.

Joe Nieuwendyk and Claude Loiselle are considered candidates.

Burke said the move was to accelerate the rebuild and “is all about having a parade.” He said the Flames aren’t big enough or “hostile enough.”

“I don’t like playing flag football. I like teams that bang. I don’t like the way we play. We want black-and-blue hockey here,” Burke said.

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