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Sunday hockey notes

With voters shooting down a new home in Tempe, what will happen to the Arizona Coyotes?

The Coyotes played their home games this season at Arizona State's Mullett Arena.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Four bids for the Ottawa Senators, one reportedly for $1 billion (US funds), were submitted by Monday’s deadline and it now will be a couple of weeks, possibly a touch longer, before sisters Anna and Olivia Melnyk decide who they’ll choose to buy their late father’s cherished Original 32 asset.

Eugene Melnyk’s daughters are expected to be cut in as partial owners, perhaps each with a 5 percent share, when the deal is finalized. Per reports, the sisters made that stipulation clear from the outset, along with insisting that the new owner(s) would keep the franchise in Ottawa, where it has operated since Norm Maciver and crew first hit the ice in 1992.


If only NHL business in Arizona could be so tidy, so streamlined and promising. As the weekend approached, in the wake of Tuesday’s public vote that denied the Coyotes a shiny new home in Tempe, the future of the franchise remained TBD.

Arizona for years has been the perpetual dumpster fire that Gary Bettman has refused to extinguish, the NHL commissioner steadfastly believing that the sunniest spot in the Sun Belt this side of Las Vegas has the rich demographics and corporate base that translate to sustainability. The reasoning is right, but the outcome forever wrong. Why? One has to wonder if the public vote would have been yay Tuesday if the sad-sack Coyotes hadn’t missed the playoffs in 10 of the last 11 seasons.

Hockey fans in Arizona, be they ardent or casual drive-by gawkers, don’t have to be sold on the sun. But at some point, the product has to offer a ray or two of sunshine.

In Ottawa, it turned out there were more bidders (including Snoop Dogg in one of the four bidding groups) and bigger offers than expected some eight months ago when the franchise went up for sale. Actor Ryan Reynolds, by the way, was part of a group that in the end decided not to submit a bid. There’s a chance one of the four bidders will encourage him to invest.


By and large, NHL business is strong, and remarkably stable, thanks in large part to the 2005 implementation of the salary cap, which came at the cost of the dastardly 2004-05 lockout season (a moment of silence here, please). It was as messy as it gets, but Bettman delivered cost certainty, the owners’ holy grail, and player payrolls have jumped by more than 100 percent since from the $39 million per team of that first cap season.

Long gone and virtually forgotten (thankfully) are the days when the Senators scurried to cover payroll, when EMC co-founder Roger Marino couldn’t wait to unload his Penguins, when the Coyotes — yep, those same Coyotes — had one big toe over the blue line and the other dipped in the red ink of bankruptcy court.

It's been a strange season for the Coyotes.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

It’s a league now that has all seven of its Canadian franchises stabilized, with no one talking about, say, Winnipeg packing up like the Jets did in 1996 and bolting for the assumed riches of the Arizona desert. There remains that lingering talk that Quebec City, Hamilton, Regina, or Saskatoon one day could come aboard via expansion, but none of that talk ever moves beyond the barstools of those cities, no matter how desperately graybeard NHL beat writers pray that Quebec City would get back in the game. Alas, and c’est la vie.


Meanwhile, the conference finals have just begun, and your faithful puck chronicler/geographer is here to tell you that Las Vegas is the northernmost outpost of the Sun Belt Four, followed by Raleigh, Dallas, and southernmost Sunrise. There’s only about 10 degrees of latitudinal separation (26-36) between the Sun Belt outposts, not to mention NHL history that only traces back to 1993, when both the Panthers and Stars opened for business.

The Panthers were born via expansion, first operating in Miami Arena, and the Stars entered as emigres from Bloomington, Minn. It took until the 2000 debut of the Wild for Minnesotans to win back their State of Hockey.

It was 1993, by the way, when the Canadiens enjoyed what stands as their most recent Stanley Cup title, which also stands as the most recent for all the Canadian franchises. The Cup has landed in an American city every year since and will again this year.

Save for Arizona, the NHL’s Sun Belt expansion has prospered since Bettman took office as the league’s first commissioner in early 1993. He deserves much of the credit for the growth, as well as the criticism for the protracted stumblings of the Arizona franchise.

Maybe now Bettman will just let his Phoenix-Glendale-Tempe fetish go. If he does, the bet here is that the franchise ends up in Houston, long the favored spot of NHL chairman Jeremy Jacobs, known better in these parts as the Bruins’ owner. Salt Lake City and Kansas City also will have hands held high, but Houston ranks No. 7 among US television markets.


The top six TV markets have NHL teams, except for No. 6, Atlanta, where the Flames and Thrashers couldn’t make a go of it. Like Phoenix, Atlanta is in the Sun Belt. Like Phoenix, it presents a solid case for demographics and corporate base. But it has whiffed twice.

The Thrashers, now doing business as the reborn Winnipeg Jets, qualified for the postseason only once in 11 years (sound familiar?), only to be erased in four straight by the Rangers in 2007.

The Flames fared slightly better, entering the league in 1972 and qualifying in six of their eight seasons prior to moving to Calgary. They never made it out of Round 1 and departed with a 2-15 postseason record. In their 19 NHL seasons, the Thrashers and Flames won two playoff games. Mercy.

Sun Belt cities have won 11 of the Cup titles dating to 1996, the Avalanche copping the first of those less than 12 months after new owners relocated the franchise from Quebec City. The Sun Belt’s Cup tally: Colorado (3), Tampa Bay (3), Los Angeles (2), Anaheim (1), Carolina (1), and Dallas (1).

In less than a month, Sun Belt Cup No. 12 will be awarded. The Senators likely will have new owners. And the Coyotes, now wandering the desert for 27 years, finally may be set free to find a different promised land.



NHL could learn from the NBA

One of the great hooks of playoff hockey is the frequent, if not customary, frantic final minutes of play. The pace is almost always riveting, viewers reluctant to turn away from the TV for even the 10 seconds (FOMO!) it might take to dash to the kitchen for a refill. It’s all the more gripping in overtime.

Knowing full well how unpopular this take will sound for those hooked on that intoxicating rush, the NHL might want to consider stealing a page from the NBA broadcast book, and its revenue stream. By letting the on-ice action run uninterrupted, and keeping us with our noses pressed to the screen, it’s leaving significant money on the table.

With trusty stopwatch in hand, your faithful puck chronicler timed out the final seven minutes of play in Game 6 of the recent Celtics-76ers playoff series. Great action, but for anyone hooked on hockey viewing, the pace was agonizingly slow. Nothing new. That’s the NBA. College hoops, too.

With the constant breaks in action, including frequent timeouts and incessant barrage of TV commercials as its connective tissue, it took 25:45 for those seven playing minutes to run down in Game 6. But by and large, viewers simply accept it. Celtics fans, thrilled with the outcome, probably wished it took longer.

In a typical NHL game, which usually lasts around 2:35,a 20-minute period usually lasts 40 minutes, which includes three mandatory TV timeouts that last two minutes each. Strip out those nine TV timeouts across three periods and that game time would drop from 2:35 to something closer to 2:15. A beat writer’s paradise, by the way, is a 7:08 p.m. start that wraps prior to 9:30. It’s usually paradise lost.

The NHL easily could build in a mandatory coaches’ timeout (one minute) and an added two-minute TV timeout in the late stages (back half of the third period) of playoff hockey. It would be the fourth two-minute break of the period, allowing for 90 more seconds of TV ads. Is anyone going to stop watching if the period took 43 minutes instead of 40? Nope. In fact, some viewers even would welcome the break (the bathroom beckons).

Ad revenues boost TV profits, which in turn translate to higher broadcast rights fees that funnel directly into Hockey Related Revenue (split 50/50 with the players). The league also easily could build a fourth break of two minutes into the first and second periods. More breaks. More ad sales. And the length of games would be increased by only seven minutes.

Think of that added revenue in the regular season, night after night, with 32 teams providing all that additional ad sales time. Remember, this is a league that subjects its TV viewers to the annoying, ever-changing ads on the sideboards. Every inch of that screen is for sale. And the NBA product is proof positive that viewers will hang in no matter how long the clock gets stretched.


Swayman deal on the agenda

What sort of contract is Jeremy Swayman deserving of this offseason?Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney’s lengthy offseason to-do list includes finding “a landing spot” on a new deal with goalie Jeremy Swayman, his entry-level contract now expired. Based on comps, it will be possibly worth $4.5 million a year or more.

Swayman, 24, finished his three-year contract with a 54-23-8 mark, better totals than three goaltenders who best compare to his time and place on the career arc: Thatcher Demko (Canucks), Spencer Knight (Panthers), and Jake Oettinger (Stars).

Oettinger, by the way, entered the Western Conference finals with an 8-5 record. The ex-Boston University goalie logged 62 games in the regular season, behind only Juuse Saros (Predators) and Connor Hellebuyck (Jets), 64 each.

Oettinger in September, after terming out of his entry deal, signed a two-year extension with a $4 million cap hit. He brought a 41-23-8 mark to the bargaining table.

Knight, with a 23-9-3 record, also signed in September, a three-year pact with a $4.5 million cap hit.

Demko, a Boston College alum like Knight, was 34-31–4 when he termed out of his entry deal in the spring of 2021. The Canucks locked him up that March for five years, $25 million.

Swayman’s new deal easily could bring him the $5 million a year that wooed partner Linus Ullmark away from the Sabres in the summer of 2021. Ullmark, then 28, arrived in Boston with a career mark of 50-47-13.

A restricted free agent, Swayman could field bids from outside Boston, with the Bruins holding the right to match. Even at a budget-friendly $4 million, matching it may mean having to part with Ullmark, whose contract has two years remaining and allows Sweeney to deal him to one of 15 teams he designates.

An idea years in the making

The league’s move to the Sun Belt may indeed have blossomed under Gary Bettman’s watch, but its design was roughed out in the 1980s by the league’s prior administration, headed by president John Ziegler (he of the ever-present silken pocket handkerchief). Following the four-team WHA adoption of 1979, which created the Original 21, Ziegler formulated a “Vision for the ‘90s” initiative aimed at boosting membership to 30 teams.

“It was absolutely vanilla as to where the teams would come from,” Ziegler recounted to the Toronto Star in 2009. “What we were looking for was a strong urban center, a place that had an identity with professional sports, and the other was a financially sound owner.”

The Toronto Star story, written by Robert Cribb, came some four years into the cap era. The Coyotes were in bankruptcy. The full effects of the cap had yet to bloom but ultimately led to enhanced TV rights fees and humongous expansion money culled from Vegas ($500 million) and Seattle ($650 million).

The NHL in 2009 had 30 teams. There was talk of US teams relocating to Canada, or perhaps even contraction. Not a whisper of that anymore.

“Bettman should have stopped five teams ago,” Roger Noll, a professor of sports economics at Stanford University told the Star in 2009. “It isn’t going to work.”

Loose pucks

It's looking like a busy offseason for Don Sweeney.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The Bruins still own five picks, ranging from No. 92 to 220, for the upcoming (June 28-29) draft in Nashville. Sweeney dealt their top pick (No. 28) in the Dmitry Orlov-Garnet Hathaway acquisitions from Washington, and the Capitals shipped the pick to the Maple Leafs when acquiring Rasmus Sandin. The Bruins’ second pick (No. 60) belongs to Anaheim, part of the compensation for the 2022 deadline acquisition of Hampus Lindholm. Sweeney, in need of easing some payroll burden, could pick up a first- or second-rounder and/or prospect by dealing a veteran or two as a means to fit his 2023-24 roster under the $83.5 million cap limit … The news Wednesday that Lindholm played with a fractured foot provides some context as to why the defenseman’s performance was so dull in the seven-game series against the Panthers. After delivering an impressive 10-43–53 in the regular season, Lindholm went Full Zero for the seven games vs. Florida. Led in production by Orlov’s 0-8–8, the backliners did not score a goal (0-18–18). During the regular season, the Bruins were 27-3-0 in games at least one of their defenseman scored a goal … The Panthers’ defensemen entered the Eastern Conference finals with nine goals in 12 games, led by six from Brandon Montour, the ex-Sabre who hits the free agent market on July 1 (the Panthers unlikely to meet his request of perhaps $7 million a year or more). Hurricanes blue liners entered the semis with seven goals, followed by Dallas and Vegas with two each … Tiny bit of solace for Canada: All four coaches in the conference finals hail originally from Ontario: Bruce Cassidy, Vegas (Ottawa); Paul Maurice, Florida (Sault St. Marie), Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina (Ottawa); Peter DeBoer, Dallas (Dunnville). All but Brind’Amour played for OHL junior teams. Picked No. 9 in 1988 by the Blues, Brind’Amour played a year at Michigan State before turning pro with St. Louis in 1989 … Jonathan Marchessault’s second-period hat trick last Sunday for the Golden Knights finished off the Oilers’ dreams of the Cup. The 32-year-old winger, left undrafted after his first year with the Quebec Remparts, has turned into one of the game’s most effective scorers since finally landing full-time work in his one season with the Panthers in 2016-17. In his seven full-time seasons, most of those with Vegas, he has 180 goals in the regular season, ranking 31st in that span. Not bad for a kid who drew zero interest leaguewide as an 18-year-old. Yet again, the finish is far more important than the start.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at kevin.dupont@globe.com.