The number has been winnowed from 16 to two.
When the NHL announced that it was considering expanding, a whopping 16 groups or individuals requested applications when they were made available on June 6. But just two filed those applications by Monday’s Phase One deadline, an application that required a $10 million fee, with $2 million nonrefundable: Las Vegas and Quebec City.
The surprise came in the form of the groups that did not submit applications, especially Seattle, which had appeared to be readying for multiple strong bids. The Greater Toronto Area, which would have competed with the Maple Leafs for eyeballs and dollars, had also appeared to be a possibility.
“Other potential applicants had expressed not only an interest but a belief that they were further along than they were,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a one-on-one interview with the Globe on Tuesday at the NHL offices in New York. “And we were a little skeptical about that.
“But you know what, we for so long had been getting expressions of interest and I didn’t want to be in an ongoing situation where communities were being led to believe that things were possible that weren’t likely. And by doing Phase One of the process the way we did, we made it clear who was real and who wasn’t, and that way the other communities can not be subjected to expectations that weren’t realistic.”
Despite speculation that the deadline could be extended for groups from Seattle — which had three potential ownership groups with arena plans in three separate areas of the city and surrounding region — Bettman said that would not happen.
Asked if the door was closed on teams that had not submitted applications, Bettman said, “Yeah. As we say in the [press] release, we’re focused on the two bona fide applications and that’s the basis on which the process will proceed. We’re not going to bring in late applications. And we’re not, I don’t believe, focusing on another wave of an expansion process.”
That complicates matters. As currently constituted, the NHL has 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the Western Conference. The best-case scenario would have seen Las Vegas and Seattle balance out the conferences with perhaps Quebec City as a candidate to relocate a struggling Eastern team. But that doesn’t appear to be an option, at least not according to Bettman, who said, “We have no intention of relocating any franchises. This is not a relocation process. If it happens at all, this is purely an expansion process.
“The geography is one of the factors that you have to consider.”
That will be part of the next phase of the expansion process, exploring the potential ramifications of locating franchises in these two cities, neither of which comes without issues. The next deadline for document submission comes in August, with another phase beyond that one, with the expectation that expansion teams could be playing as soon as the 2017-18 season. One option — which, again, is not optimal, would have Quebec City playing in the West to even out the conferences.
“The answer is that’s something we would obviously have to consider,” Bettman said of putting Quebec City in the Western Conference. “The experience with Winnipeg in the Southeast was less than ideal. The experience over time with Detroit and Columbus in the West — and they’re farther west geographically — they couldn’t wait to get into the East.
“So geography is an issue. But the fact that we identify it as an issue doesn’t mean we’ve reached a conclusion. It means it’s one of the things that has to be considered.”
Both the Las Vegas and Quebec City applications seem to be solid. Bill Foley, head of the Las Vegas group, had gotten commitments for 13,000 season tickets for the potential franchise, with an arena going up on the Strip. But the franchise would be located in Las Vegas, a place that no major league has braved yet.
Quebec City has an arena almost completed and in Quebecor, which submitted the bid, significant financial and media might behind its attempt to return the Nordiques to the city. The original Nordiques, of course, left Quebec City to become the Avalanche for the 1995-96 season, and some of the reasons the team left the first time still exist. The market is still small, though the success of the relocated Winnipeg Jets gives hope to Quebec City.
The Canadian dollar’s downturn could also be an issue — it has impacted the salary cap for the upcoming season — though Bettman downplayed that as a problem. The Canadian dollar had dropped to 76.70 cents to a US dollar on Wednesday, the lowest it had been since 2004.
“It’s something the process will have us evaluate,” Bettman said. “We’ll have to see . . . The Canadian dollar, it tends to get overstated. Our system accounts for the Canadian dollar. The Canadian franchises are seven out of 30 and it gets factored into the system.”
But would that be a problem at eight of 32 franchises?
“No,” Bettman said. “Because the Canadian clubs are doing fine. Other than player salaries, most of their expenses are in Canadian dollars.”
The last two teams to enter the NHL as part of an expansion of the league were the Blue Jackets and Wild, who started play in Columbus and Minnesota for the 2000-01 season, after a decade in which the NHL rapidly expanded from 21 teams and relocated others.
Bettman did not rule out accepting one of the two bids for expansion and adding just one team to the NHL, though that would yield a 31-team league. He also said that not adding a team is “conceivable.”
“The board, I assume, will only vote to expand if they’re completely comfortable that it’s the right thing to do, taking into account all of the factors,” Bettman said.
“This is going to be a deliberate and orderly process because it’s an important decision to be made one way or the other.”
COST OF ELIGIBILITY
College campers have expenses
When Sean Kuraly was traded from the Sharks to the Bruins in the Martin Jones deal weeks ago, there was a small financial penalty for Kuraly. The forward, who had already booked his ticket to San Jose for what would have been his fifth development camp with the Sharks, had to change that ticket to go to Boston. And he was responsible for the cost.
Such is life for attendees of development camp who need to retain their NCAA eligibility, like Kuraly, who will be heading back to Miami University in the fall for his senior year. He has to pay to get himself to development camp. For some, like Robbie O’Gara, it’s easier. It’s just a four-hour drive for him from Long Island to Boston. Not so for others. Kuraly came from Ohio and Danton Heinen made the trip from Denver. Zane McIntyre had eligibility to protect in his first five trips to camp, not so this year after signing an entry-level deal.
For the first 48 hours of the camp, attendees are allowed to have their expenses paid for, according to the NCAA. But since the Bruins’ camp extends beyond that period, the players have to pay the rest of the way.
“Generally speaking, an individual may receive expenses from professional hockey teams to participate in the team’s development camp, provided the visit does not exceed 48 hours and any expenses received are not in excess of actual and necessary expenses,” Emily James, a spokeperson for the NCAA, wrote in an e-mail. “A self-financed visit may extend beyond 48 hours.”
Beyond that, the athletes who want to retain their eligibility may not be compensated for the camps and “may not represent the professional team in outside competition,” James wrote.
Bruins camp began on a Monday evening, meaning the 48-hour window ended on Wednesday evening. Beyond that point, each NCAA player incurred $492 in expenses, with $275 of that going to lodging in a hotel, $177 on food, and $40 on transportation, according to Bruins vice president of communications Matt Chmura. Those totals are initially paid for by the Bruins.
“Once the camp has been completed and we have accounted for all costs, we send all NCAA athletes an invoice for all expenses that we have incurred on their behalf,” Chmura wrote in an e-mail. “We have reviewed this policy with compliance officers from multiple NCAA institutions and all have confirmed that this would not jeopardize the players’ NCAA eligibility.”
Beyond that, the players are in charge of protecting their eligibility, though all said that the Bruins make it easy for them to not worry about accepting impermissible benefits. As Heinen said, “You just kind of see what the other college guys are doing — this is my first time here.”
“That’s definitely a good gauge, the guys who have been here for a while,” O’Gara said. “I remember my first camps — whatever Tommy Cross can do, I can do. I’m lucky because I can hitch a ride with Frank [DiChiara] and be up here in four hours. Other guys who are traveling from Ottawa or wherever, it’s not as easy. I respect that. But the benefits of this week I would say are worth it, being around the organization, being around the staff, and knowing what it takes.”
Background puts Hakstol on spot
When Dave Hakstol was hired to coach the Flyers in May, the move was cheered in certain corners and questioned in many others. Hakstol, formerly the head coach at the University of North Dakota, was the first NCAA coach to jump straight to the NHL since 1982. Most head coaches in the NHL have experience in the AHL or the junior ranks, or as an assistant in the NHL.
So, yes, other NCAA coaches were cheering. One of those was Nate Leaman, who was a month past leading Providence College to a national championship when Hakstol was hired. And though Leaman has a current contract at Providence and declined to comment on whether the move piqued his interest about moving up to the NHL, he did say that he would be watching closely.
“I think a lot of the college coaches are certainly rooting for Hak,” said Leaman, who spent two days last week with the Bruins at their development camp, one as an on-ice instructor and one as an off-ice observer. “We want him to do well. [Detroit coach] Jeff Blashill came from our game also. Ron Rolston, who was in Buffalo, he came from our game.
“We obviously feel like the NCAA is a good product, both players and coaches, but you know what, I think it’s evolving. I think it’s something that certainly as NCAA coaches we hope it continues to evolve.”
The differences between the two, Leaman said, include the fact that as an NCAA coach he is also responsible for player procurement, almost playing the roles of GM and coach.
“The workload in college is much more about building a program, whereas in [in the NHL] it’s much more about coaching the players,” Leaman said. “You’re a coach. You have people. You have your GM, your assistant GMs, your scouts. You have that side of it that works on the players and you as the coach, you’re kind of focused solely on coaching. I think Xs and Os, I don’t know that there’s that much difference, but I think there’s a big difference in managing players as far as the longer schedule.”
Leaman said he was invited to the Bruins’ development camp after the season and asked if he wanted to both observe and help out. It wasn’t the first time Leaman had interacted with NHL teams, having observed a few days in Calgary a couple of years ago and gone to New Jersey’s camp in his first year at Providence in 2011 to introduce himself to Lou Lamoriello, the former Providence head coach and athletic director.
“I was more following [their] lead,” Leaman said. “But it was a good experience. I got to hang out with both their scouts and their coaching staff, went to a great dinner with their scouts and their American League coach [Bruce Cassidy]. Got to sit in on an hourlong meeting that Claude [Julien] led about some of the changes they’re looking to make for next year. It was great. It was a really good experience.”
There were some familiar faces, too, though for the most part Leaman tried to stay away from Providence’s Noel Acciari, who signed an entry-level deal with the Bruins this summer, and camp invitee and fellow Friar Brandon Tanev, in order to let them get their own experience at the camp.
And while Leaman certainly seemed to enjoy his time with the Bruins, he’s not looking forward to a chance at the NHL, at least not one he’s willing to speak about publicly. But he will still be cheering on Hakstol, keeping up with how his transition to the NHL is going.
As he said, “You want those guys to do well and I believe they will.”
Shootouts here to stay
Though the NHL is willing to do its best to cut down on shootouts — enter the five minutes of three-on-three overtime that will kick off next season — the shootouts themselves remain non-negotiable, according to Gary Bettman. As he said, “I think to the extent some people wanted to see fewer shootouts, this will get us there, and that’s fine. The shootout isn’t going anywhere. You go to a building during a shootout, everybody’s on their feet, nobody is leaving, which is what it was designed to do. It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s entertaining, and so if we’re going to try and reduce the number of shootouts, this may do it.” Despite the anecdotal evidence — the legions of fans (and media, and GMs) that are vocally anti-shootout — Bettman pointed to fan research that says “overwhelmingly fans like it.” He added, “I think you see some people in the hockey community say they’d rather see fewer shootouts, but this is a sport that had ties for so many years and nobody liked that. And we’re not in the position in the regular season for a whole host of reasons to play games to the end in sudden death the way we do in the playoffs.” If nothing else, three-on-three should be a boon for the Bruins, who certainly would rather see any other way of deciding a game than the shootout.
All eyes on Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs are shaping up to be a fascinating organization this year. With Brendan Shanahan, new general manager Lou Lamoriello, and new coach Mike Babcock combining to try to fix a franchise awash in past mismanagement, it will be hard to look away. It will be a mix of old school-meets-new school that has few equals in the NHL . . . Lamoriello’s stats in New Jersey are impossible to ignore: 21 playoff appearances, nine division titles, five trips to the Stanley Cup Final, and three Cups with the Devils. The 72-year-old had been with the Devils since 1987, when Kyle Dubas — the Maple Leafs’ assistant GM who Lamoriello said on Thursday was likely in position to succeed him — was just 1 year old . . . Count one vote here for expansion to Quebec City. If only I could remember any of my high school French.
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.