The NHL, like any responsible corporation, would not decline to fatten its wallet by half a billion dollars.
For an expansion team, the fee to gain entrance to the NHL clubhouse is approximately $500 million. It is a sum that would be shared by all parties: owners, players, and the league itself. Everybody wants a piece of the action. The NHL would become richer. The NHL Players Association would lay claim to 23 more jobs.
That’s why the NHL Board of Governors, led by chairman Jeremy Jacobs, is expected to raise its collective hand June 22 to accept entry of one more team. Approval requires a two-thirds majority.
The vote will take place in Las Vegas, primarily because that is where the annual NHL Awards show will take place. It just so happens that Las Vegas is home to the prospective organization, led by Fidelity National Financial chairman Bill Foley, that is likely to earn the confirmation of the league’s other owners.
The time is right for the NHL to spread its wings. Expansion last took place in 2000, when the NHL welcomed Columbus and Minnesota as its 29th and 30th franchises.
There are exceptions, including the team uprooted and marooned in Brooklyn (Islanders); the organization whose owner is tangled in a family lawsuit (Hurricanes); and the six clubs north of the border that must manage the fluctuations of the Canadian exchange rate. Rogers, the communications conglomerate that owns Canadian broadcasting rights, did not benefit by having all six of its nation’s teams fail to qualify for the playoffs.
But overall, the league is solid. The player pipeline is healthy. The upcoming World Cup of Hockey will be a guaranteed moneymaker (ESPN will air the international tournament, which will take place in Toronto) in a way that the Olympics are not. The salary cap that will stay flat in 2016-17 could stand to rise in 2017-18, which is expected to be the expansion team’s inaugural season.
The only problem is the fallout to Foley’s counterparts.
An owner who writes a check for $500 million does not do so with the expectation of extended residency in the league’s basement. Edmonton already lays claim to that title. The expansion team will be competitive from puck drop. The rules of a prospective expansion draft will ensure this.
The general managers are expecting to be able to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie. First- and second-year professionals will not be eligible to be drafted. The GMs are assuming that players with no-movement clauses must be protected.
“We approach the expansion draft rules really on a parallel track, because obviously if we’re not going to expand, there’s not going to be an expansion draft,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly told reporters before the start of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh. “But certainly they’ve continued to develop over time.
“Obviously we invited the Players Association in on the process, as we would have needed to in any event. I think to the extent there’s ultimately a decision to expand — and I’m not presupposing that — I think the expansion draft rules are nailed down to the extent they need to be.”
If the Bruins do not change their roster before the expansion draft, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Zdeno Chara would be protected because of their no-move contracts. Tuukka Rask’s no-move shifts to a no-trade clause after 2016-17. But Rask would be protected regardless. Other Bruins who should be in the protected category include Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey, Torey Krug, and Colin Miller.
The likelihood, however, is that either Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller (or perhaps both) would be unprotected. It’s impossible to project what the Bruins’ defense will look like after 2016-17. Unless GM Don Sweeney can upgrade the blue line significantly, the Bruins will still not be in a position to lose any of their varsity defensemen. But such is the price of welcoming another team.
The NHL Draft is approaching (June 24-25 in Buffalo). The buildup has become the most important window for GMs looking to improve their rosters, with picks in play and dollars yet to be allocated. The potential of an expansion draft will turn an already frenzied segment upside-down. GMs will be dealing not just to build for next season but with the responsibility of reducing expansion’s impact.
If the board green-lights expansion on June 22, it leaves just two days for teams to act before the first round. Things could get nuts. The NHL’s consumers like it that way.