NHL’s salary cap likely to rise, Bettman says



To absolutely no one’s surprise, commissioner Gary Bettman’s state of the league address on the NHL painted a rosy picture Friday afternoon.

On the eve of the Stanley Cup final, Bettman shuffled through a number of issues, but the one that stood tallest was news that the league’s salary cap will in actuality rise next season.

The cap is expected to go up by $2 million US in 2010-11 — a considerable surprise given the grim league revenue forecasts of the past year.

The cap this season was $56.8 million.

Bettman reported that revenue was up four per cent this past season, and a significant contributor was the strong Canadian dollar.

“If the Players’ Association determines to take the five per cent escalator, that means the cap will go up a little over $2 million,” said Bettman.

“These numbers are still preliminary. They’re ballpark and not exact. I know over the last few years with the economy being what it’s been there’s been rampant speculation — both last year and this one — that the cap was going down 20 per cent. Nothing could be further from the truth. The business remains strong.

“This just-concluded season will see record revenues. . .”

Television ratings were also highlighted in Bettman’s half-hour address.

Increases were expected, based on the new method of measuring ratings brought in last fall, and the commissioner was quick to trumpet the NHL’s success.

“For all five of our national partners both in the U.S. and Canada are strong and are up. . . . NBC and Versus combined for the most-watched first two rounds since 1997. Versus the most-watched since 1994. The CBC had ratings and viewership in the second round that was up 94 per cent; TSN was up 61 per cent,” said Bettman.

South of the border, Bettman indicated the news was encouraging this spring.

“We had a night where the Bruins were playing at the same time as the Red Sox were playing the Yankees and the Celtics were playing, and not only did the Bruins beat both of those other two events in terms of viewership, they were within about 20,000 viewers of actually beating those other two combined,” said Bettman.

The commissioner, meantime, preached patience for Canadian hockey fans yearning for expansion into Canadian markets — nothing new there — but appeared to bristle when the southern Ontario market was brought up as a destination.

“Frankly, if were going to move a franchise, there are a couple of places in Canada that I’d like to give my attention (to ahead of southern Ontario), because when both Winnipeg and Quebec lost their franchises it was because, I always talk about three things when talking about franchises — market, building and owner, and both of those teams were moved because two of the criteria went away.

“There was no building and there was no owner. . . . To the extent that those markets are in a position to deal with those issues, I’d like to try to fix something that I wish hadn’t happened in the first place,” he said.

Bettman added that Winnipeg already has a building in place and Quebec “is talking about building one.”

As for Ontario, specifically Hamilton: “I’m not sure a 25-year old building that would need a $200-million renovation isn’t exactly an NHL building right now,” Bettman said.

Bettman also announced the following:

• Next season’s schedule will be released on June 22.

• The season launch in Europe is Oct. 7 and 8 with Minnesota playing Carolina in Helsinki, for two games; San Jose and Columbus play Oct. 8 and 9 in Stockholm; Boston and Phoenix play Oct. 9 and 10 in Prague.

• The North American season opens on Oct. 7 with Toronto hosting Montreal, and Calgary travels to Edmonton.

• The Bridgestone Winter Classic was confirmed to go on New Year’s Day with Pittsburgh hosting Washington at Heinz Field.

• The Heritage Classic returns — the first was in Edmonton in 2003 between Montreal and the Oilers — as the Calgary Flames host the Canadiens at McMahon Stadium on Feb. 20, 2011 (the date could change as the competition committee has to give its go-ahead). Bettman said he was not concerned with diluting the product by having two outdoor games next season. “There has been a real interest and desire to have another outdoor game in Canada. We wanted to make sure that our fans in Canada that we were paying attention to their interests as well.”

• The NHL All-Star Weekend returns after a year absence. Carolina will host the event on Jan. 29 and 30, 2011.

• Hockey Day in Canada will take place on Feb. 12, 2011, with Toronto in Montreal, Ottawa in Edmonton and Calgary in Vancouver.

• The NHL awards will be handed out in Las Vegas on June 22, 2011.

• The NHL entry draft will be held at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24 and 25, 2011.

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