NHL commish talks expansion
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the possibility of expansion at Monday's game between the Flames and Wild in St. Paul, Minn. (Al Charest/Calgary Sun/QMI Agency)
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Go west, NHL.
The question is when will it happen?
With talk of an expansion team in Seattle growing louder, which could help alleviate the unbalance of teams with 16 in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the Western Conference, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday it’s far too premature for people to be assuming hockey fans will be able to take their lattes to a game in the Pacific Northwest.
“You don’t expand just for symmetry,” Bettman insisted between periods of the Calgary Flames-Minnesota Wild game. “The three things you look at when you expand are — market, arena, and, most importantly, ownership.
“The fact is we’re unbalanced because that’s our geography. When we did the realignment, we have everybody in the Eastern time-zone in the East. That’s better for rivalries, better for travel … It includes the fact every team plays in every building now.
“If we expand, it’s because we decided it’s the right reasons to expand.”
Bettman wouldn’t divulge what markets would interest the league in terms of expansion franchises but admitted he’s had plenty of interest from groups in Seattle, Las Vegas, Kansas City and Quebec City.
“We’re listening, and that’s all we’re doing,” Bettman said. “We haven’t decided to engage in a formal expansion process at this point, but we’re listening. There is a lot of interest, and some of that’s a testament to the state of the game right now.”
Bettman, who made the stopover from Vancouver after what’s been a crazy stretch of travelling — he was in Sochi for the Olympics before going all the way to the West Coast twice with a journey to Chicago in between — spoke about a wide range of subjects.
* On the six Stadium Series games, he knows a segment is insistent it was too many and agreed there is a limit to the number that can be done annually because of the impact on the league’s staff: “Our teams, our fans, our players can’t get enough of these games. When we were in Chicago on Saturday night, in the snow and there were 63,000 people who were out in 8 degree weather, they couldn’t have cared how many games we put on anywhere else.”
* On whether injuries suffered by Canadian stars Carey Price and John Tavares in Sochi will kibosh the possibility of the league sending players to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in South Korea: “Like so many of the other factors that will have to be weighed, that is one — where the Olympics are located, how the tournament is run … I’ve said this repeatedly, this is a balancing act. It’s not all good — it’s not all bad. When you’re in a place like Vancouver, the scales tip further in one direction than when you’re halfway around the world. But obviously, when a bunch of players get banged up like we saw in Sochi, there are going to be some owners that are a little more cranky on the subject.”
* On whether the NHL was ready to have an openly gay player in the manner the NBA does now and the NFL will likely soon: “Our history has been very strong, and we’ve been very supportive and proactive. We were the first league to engage in a partnership with You Can Play. If a player decides he wants to make an announcement, we have all the resources in place and accessible to him if he wants them.”
* On the struggling Canadian dollar, which is down about 10% from the start of the season and hovering around 90 cents compared to the US greenback: “It isn’t a cataclysmic event. We’d prefer a stronger Canadian dollar, but I’m assuming Canada has other reasons that transcend us. The fact of the matter is (hockey related revenue), the cap amd revenue sharing is all computed on the basis of the US dollar. If the Canadian dollar goes down, the system adjusts itself.”
Off the glass
The Wild racked up an 11-4-2 mark while captain Mikko Koivu was sidelined with an ankle injury, so a case could be made the team didn’t need him back in the lineup amidst a winning spell that has the team solidly holding one of the two wildcard spots for the playoffs. “I know. Seriously, stay home,” joked winger Zach Parise. “No, we’ll take him back.” Koivu, whose injury cost him playing at the Olympics, is as good of an addition as anything the team could do by trade deadline day, so it’s understandable the Wild would be happy to have him back in action. “Guys have played really well in his absence, and I think younger players have got confidence playing in spots that they probably wouldn’t have. I think it’s good for our team,” Parise said … With Flames C Matt Stajan missing the game due to personal reasons, C Mikael Backlund was an alternate captain. Have to think that will be the case on a full-time basis if LW Michael Cammalleri is traded … Nice touch by Flames head coach Bob Hartley to put Markus Granlund in the starting lineup. Too bad Wild bench boss Mike Yeo didn’t reciprocate and allow him to take the first faceoff against his brother Mikael. By the way, Markus was named the AHL’s rookie of the month for February, having netted 12 points in 10 games before being called up.
In the crease
This is a new one. Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper isn’t allowed to speak to the media on gameday. Granted, plenty of netminders choose not to do interviews — apparently it’s a distraction to have a conversation seven hours before puck-drop — but we haven’t heard of players not being allowed to speak. He even apologized for the mandate from the team. Too bad, because it would have been nice to do a piece about the club’s big surprise, a product of Saskatoon who played junior with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels. His parents were on-hand for the game on the same day he was named the league’s third star of the week … Has Flames rookie Sean Monahan unearthed who’s behind the @boringmonahan Twitter account? He said after Saturday’s game he thinks it’s Derek Smith, but the Flames defenceman denied it emphatically Monday. “Just rumours — speculation,” Smith said. “I wish I was that funny.” … For those who want to read into things, scouts from five teams — Chicago, Columbus, San Jose, St. Louis and Tampa Bay — were on hand for the Flames last game prior to the trade deadline … Flames RW David Jones left the game after crashing hard into the end boards midway through the second period. “It doesn’t look good,” Hartley said.