PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — It’s been a long time since Canada looked this good to the NHL.
Ten years ago, commissioner Gary Bettman would come to the league’s board of governors meetings and get besieged by questions about how the Canadian teams were going to survive. The conversation was considerably different over two days in Pebble Beach, where the league gave indications it was looking to increase its exposure in the country.
“The cycles of life never cease to amaze me,” Bettman said. “Yes, I remember very clearly the prognostications by some of your (media) colleagues that there would be one team left in Canada and everybody else would be in the United States. And now, the prognostication is, ‘No, we’ve got clubs that need to move out of the United States.’ It wasn’t right originally, and it’s not right now. But it’s part of what we deal with.”
The most notable piece of news to come out of the meetings was Bettman’s acknowledgment that the league would like to create a second outdoor game to be held in Canada next season. The NHL had looked at holding one at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium this year, but couldn’t make the timing work, according to the commissioner.
A game in the 2010-11 season would likely be played on CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada. Bettman said all Canadian teams have expressed interest in participating in it.
Somewhat surprisingly, there was no discussion about possible expansion/relocation opportunities for Quebec City, Winnipeg or a second team in the Toronto area. The league has recently seemed more open to talk of adding Canadian markets, as evidenced by Bettman’s meeting with Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume a couple months ago and his favourable comments about Winnipeg that were made public during the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy case.
However, Bettman made it clear that the Maple Leafs wouldn’t have a veto if a team applied for relocation to Toronto.
The six Canadian teams account for as much as 30 per cent of the NHL’s overall revenue. Bettman also cited the strength of the Canadian dollar as a major factor in projecting that next year’s salary cap will likely remain close to its current level of US$56.8 million next season. The country is clearly boosting the NHL’s business.
“(Canada is the) best hockey market in the world,” said Edmonton Oilers president Patrick Laforge. “Our fans are loyal, they have the wherewithal to support the teams and our buildings are full. I don’t think that’s a secret to anybody and it gets people’s attention.”