Breaking down Bettman's presser: Phoenix, realignment, CBA talks, the cap and more
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed during his state of the league address Wednesday that NHL realignment will wait another year and Winnipeg will play in the Southeast Division next season before moving to the Western Conference for 2012-13.
Just what the league will look like in 2012-13 remains a mystery, and that's because the league has no predetermined solution. The league will approach realignment with an open mind, looking at all kinds of possibilities.
"I think that's fair," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com after Bettman's address. "We've kicked around a lot of different scenarios, both internally in the office, but also with clubs who have their own particular interests and league interests which we have to weigh and listen to. I don't expect any decisions quickly on it."
Realignment will be a hot topic at the next few board of governors meetings, including June 21 in New York, but the lengthy discussion will more likely take place at the annual meeting in September.
"In order to do a schedule for next season, it's not possible to do realignment right now," Bettman said. "Winnipeg, despite its geographic peculiarities relative to the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference, will be playing in that division and in that conference, with an assurance that for the following season they will be in the West. We have a number of clubs that would like to address specific issues on realignment. All those clubs need an opportunity to be heard."
Bettman did hint that if he had to guess, part of the realignment solution might include a more balanced schedule; for example, each team would play each other at least twice in a home-and-home each season. As the schedule currently stands, teams from opposite conferences play each other only a minimum of one game a season.
"I think we'll wind up moving toward a slightly more balanced schedule to accommodate the variety of issues I've heard so far from the clubs," Bettman said.
Bettman would not confirm it, but another reason for delaying realignment undoubtedly is to see what transpires in Phoenix. If the Coyotes situation doesn't finally get resolved a year from now, relocation is back on the table. Bettman said Wednesday that he was hopeful things would get figured out in the desert.
He added that expansion is not in the cards now or in the foreseeable future. That means relocation is the only way to get into the league for cities with interest, places such as Quebec City, Seattle, Kansas City, Las Vegas and Southern Ontario.
As for next season's NHL schedule, Daly told ESPN.com that the hope is to release it in late June.
My colleague Scott Burnside is covering Bettman's confirmation that Brendan Shanahan will take over for Colin Campbell as dean of discipline next season. But here are other notes from Bettman's address:
• Bettman revealed that had the Thrashers and True North in Winnipeg not wrapped up their agreement Tuesday morning, the deal might not have happened "at all."
• Bettman reiterated his desire to make drug testing, and a tougher policy, a topic of conversation in the next collective bargaining agreement talks.
"I do believe, and we've been in discussions over the last couple of years with WADA, there are ways that we can improve our substance testing, our performance-enhancing testing program," Bettman said. "But that's something we need to do with the players' association, and that's something, when we actually sit down and begin discussions, we need to address.
"I think we have a good program. It deals with education and counseling. It has comprehensive testing, but I think we can probably do more. At the right time, we'll have that discussion with the players' association."
The NHLPA's executive director, Donald Fehr, happened to be standing nearby during Bettman's address.
"If that's a topic we need to revisit in collective bargaining, we will," Fehr said. "I've certainly done that a number of times in my career."
• Speaking of the CBA, which heads into its seventh and final season next year, Fehr said he expected talks to begin with the league sometime next winter. Bettman said it made sense to wait until the other sports leagues ironed out their new deals before the NHL got at it. The NFL, NBA and MLB all have deals that expire this year.
• Daly said next year's salary cap could be as high as $63.5 million. The exact figure will be announced in late June.
• Bettman said the blue-ribbon head shot committee, comprised of Shanahan, Rob Blake, Steve Yzerman and Joe Nieuwendyk, is considering expanding Rule 48 and will report back with an exact recommendation at next week's GMs meeting.
"The committee's work in that regard continues, and the members hope to be in a position to report to the general managers at their meeting next week, then to the competition committee, then to the board on June 21," Bettman said.
• Bettman had an update on the situation in Phoenix.
"The city of Glendale stepped up and said they want the team to stay another year while they try to complete the sales process with us and will be funding the losses," Bettman said. "Any suggestion that the league is funding this club or carrying the burden is not true. Last season, the city of Glendale did it. ... Hopefully the club will be sold in due course, and there will be a new owner in there to start turning things around.
"You have a city in Glendale that built the building and has invested in it and wanting the club to stay there. As long as they're prepared to carry the burden of doing this while we try to effectuate a solution, there's no reason to move."
• The commissioner said there was currently no update on the league's participation in the 2014 Sochi Olympics or the return of a World Cup of Hockey.
"There is no update," he said. "That, again, is something that we will be in discussions with the players' association on because the international competitions, be it the conducting of a World Cup, which we're interested in doing, and the participation in the Winter Olympics, is something that we need to discuss and resolve with the [union]."