NEW YORK (AP) — The NHL’s salary cap could get its first big increase since before the pandemic sooner than expected.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said there’s a chance players could end up paying back what they owe owners due to lost revenue from the pandemic as early as this season, which would mean the cap would rise by $4 million or more next summer.
Initial projections were for another modest increase of $1 million and a larger increase in the summer of 2024, but now there is more optimism around 2023 after Bettman said the league generated $5.4 billion in hockey revenue last season.
“Revenues are pretty live,” Bettman said Tuesday after the NHL Board of Governors meeting. “Business is good, so things look possible for (the player’s debt) to be paid off this year. If we miss it, it will be close and it will be next year.”
The league and union agreed to maintain the cap following the pandemic and to use escrow payments to offset what players owed owners to split revenue 50/50. That meant the cap remained at $81.5 million for two seasons before rising to $82.5 million this year.
With new US media rights deals and other income flowing in, that could be over $86 million in the not-too-distant future.
QUESTIONS for the World Cup
Discussions continue between the league, the NHL Players’ Association and the International Hockey Federation over hosting the World Cup of Hockey in February 2024. Bettman acknowledged that time is running out for the parties involved to meet that deadline.
“We’re getting closer to any deadline,” Bettman said. “We have to be in a position for the foreseeable future to complete all the issues, otherwise it would delay the World Cup.”
Among the ongoing questions is what to do with Russia, given the war in Ukraine and how many Russian-born stars are currently playing in the NHL. One option is for them to play as an entity other than Russia, but other countries that could be involved have made it known to the league that this is not enough and that they do not want Russian players to participate.
“The conflict in Ukraine makes it difficult to solve the Russian issue, and we certainly heard that some of the participating countries or countries that would participate would have objections to Russia’s participation in the World Cup,” said Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “Obviously (it’s) something that’s relevant and something that we would take into account in our decision-making.”
Bettman stressed: “We haven’t made any decisions. There’s still a lot of work to be done before we even get to that question.”
After the league’s investigation found nothing to substantiate the allegations against Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ian Cole, Bettman said those conducting it exhausted all possible methods to contact the person who posted them anonymously on social media. He called it “pretty comprehensive.”
“I’ve tried everything you can do with an anonymous tweet from a recent account,” Bettman said. “Nothing was found to support those allegations.”
The Lightning suspended Cole with pay pending the investigation, which the NHLPA disputed after he was reinstated. The union said in a statement last weekend: “Players should never be subject to suspension or disciplinary action in response to unsubstantiated and anonymous allegations. To remove a player from his squad under these circumstances is inappropriate and grossly unfair.”
Bettman said he understands that point of view, and he deferred to the Lightning for the team’s decision to suspend Cole. Moving forward, the league will continue to handle similar situations on a case-by-case basis, as it has for several years.
“It depends on the circumstances,” Bettman said. “I don’t think I can give you a general rule of thumb on how to deal with it, but we’re sensitive to that issue.”
HOCKEY CANADA REVIEW
Bettman said the NHL’s investigation into the ongoing scandal involving Hockey Canada is “closer to the end than the beginning.”
The league began the process of holding its own review after news broke that Hockey Canada had settled a lawsuit filed by a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by eight members of the country’s world junior team at a 2018 ceremony. Several players from that gold medal-winning team are currently in the NHL.
Bettman said the timing of the report, which he promised the league would release to the public, would depend on a review by police in London, Ontario.
“We can focus on what we need to do to feel like we have a comprehensive report and that the work is in progress,” Bettman said.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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