Bettman, NHL ‘hopeful’ Coyotes remain in Arizona

    Emily Kaplan is ESPN’s national NHL reporter.

LAS VEGAS — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman remains bullish on finding a solution to keep the Coyotes in Arizona, saying the league is “hopeful” it won’t lose the “terrific market.”

On the eve of the Stanley Cup Final, Bettman addressed the uncertain future of the Coyotes yet again, two weeks after the team’s $2.1 billion Tempe arena plan was rejected by voters.

“The Coyotes are exploring their options in the greater Phoenix area, and our hope is that one of those options being explored will come to fruition,” Bettman said.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed the league has talked with Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, who hopes to bring an NHL team to Salt Lake City. Bettman said that expansion is currently not a top priority for the NHL, and he’s hopeful to avoid relocation.

“We’re in a better position to resist leaving than maybe we were 20 or 30 years ago,” Bettman said, adding that he hasn’t “prejudged any markets if we were going to add or relocate teams.”

Bettman says he remains committed to keeping a team in Arizona because of how large and growing the market is, and believes the team has been put in “unfortunate” situations, having also been “victim to circumstance.”

Newly appointed NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh said he has met with Bettman to address players many concerns about the situation, including sub-par conditions at their temporary home at Arizona State University’s Mullet Arena. The NHL has said the Coyotes will play at the 5,000-seat venue again in the 2023-24 season.

“I’d love to know, by beginning of the season what the plan is for next year,” Walsh said. “If we don’t have in the near future a new location, we have to have a serious location. These players can’t continue to play in a college hockey arena as NHL players. They just can’t do it. It doesn’t look right, it doesn’t feel right.”

Bettman broached several other topics as well:

* Bettman said it is “likely” that the salary cap will only rise by $1 million this offseason as the players continue to pay off COVID-19 pandemic revenue losses. The NHLPA and Bettman met recently on the topic; players and teams were hopeful that the 2023-24 season could see a larger bump. However the collective bargaining agreement signed by players in 2020 capped escrow at six percent. Walsh said the payers do not have an appetite to change the escrow, which will necessitate yet another small increase.

Bettman said the larger, more regular, increase is “overwhelmingly likely” for 2024-25. Bettman said there were “still beans to count” but the projections for hockey related revenue for this season is $6 billion, which is encouraging but not enough to allow teams to increase spending significantly.

* There was no update on the Ottawa Senators sale. Bettman said all four groups who submitted bids on May 15 remain in the mix, and the league expects a “good outcome in the next few weeks.”

“Buying a billion dollar asset isn’t the same as buying a new car,” Bettman said in regards to why the process is still taking time.

* Bettman said former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman have independently requested meetings to discuss re-instatement into the league. The commissioner said he will schedule them after the Stanley Cup final. Bettman said neither man is currently eligible to work for an NHL team following their involvement in the Blackhawks’ handling of sexual assault allegations in 2010 from former player Kyle Beach against the team’s video coach, Brad Aldrich.

* Some NHL teams have expressed interest in staging a game in Mexico. The league has done “exploratory research” but Bettman doesn’t think it will happen in the “very short term” because of logistical hurdles, including with facilities.

* The NHL is not investigating the incident regarding Avalanche forward Valeri Nichushkin. Daly said the league knows “exactly what happened” and believes it was handled “appropriately” by the Avalanche. Nichushkin left the team’s playoff series in Seattle after a woman was found intoxicated in his hotel room and needed to be transported for medical attention.

* The NHL’s independent investigator completed its investigation into the Canadian 2018 World Junior team. London, Ontario police are also investigation allegations that five members of that team — some who are currently in the NHL — sexually assaulted a woman in a hotel room following a team gala. The NHL’s independent investigator is preparing a report, which is expected in early summer.

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