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State of the NHL, from expansion to coach's challenge (Puck Daddy Countdown)

8. Ads on jerseys dis-likers

One of my favorite things around the Stanley Cup Final is the Gary Bettman/Bill Daly presser ahead of Game 1 in which he talks about how great the league is doing. And boy let me tell you, the league is doing very great. It's never been more competitive and all that stuff.

Anyway, one of the things that fans seem to find most pressing about the league these days is now creeping closer to reality. With the Philadelphia 76ers putting small StubHub ads on their jerseys, that's the snowball that's gonna start an avalanche, and the NHL is right in the path. Bill Daly said the NHL hasn't changed its stance on jersey ads, but added, “I guess we'll see what happens at the World Cup.”

The league infamously couldn't find sponsors for World Cup jersey ads initially, but given that they have another three-plus months to figure all that out, Daly, “wouldn't rule it out,” either.

This says to me that the league is moving toward just going full steam ahead on this as soon as they find someone who meets the price point it has in mind, rather than having some sort of moral standing. The NHL only didn't want to do it first because it would otherwise look like a rinky-dink bush-league move. But if the NBA went first, then hey, they didn't start the avalanche, they just got swept up in it.

Ads on jerseys are happening, potentially as soon as next season. If you don't like it, well, I guess that's fine, but you better accept it.

7. Expansion draft rules desirers

Of course, one of the biggest topics discussed here was the upcoming prospect of the league expanding by one or perhaps two teams. And while we'll get to all that in a second (basically: it's up in the air [but it's going to happen]), the thing that was interesting to me is how the league has very quickly started to cobble together at least a framework for how the expansion draft will work.

The most important thing here, I'm sure, for a number of teams is that the rumored protections for players with no-move clauses are likely not going to be rumored for much longer. Daly only said that players with no-trade clauses wouldn't be exempted from the expansion draft, which means if you have an NMC, you have to be protected. Bad news for a lot of teams.

However, teams will no longer have to expose “x” number of salary cap dollars in the draft. Not that they won't anyway, because every team has some rotten contracts. However, this should protect teams with fewer bad contracts from having to put actual good players in the hopper just to meet that requirement. Makes sense to me.

But still, there's still a lot of work to be done on this front in the next year or so.

And along the expansion lines...

6. Expansion clarity requirers

Still no news. Not real news, anyway.

The league can expand by one or two teams, or none at all. Those are the options. The earliest they could come in, as we all know by now, is 2017-18, but the league is under no obligation to have that be the absolute start date for any expansion team.

The only real bit of news on a potential expansion franchise is that Daly also said the team(s) wouldn't be given the first or second pick in the draft, as they have in expansions past. Instead, they would be entered into the draft lottery with all the other teams that missed the playoffs. No word on where they'd be slotted initially (i.e. would their default draft pick be in the top-three?) but this sounds like a tough break.

But here's the thing: We all know Las Vegas is going to happen. Bettman and Daly can't say anything to that effect, but it's going to. Maybe not for 2017-18, but there will be another team in the desert sooner than later. Probably before there's a team in Quebec. They might still be waiting for help from Seattle, too, but by now that seems a long way away.

At this point you should probably just resign yourself to hockey in Vegas. But hey, at least the East/West imbalance will get a little better, right?

FILE - In this Feb. 15, 2014 file photo, Russia goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky defends a shot by USA forward T.J. Oshie (74) during a shootout in a men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. All of the Columbus Blue Jackets including Bobrovsky are back with the team and preparing for the NHL season's restart after a three-week respite. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

5. Olympic hockey likers

It's sounding more and more like the NHL is going to skip the 2018 Olympics in Korea. The reason why, not surprisingly, is money.

The League doesn't want to foot the bill for expenses like travel, hotels, and insurance all by itself. The International Olympic Committee and IIHF have picked up the tab for that in the past because they make a ton of money on it and the league and players only get “paid” in exposure (and John Tavares injuries, I guess). All while shutting down the league for a few weeks. But there's a new head of the IOC, and he might not be so amenable to covering the costs.

Here's Bettman on the subject of the NHL paying for it: “I’m not sure our teams are enthusiastic about paying for the privilege of disrupting our season.”

So unless a deal comes — and it still might, given the Olympics are another year and a half away — you might want to get used to something besides NHL players being in Pyeongchang.

This might, however, just be foot-dragging. It would be strange for the NHL to skip 2018 and then for-sure be in Beijing for 2022. Because there's no way they don't go to Beijing.

4. Gate receipt examiners

Hey the league's average attendance per game check in at nearly 17,500 tickets distributed (not butts in seats), and set a new record for an 82-game schedule.

Wow. It's almost like hockey is growing in popularity but still quite a ways behind, say, basketball or baseball. Crazy. I wonder if that would be reflected in the ratings somewhere.

Please like my attendance figures.

3. Current team ownership havers

Turns out the Penguins aren't actively trying to sell any more, like they were last year. Crazy. I wonder what changed.

Meanwhile, the more pressing ownership issue in the league remains in Carolina, where Peter Karmanos is still looking for someone to give him a bunch of money for ownership stake in the club but then also not try to tell him how to run the team. Good luck with that and everything.

However, Bettman squashed any rumors that the team might relocate if a partner committed to keeping the team in North Carolina can't be found. Of course, he did the same thing before the Thrashers were sold — and man, how was that five years ago yesterday? — and you know how all that worked out. Just a guess on my end, but if there were parties interested enough to buy the whole team and move it, that's exactly what would happen.

This is just one of those things that's going to be a persistent rumor until it's not a rumor any more, one way or the other. The Hurricanes might be in the process of maybe relocating forever. Until they're not. Probably because they've relocated by then.

2. Slava Voynov dislikers

Oh rats he won't be back for the World Cup. Too bad. Hate to hear that. Shoot. Dang.

1. Coach's challenge backers

One thing Bettman said about the coach's challenge that I actually agree with — and overall I think the rule is deeply stupid if we're reviewing whether a guy was a centimeter offside 12 seconds before a goal — is that there's no good answer for the league.

If they get rid of the coach's challenge, everyone cries forever when their teams gives up a goal even though a player was a centimeter offside 12 seconds earlier. And if they enforce the rules as they're currently constituted, everyone cries that reviews are slowing down the game (they are) and this is all ticky-tacky nonsense (it is).

People will always complain about everything the league does, in part because nearly everything the league does is in some way fundamentally screwed-up.

Is there a good answer on this review situation? There was before the review was introduced, and there still is. But nobody will like the answer.

“Accept that sometimes officials will screw things up” is not something anyone wants to hear.

(Not ranked this week: Cap space wanters.

One other thing that came out of all this was potentially worrisome for a lot of teams.

Bill Daly revealed the salary cap is expected to stay “relatively flat.” That doesn't include the potential for the players to use all or part of their 5 percent escalator, but even if they use all of it, the cap probably only goes up about $3.5 million.

Cap Friendly has a pretty good rundown of the current cap space each team has for next season, and the results aren't pretty. Pittsburgh is currently over the estimated $71.4 million cap, and Chicago has just $4.4 million or so to spare, but only 17 players signed. Even Columbus — and how would you like to be a team that dismal with this problem? — is within about $4.8 million and only has 19 players signed for next season.

This is the logical endpoint of the cautionary tale about believing the cap would just go up forever, as some teams very clearly did. Cap disaster is coming to a number of clubs, and more will be looking to move some of their more cumbersome existing deals as a result.

That creates a hell of a buyers' market for players seeking extensions with their current teams as well, particularly expensive RFAs. Could we see more “Saad-to-Columbus” type moves? I would guess yes.

Teams have to do what they can when their forward-thinking efforts didn't end up being right.)

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All statistics via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)


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