SEATTLE (AP) — The last centralized NHL Draft for the foreseeable future is going out with the glitz and bright lights of Vegas.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday the league is moving forward with holding the 2024 draft at The Sphere in Las Vegas, the new venue that opened in September and bills itself as the largest spherical structure in the world.
Bettman said contracts still need to be finalized, but the league is excited about the possibilities for the draft.
“I think it’ll be a pretty well viewed event, both in terms of the draft itself and the viral use of The Sphere inside and outside using the globe. So we think it’ll be fun. We think it’ll be dramatic and compelling,” Bettman said after the league’s Board of Governors wrapped up two days of meetings in the market of the NHL’s most recent franchise addition.
The draft is expected to be the first sporting event to be held at The Sphere and a showcase opportunity for the league before the draft decentralizes starting in 2025.
“I think both for The Sphere and for us this will be a good event to show yet another capability of this magnificent theater,” Bettman said.
The location of the draft before the league goes to a decentralized model where teams will stay in their home markets was the biggest piece of news to come from Bettman.
The league said the salary cap will go up to $87.7 million for the 2024-25 season. Plans are moving forward with the idea of a mini-international tournament in February 2025 featuring four countries as a lead in to the 2026 Olympics. But there remain issues to solve between the NHL, the IIHF and the IOC before an agreement can be reached that would allow players to play in the next Olympics.
Bettman said he is specifically concerned about the status of the arena being built for hockey and whether it will be completed in ample time before the Olympics.
The league is targeting three major international events to work into the calendar over the next several years.
First is the mini-tournament in February 2025 that is expected to include the United States, Canada, Finland and Sweden, and be held in several NHL markets.
Bettman called that the appetizer for the following years — first the Olympics in 2026 and then a full World Cup in 2028. He hopes by the time of the mini-tournament 16 months from now that plans will be in place for the World Cup.
“The ultimate goal is to have an Olympics, two years later World Cup, two years later Olympics, two years later World Cup, and that’s the cycle we’re trying to get on,” Bettman said. “But we figured we try a little bit of an appetizer between now and then.”
One of Bettman’s concerns about the Olympics is related to the arena being built in Milan and construction delays.
“Normally when you build a building for the Olympics hockey tournament, it’s done a year in advance and you have time to have events and test it, build the ice and do that,” Bettman said. “They’re projecting that it won’t be done until the fourth quarter of ’25, which is like six or eight weeks before the Olympics if they’re on time.”
Thank largely to the pandemic depleting hockey business revenue, the salary cap has gone up a total of just $2 million since 2019, from $81.5 million to the current $83.5 million.
With players’ debt to owners set to be paid off and record revenue thanks to U.S. media rights deals, jersey and helmet advertisements and digital dasher boards, among other elements, the cap will get its first big increase next summer.
The cap increase for 2024-25 will be $4.2 million.
Bettman declined to give specifics on reports of the Arizona Coyotes moving closer to finding a possible arena site in the Phoenix area with the team currently playing at 5,000-seat Mullett Arena on the Arizona State campus.
He mentioned the team is hoping something can be finalized soon and in enough time for the league to start on next year’s schedule.
“I think at the end of the day we’re going to need some predictability as to where this is all going, and Arizona is pretty comfortable that they can get it done,” Bettman said.
Bettman said expansion is not something that is “front-burner” at this time despite getting regular interest from Quebec City, Atlanta, Houston and Salt Lake City.
“We don’t envision anytime in the foreseeable future doing what we’ve done in the past saying, if you want an expansion team, here’s the date, file your application. That’s not it. We’ll listen to expressions of interest, but (will) one of them come to fruition? Presently, I’m not focused on it,” Bettman said.
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