NHL governors stay positive

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

Darkening economic clouds did not discourage optimism for National Hockey League growth at the board of governors' meeting, but a rogue Russian League is giving them a headache.

The Wall Street/Bay Street meltdown and the continuing Continental Hockey League (KHL) feud dominated talk outside the meeting room yesterday. But inside the Metro Convention Centre, commissioner Gary Bettman and the 30 governors convinced themselves there are no issues threatening long-term NHL survival.

While not ruling out expansion to other North American markets or Europe down the road, Bettman repeated that maintaining the health of the 30 existing franchises is more important.

"The economy is two-fisted, it's people's ability to spend and the cost of doing business for our teams, such as travel," Bettman said after the five-hour meeting.

Yet he did not see the markets' recent triple-digit daily losses as the harbinger of attendance woes or reducing the NHL salary cap, which has risen all three years of its existence to its current $56.7 million US.

"I'd be very surprised if the slowdown in the economy got to that point," Bettman said, citing a 9% revenue jump last season that took into account a rise in the Canadian dollar.

"Sponsorship seems a little slower, both at the national level and the club level."

Always looking for the sunshine, Bettman suggested a slowdown at the turnstiles might even lead to a boost in television ratings if families can't afford the gas to drive to games and pay for tickets.

Edmonton governor Patrick LaForge said: "I think we have to all be very mindful that these are tough times. The Canadian teams are not exempt."

Richard Peddie of the Maple Leafs said he and his financial officers were shocked as they checked the morning papers yesterday to see the market carnage in New York.

"(In Toronto) we've got our debt all locked in, but if you're trying to build an arena or buy a team and you have to fund a debt, it's tough," he said.

But after hearing league financial reports yesterday, Anaheim's Brian Burke insisted "there's a lot more good news across the league in terms of revenue than bad news."

Meanwhile, the league continues to seek a way around the thorny case of Alexander Radulov, who jumped to a Russian team in the KHL, while under an existing NHL contract with the Nashville Predators.

Bettman said current deals to play NHL games in Europe this season will stand, but would not rule out taking a harder line on such games in the future if the KHL dispute isn't settled.

"I don't think the way the KHL or the IIHF has handled the Radulov situation is either fair or appropriate or in good faith," Bettman said.

There are reports Radulov is having second thoughts about his decision, but Preds governor David Poile warned that the situation has to be ironed out soon.

"Right now, it's an issue for Nashville, but it should be an issue all 29 teams are concerned with," Poile said. "Everyone, in the NHL, the KHL and the IIHF, knows a transfer agreement is the best thing to have. This exception makes no sense."


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