He is Gary Bettmanís wing-man, one of the most influential people in hockey and a man with deep knowledge of the inner-workings of the NHL.
He supports the idea of the NHL returning to Winnipeg and suggests the MTS Centre is a viable NHL building, but says fans need to stay patient.
Sun sports editor Ted Wyman went one-on-one with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and presents this comprehensive Q & A.
TW: Bill, can you update us on the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes?
BD: Actually, things are progressing very well right now. Weíre clearly much farther down the path than weíve been since the start of this prolonged process toward completing the ownership transition in Phoenix. We have identified an interested purchaser, that being Matt Hulsizer, and he has worked very closely with the city in terms of coming to rest on various issues relating to the lease and he has also engaged with us on the terms of the ownership transaction itself. We are moving hopefully toward a successful conclusion.
TW: How can you convince someone to pay $165 million for a team that has poor attendance and has proven to be a money loser?
BD: Itís about a long-term commitment to the market and an optimistic view with respect to your ability to change the business prospects for the franchise. I think Matt clearly has a view, and we believe the view, that this club has been mismanaged for a fairly extended period of time, that this market demographically and otherwise is capable of supporting an NHL franchise that is well run over a longer period of time. And he has looked for assistance and co-operation from the City of Glendale in helping him achieve those goals and when all those pieces come together he is fairly bullish about the long-term of the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale.
TW:If this deal were to fall through, is it fair to say a deal with Winnipegís Mark Chipman and David Thomson is Plan B?
BD:I donít want to comment specifically on the Plan B aspect but certainly we are aware that there is an interest in having an NHL franchise return to Winnipeg and obviously we never wanted to leave Winnipeg in the first place. Thereís a group in place that is willing to own and operate the franchise in Winnipeg, all of which is good news for the National Hockey League.
TW:Is there still a deadline of Dec. 31 to complete the Phoenix deal or start to look elsewhere?
BD: In terms of the Phoenix franchise and what its prospects were in the event the Hulsizer deal or any other ownership transaction did not come together, I donít think itís fair to say there was ever, or is, a deadline for that to happen. There certainly was a right within our agreements with the City of Glendale for the league to be able to look outside the market of Glendale, at options, if and when that became necessary and that could only happen after Dec. 31. I would just quibble with the characterization of it being a deadline, but clearly different rights would kick in, if, in fact, this team is not sold before Dec. 31.
TW: Weíve heard both you and Gary Bettman say you consider Winnipeg to be a viable location for an NHL team. Can you talk about what is different now compared to 1996 when the team left for Phoenix?
BD: Thereís a couple of things that are materially different. We are operating under a new labour system and agreement that puts everybody on a competitive level both in terms of their ability to pay payrolls and their ability to generate revenue. The Canadian dollar being close to par as compared to what it was 15-20 years ago is also very, very significant. And the fact that Winnipeg has a state-of-the-art arena facility that gives a potential owner an ability to generate premium revenue streams is also a major distinction between the market now and where it was in 1996.
TW: Do you consider the MTS Centre to be an NHL building as it is right now?
BD: It can be an NHL building. Certainly, itís on the smaller side and I donít think you could get much smaller and still qualify as an NHL building, but I clearly think it has the ability to generate revenue streams capable of supporting an NHL team in its current form and I think there can be improvements that can be made that can expand those capabilities going forward.
TW: If you were a hockey fan in Winnipeg, would you be hopeful about the return of an NHL franchise?
BD: I think I would, but Iíd also caution patience because that has to be a part of this process. As I indicated at the top, Winnipeg is a very interesting prospect for us and weíre pleased there continues to be interest in Winnipeg for the NHL and we share that interest.
TW: What would you say to people who believe the NHL is using Winnipeg as a pawn in negotiations to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix?
BD: I donít think itís a fair characterization. Weíve done everything we can do to make this franchise viable in Phoenix and to find an owner. Hopefully weíll be successful in those efforts, itís going on two-plus years. We donít ever want to identify or use any particular location as a pawn, as you put it, in a negotiation and I donít think thatís been the case here.
TW: If there are no teams available to places like Winnipeg or Quebec City through relocation, would the NHL consider expansion?
BD: I donít think weíd consider expansion in the short-term or even the medium-term. Weíre 100% focused on our current franchises, making them viable, either where they are or in another location if that becomes necessary. That has always been our focus. If, at some point in the future, our economics are such that all our franchises are doing well and the economy would support an expansion, certainly that would be something the board of governors would be asked to consider, but I donít view that to be in the short term.
TW: Weíve also heard the C-word lately, mostly in NBA circles with regard to their labour negotiations. Contraction. Would the league consider going that route if numerous markets are struggling?
BD: No. Youíve never heard contraction in the National Hockey League from any of the personnel here even going back to our labour dispute in 2004-2005. Thatís because we have received expressions of interest from a number of markets that we believe are capable of supporting NHL franchises with the right ownership. As long as thereís a demand to own these franchises out there in North America, thatís always a far better alternative to putting a franchise to sleep.
TW: Letís talk about attendance in the league this year ... 6,706 in Phoenix one night, low numbers in Atlanta and Columbus and other markets. How much of a concern is that to the league?
BD: I donít think itís a major concern. These things are cyclical. You do see weak attendance from time to time, particularly in October and November in the United States when there is competition from other sporting events and when you have to play home games on weekdays during those months. You will find weak attendance nights that typically donít exist once you get into December, January and the balance of the season. Itís also cyclical based on where you see those attendance troubles and you look at the factors and typically they are related at least in part to performance on the ice. Youíll see that from time to time in every market and we saw that in Canadian markets going back 10-15 years, including in Winnipeg, for that matter. You have to take a longer-term, bigger-picture view of those things and if, over an extended period of time, you continue to see attendance issues that create concerns that the market canít support a franchise long-term you have to look at it in that context, but I donít think anything weíve seen this year would qualify for that.
TW: It seems like NHL teams are using loopholes to get around the salary cap. Dressing fewer players than necessary and things like that. What is your comment on those situations?
BD: Iíll start big-picture. As a practical matter, the salary cap and the payroll range system has worked as we expected it would work and there are examples of some clubs managing their cap situations better than other clubs and the fact that some clubs may risk competitive disadvantage if they donít manage their cap well is part and parcel with instituting the cap system. The situation we saw earlier this year where there was a spotlight on a particular team skating short, as a factual matter, that is not a new phenomena. We went back and checked and it happened at least 41 times since the start of this collective bargaining agreement and it was a regular feature under our old collective bargaining agreement. There was nothing new there.
What about the practice of banishing players with large contracts to the AHL?
BD: Obviously having the ability to assign a contract out of the league to get it off the cap is an issue that has to be considered and discussed in collective bargaining. But I would say that what people donít often think about is, as a competitive matter, if you make a misjudgment on a player and have to assign his contract out of the league, itís very likely you never get that contract back. What the cap does is it equalizes talent among clubs based on what you decide to pay that talent and there are some unforeseen consequences for mismanaging your cap and thatís what I think weíre seeing. There arenít any great concerns from the league perspective with respect to how the cap is operating.
TW: How has the crackdown on blindside hits to the head gone so far?
BD: It has been an adjustment for everyone involved in the game. The players have to understand exactly what the rule is about and whatís permitted and whatís not. Itís also an adjustment for our on-ice officials who have never been able to call these types of things as penalties before. As with any other significant rule change, you see a period of adjustment and thatís what weíre going through now, but the rule is well-intended and with time will be a very positive development in the game.