NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says the NHL plans to come to a decision sooner rather than later on whether expansion happens sooner or later.
The commissioner’s remarks came as part of his annual State of the NHL Address that discussed record attendance, whether the NHL again shuts down for several weeks to cater to the 2018 Olympics, and the prospect of advertising on jerseys.
“Our own belief if the NFL comes to Vegas at some point: So be it,” Bettman says of the NFL possibly moving the Raiders to Sin City. “If Vegas is going to get a hockey team and/or a football team, a lot is involved in that. I don’t think anyone can say with certainty that that’s close to being a done deal.”
The NHL considers placing an expansion franchise in Las Vegas and/or Quebec City. Bettman says the league could table a decision, reject expansion outright, expand by one club, or add two clubs.
He indicates that adding teams comes at an opportune time when the NHL adds fans. Bettman claims that the 30 NHL teams averaged 17,481 spectators per game this season. But the number comes by way of tickets distributed rather than bodies in seats.
Bettman says that the Carolina Panthers, the team with the worst 2015-2016 home attendance at 12,203, does not look to relocate. The commissioner claims, “There’s no issue related to the Hurricanes.”
The commissioner says NHL sweaters will remain advertising-free for now, first- and second-year professionals will receive protection in the expansion draft but players with no-trade clauses will not, and NHL players may stay home from the next Olympics.
“I’m not sure our teams are enthusiastic about paying for the privilege of disrupting our season,” Bettman said about the International Olympic Committee no longer footing the travel and insurance expenses for NHL players to compete at the Olympics. He continued, “From our standpoint, I would guess from an owners’ standpoint, if the IOC and the IIHF doesn’t pay the expenses they’ve paid for the last five Olympics, that’s almost a showstopper. You don’t have to have any other discussions.”