DENVER — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says the league will generate record revenue of more than $5.2 billion this season. And that total can be conservative.
Taking the field Wednesday with deputy commissioner Bill Daly ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning, Bettman praised the league and its partners for completing the first regular season of 82 games in two years. This laid the foundations for a much-needed financial recovery.
“What we have done is we have [continued to operate], we did the fundamentals of our business,” Bettman said. “We had a significant increase in our domestic media revenue in the United States. Our buildings have returned to their original level [with attendance], and maybe a little better. Our playoffs this year, the first two rounds generated 88% of the revenue we made in the first two rounds the last time we had a normal playoff [in 2019]. We continued to play NHL hockey through the toughest times. … We were able to stabilize the business and get through it.”
Bettman expects the NHL to continue to thrive. He revealed an October 11 start date for next season and said the entire 2022-23 schedule would be unveiled in early July.
“We expect revenue to continue to grow at a healthy pace,” Bettman said. “Two, maybe three years is my projection [for paying off our debts]. I can’t really do a very good job of projecting for next year or the year after until we have a solution for this year. But things are very strong and very solid.”
The commissioner said he believed the increase in league scoring this season was linked to higher revenue generation.
“I think it’s related to increased interest in the game,” Bettman said. “Anything we do is only important as long as the game is sound on the ice. And the game is sound on the ice. Our competitive balance is unmatched by any of the other major leagues, and that gives us runs unbelievable in the regular season, and that gives us a playoff that’s as unpredictable as anything you can say.”
In addition to the positive league feedback, Bettman and Daly addressed more recent issues. Most pressing was the NHL’s response to a recently settled lawsuit brought by a woman against Hockey Canada in 2018.
Late last month, the NHL pledged to investigate the details of the young woman’s allegation that she was sexually assaulted by eight Canadian Hockey League players, including some team members. Hockey Canada World Junior Championship. TSN first reported the lawsuit and that a disclaimer was filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in May.
The NHL released a statement calling the alleged behavior “both heinous and reprehensible,” and Daly confirmed the league’s investigation is ongoing.
“We’re in the process,” Daly said. “We have been in contact with the players’ association. They have been cooperative so far in facilitating and arranging interviews with each of the players and we hope to be able to interview each of the players on this team. And we’ve also been in contact with Hockey Canada.”
Bettman said the NHL was not aware of any allegations when it occurred.
“[We knew] exactly when we learned about the lawsuit,” he said.
The NHL is also resolving its legal issue with Evander Kane. The NHL Players’ Association filed a grievance on Kane’s behalf in January after he was placed on an unconditional waiver by the San Jose Sharks for breach of contract and violation of COVID-19 protocols. .
Kane was in the fourth season of a seven-year, $49 million contract and stood to lose an estimated $22.9 million due to the termination of his contract. He is an unrestricted free agent pending after spending the second half of last season with the Edmonton Oilers.
A resolution to Kane’s issue has been delayed due to scheduling conflicts with the arbitrator in the case, and may not be reached until free agency opens on July 13.
“[The arbitrator] is unfortunately not available to us during the month of June,” Daly said. “So we have to work on some dates at the beginning of the summer. We are currently in discussions with the players’ association to find out what all of this means, in terms of Evander’s status. I really have no basis to say [when the case will end]. If it goes to the second day of hearing and we are awaiting a decision from the arbitrator, who will want a written decision, I assume it will be after the free will date.”
By then, the NHL will have crowned a Cup champion. But Daly also confirmed that amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, no Russian-born player will be allowed to bring home the chalice of hockey.
“We have already informed both clubs regarding this summer the Cup will not go to Russia or Belarus,” Daly said. “We may need a Cup trip in the future, just like we did with the pandemic. But that’s not going to happen this summer.”