SAN JOSE -- The NHL All-Star Game provides a rare opportunity to talk with commissioner Gary Bettman about the statue of the league, and he delivered some notable updates when speaking to the media Friday.
Here are the four main takeaways from Bettman’s press conference -- and what came after.
Cautious optimism as CBA negotiations begin
Mathieu Schneider is a veteran of four NHL work stoppages. The special assistant to NHLPA head Donald Fehr was a player during a strike and two lockouts, including one that wiped out a whole season. He also worked with the players’ association during the last lockout in 2012-13.
Both the NHL and NHLPA can opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement this September. This time, however, Schneider believes things feel different.
“I think the thing that stands out to me the most,” Schneider told reporters Friday after Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly spoke, “is we’re able to have these discussions with a lack of tension. … And we’re able to have these discussions now without [it], without any wrongs being built up, and it’s been very positive so far.”
Daly noted that the relationship between the league and the players’ association “has evolved to a point far beyond where it’s ever been before. I think we communicate very well on virtually every aspect of our business, and I think our interests are aligned.”
Will the positivity ultimately mean anything? Schneider said it’s too early to tell, and the players want to see the process play out. Bettman, meanwhile, reiterated that the NHL is “not looking for a fight” -- the exact phrase he used a year before the 2004-05 lockout began.
But, even with potentially thorny issues remaining (we’ll all learn a lot about escrow in the coming months), both sides seem optimistic at this stage of their negotiation.
Player tracking: Coming to a city near you
So, about that player tracking. All-Star weekend marked the final phase of its testing, a culmination of an effort the league said began with the “glowing puck” at the 1996 All-Star Game in Boston.
Starting in the 2019-20 season, every arena will be outfitted with more than dozen antennae in the rafters and four cameras to support tracking. Every player will have a sensor placed in their shoulder pads, and every puck will contain a sensor.
Bettman promised “inch-level accuracy.”
“We’ll instantaneously detect passes, shots and positioning precisely,” he said. “It will be equally accurate in tracking players -- their movement, speed, time on ice, you name it.”
The NHL hopes the data will enhance its broadcasts, improve tracking of old (and new) statistics, and engage with younger fans. After some resistance from older players, the NHLPA signed off on tracking “with some protections,” according to Schneider. He revealed the data that player and puck tracking provides will not be used in salary negotiations or salary arbitration.
Games, games and more games
Bettman wrapped up his opening remarks by announcing the NHL’s slate of outdoor and international games for next season. Those include:
- Preseason games in Switzerland and Germany
- A season-opening game in Prague, Czech Republic, and a regular-season game in Stockholm, Sweden
- The Dallas Stars hosting the Nashville Predators at the Cotton Bowl in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2020
- The Colorado Avalanche hosting the Los Angeles Kings at Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium on Feb. 15, 2020
Daly said the NHL anticipates “presenting a couple more games” in China next season, but neither he nor Bettman announced who the NHL had in mind to headline its international slate next season.
Could the Sharks play in one of those games? It’s worth noting that majority owner Hasso Plattner was born in Berlin, the site of the NHL’s last regular-season game in Germany, and the Sharks opened their 2010-11 season abroad in Sweden.
San Jose a model for Seattle?
The Sharks will have a new rival in the Northwest in the 2021-22 season, when the unnamed Seattle franchise joins the NHL as its 32nd team. While San Jose hosted its second NHL All-Star Game this weekend, Bettman was asked what Seattle could learn from the Sharks’ success.
The short answer? A lot.
"This team has always been well-owned,” Bettman said, “whether it was Gordon Gund initially or Hasso Plattner now. This team has had incredible stability. Doug Wilson has been the [general manager] for as long as I can remember.
“The organization does everything in a first-class way, and the organization ... has, from Day 1, been an important part of the community [and] investing in the community. Whether its building rinks, or being involved in enterprises that make positive impacts in people's lives. And so, across the board they've touched all the bases."