Dec 042010
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Daryl Katz, Edmonton Oilers and Gary Bettman

Photo credit: rds.ca

The more things change, the more they stay the same for the Edmonton Oilers.

After almost two decades of uncertain ownership, Daryl Katz’s purchase of the team in 2008 was supposed to solidify their roots for a generation, if not longer.

In Katz, Oiler fans saw the embodiment of their dream owner – a life-long fan with the deep pockets to keep the team in Edmonton, and with the desire to ice a perennial winner. Katz, to his credit, said all the things Oiler fans wanted to hear. So invested in Edmonton was Katz that he was willing to put up $100 million of his own money into a new $450 million downtown area.

Yet, two years later, rumours of the Oilers moving have already sprung up twice – once in the summer (to Hamilton), and then this week (to Quebec City).

In each case, the threat seems to have originated from the inner circle around Katz himself.

Granted, negotiations with the City of Edmonton to build a new arena are not going as planned. The team’s 2014 deadline for a new arena is unlikely to be met. And granted, the relocation talk in each instance was quickly quashed by Oilers brass. But Katz’s cavalier willingness to drop the “relocation” word is an insult to Oiler fans who have already been through so much.

One also has to wonder, if this bully negotiating tactic does not work, what Oilers ownership has in mind for a Plan B.

Just a guess, but given that Quebec City officials met with Oilers ownership this week, perhaps coordinated East-West lobbying at the federal level is that intended next step.

*****

Forbes magazine came out this week with their list of NHL franchise values.

While the research methods and findings are certainly being questioned by NHL owners, it remains a fascinating read.

According to Forbes, 14 of 30 NHL teams have decreased in value over last year. Furthermore, the magazine claims seven NHL franchises (Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks) are propping up the rest of the league financially.

All this does is raise questions once again about the league’s direction.

Hand in hand with that should be questions about Gary Bettman, and specifically his future.

Gary Bettman was hired with to sell the game in the U.S., end labour unrest, expand and modernize the league. Whether he has succeeded or failed at each of these objectives is a topic for another day. What is certain though is that the NHL is poised to sign a new, lucrative US television deal at the end of this season.

The league’s collective bargaining agreement ends after the 2011-12 season. Owners, having instituted a salary cap last time around, are eager to gain even further concessions from the players this time. No-trade clauses, a cap on contract lengths and even the notion of guaranteed contracts are rumoured owner targets.

Finally, with Canadian franchises fuelling NHL profits like never-before, there is at least one legitimate opportunity to strengthen the league’s bottom line by returning a team to Canada.

Bettman isn’t quite a greybeard, but he’ll turn 50 in 2012. The following season, 2013, would be Bettman’s 20th year in the thankless role of Commissioner. Only Clarence Campbell (1946-77) and Frank Calder (1917-43) would have led the league longer. If Bettman can secure a good TV deal, “win” the next CBA for the owners and return a team to Canada – all of which seem possible, if not likely, in the near future – it’s easy to see him hanging up his skates before 2015.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

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