LAS VEGAS (AP) – The NHL is ready to go worldwide again after two years of coronavirus restrictions and a missed Olympics.
Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Friday that the NHL Global Series will return next season with preseason games in Germany and Switzerland, followed by regular-season games in Finland and the Czech Republic.
The league also is engaged in discussions with the players on reviving the World Cup of Hockey for a possible 2024 return, the commissioner said before the All-Star weekend’s skills competition at T-Mobile Arena.
“Internationally for us is a no-brainer,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “We had established momentum in terms of having a greater and more regular presence of games in Europe. I think with the pandemic waning and hopefully a return to normalcy, it only makes sense to restart those efforts and to further them. It’s important for us.”
Bettman also said Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz won’t be disciplined or sanctioned for his angry, volatile reaction to questions from reporters earlier this week.
Wirtz later said he reacted poorly to questions about what the organization was doing to address the power dynamic between players and coaches in light of the accusations made by Kyle Beach, who says he was sexually assaulted by the Blackhawks’ former video coach a decade ago.
“I think this has been very emotional and frustrating and draining for the Blackhawks and Rocky in particular,” Bettman said. “I think it was an emotional moment, which Rocky promptly – on his own – apologized for. … I think this was just, you know, all of us at one time or another have a moment. And this was a moment.”
In his usual All-Star weekend roundup of the NHL‘s upcoming schedule of major events, Bettman announced that the Florida Panthers will host the 2023 All-Star Weekend two decades after the event first visited the Miami area. The 2021 weekend was scheduled for Florida before it was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The next Winter Classic will be at Boston’s Fenway Park, while the Carolina Hurricanes will get their first Stadium Series outdoor home game at Raleigh’s Carter-Finley Stadium next season.
Bettman said the league still intends to hold the 2022 draft with fans at Montreal’s Bell Centre on July 7-8, but the event could be moved or held virtually if local coronavirus restrictions haven’t been lifted by then.
He said the NHL also will have to consider allowing Canadian teams to play elsewhere if they’re still unable to host crowds in the near future. The Canadiens are currently limited to crowds of 500 fans for at least the next two weeks.
Movement was very much on Bettman’s mind as he evaluated the league’s position after this two-year stretch of postponed games and restricted crowds throughout North America.
But Bettman and the league remain confident the Arizona Coyotes won’t have to leave the Phoenix area despite the latest setback in their many years of arena woes. The commissioner confirmed the Coyotes are considering playing in Arizona State’s unfinished, 5,000-seat hockey arena after their deal to play in the much-maligned Gila River Arena in Glendale ends this summer.
“There has to be a temporary accommodation knowing that a new arena is coming,” Bettman said about the possibility of moving to the university rink that will open in the fall.
Despite reports of some NHL owners being annoyed by the Coyotes’ desperate plan to play in a tiny rink for at least five seasons, Bettman said the league feels confident Arizona could be financially competitive in a smaller venue.
“We’re not sure there’s going to be a material difference between their revenues at ASU than where they are in Glendale,” Bettman said. “In fact, on one projection that we’ve done, we think they may do better.”
Bettman also took a shot at the NBA’s Phoenix Suns for their unwillingness to share Footprint Center.
“My guess is they would prefer that the Coyotes leave town,” Bettman said.
Greg Beacham/The Associated Press