TAMPA, Fla. – The Buffalo Sabres and teams around the NHL aren’t happy they’re having to give up compensation for front office employees who have been fired from their former club. Turns out NHL commissioner Gary Bettman isn’t happy about it either.
But if the Sabres think they might have ideas of trying to get back that 2016 third-round pick from Pittsburgh for hiring Dan Bylsma as coach last week, Bettman also has this message: Forget about it.
“What’s done is done,” the NHL commissioner said here Wednesday in his annual meeting with reporters prior to Game One of the Stanley Cup final. “The fact of the matter is everybody’s operating under a system, possibly with some adjustments due to some people’s interpretations, but this is a system that the GMs wanted, and I acceded to. We’ll see how it works for a year. That’s what’s going to govern what happens during this calendar year.”
Bettman said he’s in favor of a system long used by the league that does not offer compensation for coaches or front-office executives who wish to move. Their current team can either extend permission for them to talk to a new employer or deny it.
“Arising out of disputes eight or nine years ago, I established a policy that there is no compensation,” Bettman said. “Personnel, under contract, if you want to talk to the team that had the rights, either said yes or no. Once they said yes, and the deal could be struck, then that person was free to go.
“The managers as a group for years, probably two or three, cajoled, begged, pleaded, demanded that we make a change. We wanted something that was straightforward and simple, although I believe there was nothing more straightforward and simple than what we had.”
Bettman said he’s going to keep the new policy in place until Jan. 1, before the league studies whether to clarify, modify or eliminate it.
“I ultimately deferred to the GMs desire and request,” Bettman said, “with the caveat that if we have any disputes we’re going back to the old system. So far we haven’t had any disputes. Some debates, but no disputes.”
In other news, Bettman had no comment on a surprising TSN report late Wednesday afternoon that Pittsburgh owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux have hired Morgan Stanley, the same company the facilitated the Sabres’ sale to Terry Pegula, to explore the possibility of selling some or all of Penguins.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said sources said both men are interested in keeping some stake in the team and its longterm lease at Consol Energy Center does not make it a candidate for relocation.
Bettman listed release of the 2015-16 regular-season schedule as on the docket for the league’s busy June activities that include the final, the Combine at HarborCenter and First Niagara Center and the draft June 26-27 in Sunrise, Fla.
The schedule release is a hot topic for Sabres fans looking forward to the debut of Jack Eichel, and will be watched by those around the league for Bylsma’s first return to Pittsburgh and winger Evander Kane’s return to Winnipeg.
On the Toronto Maple Leafs spending $50 million to sign Mike Babcock, an unheard-of figure for a coach, Bettman said simply, “Our clubs are free to do what they think is in their own best interest when they’re retaining executive talent, managerial talent. In Toronto, Mike Babcock decided this was a good thing for both of them to do, that’s their decision.”
The Blackhawks opened Game One by keeping Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews together on a line with Brandon Saad. They went to that combination in Game Six of the Western Conference final against Anaheim and it worked well as the Hawks overcame a 3-2 deficit in the series.
“Tough to forecast long-term on that,” coach Joel Quenneville said before the game. “Last two games, they were so good together, it’s tough to get them apart now. We’ll see how the game goes matchup-wise. Certainly you have some balance if you get them apart. Together, pretty dynamic the last two games. We’ll visit that, how the games are going, how the matchup is.”
One surprise that developed in the warmup was the absence of winger Bryan Bickell, who had played all 17 games in the playoffs. Bickell didn’t play in the final two periods in Game Seven of the Western Conference final due to an undetermined injury but practiced here Tuesday. He was replaced by Kris Versteeg.
The Lightning made their NHL debut on Oct. 7, 1992 and, strangely enough, it was against the Blackhawks. Tampa Bay won the game, 7-3, thanks to four goals by NHL journeyman Chris Kontos. The game was played in tiny Expo Hall on the Florida State Fairgrounds.
The Lightning then moved to the ThunderDome in St. Petersburg and played to the largest crowd in NHL history (28,183) for a 1996 playoff game against Philadelphia. That facility is now known as Tropicana Field and is home to the Rays. The Lightning moved back to downtown Tampa when Amalie Arena was opened in October, 1996 as the Ice Palace.