Murphy’s Hockey Law: Jacobs Expands More Than Bettman On NHL Expansion
Following the NHL Board Of Governors meeting last Tuesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman urged caution to the many NHL media that were claiming NHL expansion to Las Vegas and Quebec City were as sure a thing as a Steven Stamkos one-timer.
“This is an ongoing process that doesn’t have a specific timetable and doesn’t have a pre-determined outcome,” Bettman told reporters Tuesday.
That was as about as specific as Bettman would get on expansion. But two days later at Boston Bruins Media Day, team owner Jeremy Jacobs — who is one of the most prominent owners in the NHL Board Of Governors — was much more specific in making it clear that NHL expansion may not be as close as originally thought.
“There’s a lot of content there. There’s a lot of capability there, but I don’t know if there’s a desire or will within the board of the existing franchises for expansion yet,” Jacobs said during the press conference portion of the day. “They both made pretty interesting proposals. Both have very legitimate arenas in place and organizations in place. There’s a capacity out there, but I don’t know if there’s a will from a league standpoint.”
In the process of expanding Jacobs also caused quite a stir north of the border where the hockey-crazed citizens of Quebec City believe they are so close to getting a NHL team again to play in the brand new Videotron Centre they can taste it. When asked if he had to choose between Vegas or Quebec, Jacobs insinuated that Las Vegas would be the choice as of now.
“We’re imbalanced here in that we’ve got 16 teams in the east, 14 in the west. I would probably have to indicate that another team in the west would make more sense for us,” Jacobs said. “Now looking at the two locations, you have to say that Quebec looks like they are…more history there for hockey. But the presentation that was made was very compelling by those people in Las Vegas.”
When he fielded questions from a smaller group of reporters later, the expansion questions continued but Jacobs joked maybe he shouldn’t comment further.
“I’m beyond my capability of commenting on that,” Jacobs joked. “I think the Commissioner [Bettman] is very good at that and he might kick me in the ass for talking too much which wouldn’t be the first time. I’ve been known to put my foot in my mouth.”
But he kept going anyhow and reiterated his belief that the balance with the number of teams in each conference should play a major role. He was asked straight out by yours truly if that or a passionate hockey market was more important?
“We’ll find out,” Jacobs said. “Take a look at what’s gone up in Nevada — it’s scary. I mean, it really is. It’s a heck of an arena built there, and there’s a strong interest there. Balance the fact, Quebec has a great hockey interest, [but] it’s an extraordinarily small market.”
Combine the fact that Quebec is a small market and that the Canadian dollar is falling lower every day, Jacobs and the NHL could be worried about a case of Déjà vu. Those were the reasons the Nordiques had to jettison the diehard hockey fans of Quebec City for Denver and become the Colorado Avalanche in 1995. Brian Mulroney and Pierre Dion who head Quebecor the media company backing the potential Quebec team seem to think the dwindling Canadian dollar won’t be a major obstacle again but Jacobs disagreed.
“It matters, trust me,” Jacobs said with a chuckle in response to Dion’s and Mulroney’s claim. “Think of it this way: the cap in Canada is $100 million now. That matters. Last time I counted that high, that’s a lot. We don’t want to do that again.”
In his most recent ’30 Thoughts’ (a must read for all hockey fans), Sportsnet writer and TV analyst Elliotte Friedman indicated there is a conspiracy theory that the NHL would’ve preferred Seattle to be the other city with Las Vegas in contention for an expansion team. Jacobs gave that hint last Thursday.
“I’d love to see us in the West to be up in Seattle. Seattle’s a natural,” Jacobs said.
So did Jacobs go ahead and do just what he said he didn’t want to do by putting his foot in his mouth? Maybe not. Knowing that his buddy Bettman already is a villain for the Nordiques moving to Colorado in 1995 and the Jets moving to Arizona in 1996, it may just be that Jacobs was taking one for the team and letting it be him to deliver the possible bad news on Quebec. Or maybe Jacobs and Bettman are butting heads and Jacobs took this opportunity to make his wishes public. But as Darren Dreger of TSN indicated in his latest ‘Dreger Report’ (another must read), bringing an NHL team back to Quebec would be redemption for Bettman and he’s likely going to do his best to make that happen so Jacobs’ comments were likely the latter.
Either way Jacobs showed he is very capable of and very willing to discuss NHL expansion and that shouldn’t come as a surprise because with a $500 million expansion fee per team, that’s $66 million for the Bruins owner and all NHL owners.
Neely Backing Julien A Big Surprise To Many
When Bruins President Cam Neely went out of his way to defend Bruins head coach Claude Julien last Thursday and say it was “unfair” that Julien was on the hot seat heading into this season, he immediately put to rest any ideas that him and his coach were at odds. Now if — and this puck scribe thinks it’s a matter of when — the Bruins get off to a bad start and they do decide a coaching change is necessary, it will be viewed as General Manager Don Sweeney’s decision and not Neely pulling the strings from above like some believe he is and will do now that Peter Chiarelli is out. Neely also made a point to make sure that wasn’t how people view the Bruins new management regime.
“That’s his job and he comes to me with something and I say ‘do you feel strongly about it? Let’s have a conversation and how strongly do you feel about it?’ I mean if he feels strongly about something I want him to be able to do it,” Neely said. “It’s important for him; it’s important for me and if I hired someone to come to me with thoughts and decisions they’d like to make and I said ‘No’ to everything, then what’s the point of having a GM?”
Neely said that wasn’t always the case with Chiarelli.
“I don’t want to say it got to a point where it wasn’t fun, but it got to a point where you’d like to have more conversations and feel comfortable having those conversations,” Neely said of his relationship with Chiarelli last season.
But multiple sources — one a Bruins source — have confirmed that described the Chiarelli-Neely relationship from Day 1 and that there was constant friction between the two since they first began working together in 2010. The same sources claimed that Neely had long wanted a reason to let go of Chiarelli and that Chiarelli’s cap mismanagement — specifically having to trade away defenseman Johnny Boychuk a year ago Sunday because of cap issues — helped him seal his case to ownership that a change was needed. Jacobs confirmed as much back in July at the announcement of the 2016 Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium.
“Cam is the leader for a very long time. He aspires to do that and he’s willing to engage in the tough decisions,” Jacobs told the media. “And that’s what he wanted to do. … That’s one of the things that, perhaps, If anybody’s going to be faulted, I should be faulted for retaining [Peter] and not letting them move as quickly as they wanted to.”
What’s interesting though is that one of these sources claims there was the same tension and conflict between Julien and Neely early on in Neely’s tenure as President, so much so that Neely felt a coaching change was needed after the Bruins’ monumental collapse when they blew a 3-0 series lead to the Flyers in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals. That desire for a change carried into the following season and didn’t die down until the Bruins beat Montreal in seven games.
“Make no mistake Claude was gone if the Bruins lost to the Habs and didn’t go on to win the Cup that year,” one league source said. “It didn’t matter what Peter wanted, Cam was stepping in. In fact, many around the league see Claude as the coach with nine lives because Cam has wanted him out so many times and he and his players always seem to evade it.”
But read here is that whether the recent backing of Julien was a PR move or not, Neely and Julien do seem to finally be on the same page, with Julien stating multiple times throughout camp — as he did in this piece by Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe — that the Bruins will play a much more up tempo game. That’s what Neely has always wanted and he confirmed to Murphy’s Hockey Law Thursday that him and Julien are indeed thinking the same giving Julien credit for adapting to this new system.
“Players are successful to get into the league and they keep doing the same things that got them there. But there’s areas they can improve. I looked at as a player like ‘OK. I got in the NHL, now what else can I do to improve my overall game. But sometimes you get the blinders on and say ‘This is what got me successful and this is why I’m here’ whether it’s a player or coach. You keep doing that over and over again. But there’s areas of your game or your techniques as a coach that will help improve you as an individual or the team as a whole. And absolutely Claude is doing that.”
Give Neely credit, he too seems very willing to adapt now and work with Julien. He also didn’t dodge any questions and basically stole the show with his answers during both the press conference and smaller media scrums.
Here’s this week’s worthwhile reads around the NHL:
Rhode Island-based player agent and 1990 Bruins draft pick Jerry Buckley took time to chat with Joe Haggerty and myself on the Great American Hockey Show Podcast last week and like many, wondered where the agent has been when some NHL players have fallen into trouble recently?
Michael Arace of the Columbus Blue Jackets thinks it’s do or die for Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards to lead his team on a playoff run if his team can remain healthy. I’m not sure I agree on Richards being fired if they don’t but I do think the BJ’s make a long run this season. More on that in our Bruins Daily staff predictions this week!
Fellow Bruins Daily writer Tim Rosenthal takes a look at 3-on-3 overtime.
Another Bruins Daily writer, Bob Snow, looks at how Bruins captain Zdeno Chara will need to be a mentor now more than ever in his time in Boston.
Peter Roumeiotis of SI.com looks at how the NHL has taken advantage of social media.
Stephen Whyno of the Canadian press looks at the relationship between the NHL and NHLPA three years after the last lockout.
We were unable to speak to a Bruin this past week about their music taste but with the NHL returning this week, we’ll leave you with this Dropkick Murphy’s tune. Game on!