NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini faced a crowd before tonight’s NHL Draft
It depends on your vantage point, of course, but it’s not a stretch to say that two of the more controversial figures in the hockey world were the subject of a Vancouver Board of Trade conference this morning.
With the NHL Entry Draft taking place tonight and tomorrow in Vancouver, the league’s commissioner, Gary Bettman, sat down with Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini in a downtown hotel room to discuss a number of league issues from a business perspective.
The Olympic Games, NHL expansion and the future of the Vancouver Canucks were among the subjects explored by the two men and panel moderator Dan Murphy of Sportsnet fame.
Here were our main takeaways from the event.
1. It doesn’t seem like there will be another lockout
Bettman gave a very sunny picture of the league’s current status and didn’t seem like someone with any desire to pursue a labour stoppage. The league can opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) on September 1, and the players can do the same on September 15.
It doesn’t sound like the league will exercise that option, and if the players follow suit the CBA is valid for the next three seasons.
“With every collective bargaining agreement, there are going to be things you don’t like,” said Bettman. “Can you live with the status quo? Is it worth the fight? I’m hoping we have labour peace. Whatever imperfections there are in the CBA, can you live with it?”
2. The Canucks aren’t looking to hire a team president
Since Trevor Linden “parted ways with the team amicably” (at least according to the official release) last summer, the Canucks haven’t had a team president to bridge the gap between Aquilini and general manager Jim Benning.
There have been many reports of different candidates since Linden’s departure, but Aquilini was steadfast in his denial that he was looking for someone to fill the void.
“I’m pretty happy with the job Jim [Benning]’s doing,” said Aquilini. “Never say never, but at this time I’m not looking to hire anybody.”
3. This season isn’t playoffs or bust for the Canucks
There have also been rumours that if the Canucks miss the playoffs for a fifth straight time this season, Benning will be fired. Aquilini denied those as well.
“No, we’re not thinking short-term, we’re thinking long-term and looking for players to take next step,” said Aquilini. He noted that there are so many variables with regular season success, like injuries. He also, however, noted that Benning has a big couple of weeks ahead of him with the draft and free agency.
4. The business of eSports is enticing, though it’s hard to understand
Asked about the success of the Vancouver Titans, the Overwatch team owned by Canucks Sports and Entertainment, Aquilini was honest.
“I tried to understand it and I really don’t, but the market is there,” said the owner. “It’s really kids between 14-19 and this market that’s being created.”
Added Bettman: “I understand it from a business perspective, but I don’t get it.”
5. The league and the Canucks are excited for Seattle
There will be an announcement from the Seattle expansion team, which will start play during the 2021-22 season, later today (likely the team’s name and colour scheme). For their parts, Bettman and Aquilini were excited about the prospect of Seattle NHL games.
Asked whether the Seattle team might affect the Canucks’ ticket sales in any way, Aquilini, who noted that he had been trying to convince Bettman to take the NHL to Seattle for some time, disputed the notion.
From a competitive standpoint it’s great. But I think for us, the fans stop at the border. We don’t have many season ticket holders from Washington State,” said Aquilini. “From a season ticket perspective, I don’t think it’s going to affect it. It’s a trek to get people out there—they have to be committed. I think it’s going to grow our business.”
Bettman agreed that the expansion club will be a positive factor for the Canucks and their fans: “For Vancouver to have a natural geographic rival is going to be sensational. The games between Seattle and whatever they call themselves will be great.”