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KHL, U.S. economy hot topics at NHL Board of Governors meeting

TORONTO - World economics and international hockey affairs were both front and center at the NHL Board of Governors meeting Tuesday afternoon.

While commissioner Gary Bettman stressed the bulk of the four-hour meeting was spent evaluating the past hockey season and where the league is headed, the issues of a troubled American stock market and the ongoing dispute with Russia’s new Kontinental League couldn’t be ignored.

The Nashville Predators were a topic of discussion in post-meeting interviews due to Alexander Radulov’s decision to bolt for the KHL earlier this summer and the club’s unresolved ownership issues.

Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, confirmed the league asked for a binding arbitration ruling in the Radulov case about a week ago, but has not received word from the KHL as yet.

Bettman expressed disappointment with how the entire Radulov affair transpired.

“I don’t think the way the KHL or the IIHF has handled the Radulov situation is either fair, appropriate or in good faith, and that’s the reason we have, to say the least, reservations about doing business with the KHL going forward,” Bettman said.

“What they did here was wrong and they know it because they’ve acknowledged they know he has a contract with Nashville, so this will sort itself out. It’s not something that currently keeps us awake at night. The best players of the word will continue to want to play in the NHL.”

Bettman attached much of the blame to Radulov himself.

“Sometimes this is portrayed as a dispute between the NHL and the KHL, but if the KHL doesn’t want to respect contracts – there’s no dispute, they’ve acknowledged he’s under a valid contract – this is really an issue because the player who was under contract (with the NHL) signed a contract he shouldn’t have signed.”

Bettman, along with Preds vice-president and GM David Poile, stressed the ideal situation for all involved is to have transfer agreements among leagues in place.

Poile, addressing speculation Radulov is already interested in returning to the NHL, said a move back to North America by the young Russian certainly wouldn’t surprise him.

“If you’re asking me specifically, yes, I believe he’d like to come back,” said Poile, while making it clear he hasn’t spoken to Radulov himself. “I’ve always believed he wanted to play in the National Hockey League. I think this was somewhat of a spontaneous decision and if he could have it back, he would change.

“If anybody knows him, this is his dream, to play with all the top players. I mean, (Alex) Ovechkin and (Evgeni) Malkin, those are players he aspires to be like, so … I was flabbergasted when he signed over there and I know he wants to come back to the NHL.”

On the topic of the legal and financial troubles facing Preds minority owner William Del Biaggio, neither Bettman nor Poile expressed concern the situation would impact the team.

“The current ownership is good,” Poile said. “We had a bump in the road with one of the minority investors, but all in all that’s going to get straightened away…I don’t think there’s any specific timetable of how that gets done or when it gets done.

“The new owners are great, they’re trying as hard as they can. We’ve got our work cut out for us - as we all know - in a smaller city, a smaller market, but I think with the local guys there, it’s very optimistic right now.”

Bettman, meanwhile, was similarly not concerned about the impact of a fledgling U.S. stock market.

“We did, in terms of the state of the league moving forward, discuss the state of the economy,” he said.  “Obviously nobody can predict how this is going to continue to unfold, when there might be a recovery, but interestingly enough, based on the projections that we’re seeing, based on the data we’re getting with respect to things like season ticket sales, we’re actually running ahead of last season, which was a record for us.

“So, we haven’t been experiencing any material short-term effects, but everybody is of course cognizant of what’s going on with the economy.”

The majority of BOG members weren’t overly worried about the Canadian dollar’s performance at this moment, but confirmed a continuing downward trend definitely would raise red flags.

The strong performance of the Canuck buck is a big reason the salary cap has climbed each year since it was instituted after the lockout. With the Loonie faltering slightly of late, closing Tuesday at 93.5 cents, there were some questions about whether the salary cap would finally flat line or, possibly, decline.

“If the Canadian dollar keeps dropping, there’s a possibility that (the salary cap) would change,” said Oilers president and CEO Patrick LaForge. “The Canadian dollar has had a huge uplift on the situation so far and who knows. I’m praying that the Canadian dollar stops where it is and stabilizes because obviously it affects our business big time.”

As is always the case at these meetings, the issue of possible expansion markets was broached, but Bettman said absolutely nothing tangible on that front was discussed.

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