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NHL owners keeping close eye on struggling global economy

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The Canadian Press
9/16/2008 8:15:29 PM
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TORONTO - A tumultuous period for global stock markets has caught the attention of NHL stakeholders.

Even though the U.S. economy has been hit hardest over the last year with the housing-market collapse, the NHL's six Canadian franchises are also concerned about the affect the current economic situation could have on them.

''The last couple of weeks - wow - it's been killer,'' said Edmonton Oilers president and CEO Patrick LaForge. ''I think we're all concerned. I can only speak for Edmonton but I can say that these are very interesting times, what the stock market is doing and the impact on our major clients, which are businesses.

''I think we have to all be very mindful that these are tough times. The Canadian teams are not exempt.''

The current economic landscape is one of a number of topics the NHL's board of governors was briefed about during a meeting on Tuesday.

There is no sense of panic from a league that has seen its overall revenues increase every year since the 2004-05 lockout, but it is something that will be monitored. Commissioner Gary Bettman currently holds an optimistic financial outlook, citing season ticket sales that were more than four per cent higher on Sept. 1 this year than they were last year.

Beyond that, he wouldn't speculate on how a jittery economy might affect the league's business.

''Obviously, nobody can predict how this is going to unfold and when there might be a recovery,'' said Bettman.

One area it shouldn't affect immediately is the salary cap.

Bettman doesn't expect league revenues to drop enough this season to necessitate a lowering of the US$56.7-million cap next year.

''I would be extremely surprised if the slow down in the economy was severe enough that it got to that point,'' he said.

The cap has risen dramatically under the current collective bargaining agreement in part because of a strengthened Canadian dollar.

The dollar is something the franchises in this country always keep a close eye on. Lately, they've seen it dip, and hope that trend doesn't continue.

''Any time you've got a dollar that is at parity when a sport is being played in two countries, it evens out the playing field,'' said Montreal Canadiens president Pierre Boivin. ''The dollar's at 93, 94 cents today - let's hope that it stays there.

''If it weakens then we'll have some difficulties as Canadian teams.''

Added LaForge: ''I'm praying that the Canadian dollar stops where it is and again stabilizes. It obviously affects our business big time.''

Other issues reviewed by the board of governors on Tuesday include:

- an overall evaluation of last season;

- the Nashville Predators ownership situation in the wake of fraud lawsuits against minority partner William (Boots) Del Biaggio. ''In terms of the operation of the club, it's had no impact whatsoever,'' said Bettman;

- the league's current relationship with Russia's Continental Hockey League (KHL).

The commissioner acknowledged after the meeting that the Alexander Radulov situation ''continues to bubble'' and spoke strongly about how the case has been dealt with overall.

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

''What they did here was wrong and they know it. They've acknowledged that they know he has a contract with Nashville.''

The league submitted a formal request to the KHL to enter binding arbitration over the case and has yet to hear back.

In the meantime, the Predators have moved forward under the assumption that Radulov won't be back this season. However, Nashville GM David Poile believes that Radulov thinks he made a mistake by signing with Ufa.

''I've not talked to the player but I believe he'd like to come back,'' said Poile. ''I've always believed that he always wanted to play in the National Hockey League and I think this was somewhat of a spontaneous decision.

''If he could have it back, I think he would change (it).''

Poile admits that he was ''flabbergasted'' when he first found out that Radulov had signed with the Russian team in July.

Despite everything that's happened, he doesn't believe the case has permanently damaged relations between the NHL and KHL.

''Just like everything else, time cures all,'' said Poile. ''We've been down this road before .. this too can get resolved.

''To make any agreement you need to have all parties come to the table and to have clearer heads and do what's best in the long run.'' 

Gary Bettman (Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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