New York Islanders Insights from Gary Bettman, Ledecky and the Maven
By Bryan Lotto
This off-season the New York Islanders have been hard at work to exceed the expectations of their current and future season ticket holders (STH). These are ‘must-see’ events, and the most recent luncheon was no exception.
On Tuesday, August 13th New York Islanders majority co-owner Jon Ledecky hosted about 30 die-hard season ticket holders at the NHL Headquarters in NYC for a luncheon. The fare ranged from fresh sushi to delicious sandwiches as no expense was spared, no detail overlooked.
The timing was perfect. Later that day the Franchise Oversight Board would provide final approval for the Belmont Arena. We are a GO Islander fans!!
But those in attendance got even more than just an Islander feel-good afternoon.
First, Gary Bettman graciously addressed the group and took questions for over an hour.
Say what you want about Mr. Bettman. When asked about his keys to personal success, Bettman shared that he believes in telling it like it is. He attributes business success to logic, honesty, and openness. Bettman has the gift of expressing himself with an intelligent, humble flair.
I took this as an invitation to ask some pressing questions.Lotto:
"Bettman: The league has until September 1 and the NHLPA till September 15th to challenge the current CBA. That will not affect the current season at all but would trigger early negotiations for 20-21.You know I have heard the players gripe about the escrow situation. And some have challenged that the league is not doing enough to maximize revenue.That could not be further from the truth.The league has experienced Compound Annual Growth of 6% in light of annual inflation of 1-2%. The NHL is stronger than we have ever been. The escrow situation has been impacted by high front end salaries, a rising cap. In the escrow calculation, the owners 50% responsibility includes all these expenses and much more.The easiest way to remedy that would be to use the midpoint (currently $70.9mm) as the salary cap basis with annual increases tied to that 1-2% inflationary figure."
Lotto: Wouldn’t that be asking too much? The cat is out of the bag, so to speak. Would that require salary rollback?
Bettman: Not necessarily. Look we would love under the escrow arrangement to bonus players every year. Right now, despite the leagues’ growth that’s not possible.
Lotto: So where would you place the odds that we see action by the owners on September 1 or the players on September15th? Fifty-fifty?
"Bettman: If I told you that I would have to kill you. (laughs) But honestly, everyone is benefiting from the growth of the league. I can’t see why anyone, players or owners, would want to disrupt that and start a battle earlier then it has to be."
(I have to disagree with the Commissioner here. The CBA will be a prominent talking point this year. So much depends on the Mitch Marner saga.
If Marner’s deal falls far short of his expectations, it will be a significant NHLPA issue. The fallout will impact every RFA salary after that. Should Marner get the deal he covets, the trickle-down effect on RFA’s and the rest of the league could effectively make cap management nearly impossible.)
In any industry union negotiations are tough. It will be a pleasant surprise if the upcoming NHL negotiations are an exception.
Lotto: Are there any yet to be announced rule changes for the upcoming season and more specifically, your thoughts on
- the 2-line pass,
- getting rid of that damn trapezoid and,
- putting names back on the ref’s jerseys so guys like us can boo them on a personal basis?
"Bettman: No new rule changes. The game is excellent today. Why would we change it?We have no interest in bringing back the redline.As for the trapezoid, we think it has a positive impact on the game. Before implementing the goalie was becoming the third defenseman and taking away the forecheck. It serves its purpose in bringing the speed back to the game."
(The silence on the personalized ref/linesman uniforms was deafening. I don’t think a Wes McCauley striped jersey will be seen on Coliseum ice any time soon)
Next up was the great Stan Fischler.
Jon Ledecky lauded the Maven and emphatically told Bettman that Stan deserves his bronze placard in the Hall of Fame. Stan, the gentleman that he is, was gracious and thankful:
"Fischler: Although it would be a great honor the game itself has given me so much to be thankful for."
He shared that his love of hockey began at the tender age of seven in 1939 and hasn’t subsided a bit since. Stan went on to inspire the group with an assortment of Islanders stories that had many in stitches. They were too numerous to share here but if you are ever fortunate enough to chat with Stan at a game, DO IT!
There is no better ambassador and few as knowledgeable of the history of the NHL. The Maven bleeds blue and orange.
As the luncheon neared its end, Stan shared his appreciation of Denis Potvin as the greatest defenseman in the post-expansion era.
He shared the story of then Montreal GM Sam Pollock and Bill Torrey driving in circles for hours as Pollock dangled multiple Canadiens for the coveted 1973 pick. Torrey would not be swayed, the Captain was ours, and the rest is Islander Stanley Cup history.
I couldn’t help myself but ask Stan a question.
Lotto: Stan in this modern free agency era is there an RFA today that would be worthy of four first-round picks?
Stan hesitated and glanced at our owner.
Mr. Ledecky playfully interjected with
"Ledecky: does he look like Lou Lamoriello?"
Lotto: ‘No, but I’d love to hear Stan’s take.’
Stan wouldn’t bite.
But this time, the silence told a different story.
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Great Period In Islanders History
This offseason isn’t over.
We are in a great period of Islanders history.
These truly once in a lifetime moments are being provided by arguably the best ownership in the league. Being an Islanders season ticket holder has perks and access not available in the past. All done in a first-class environment.
If you have been on the fence; if you and your buddies have talked about it but procrastinated; the time is now to get in on a seasons package. It provides year-round opportunity to connect with our sport, our team.
Upcoming events include the annual golf outing in September, a gala event for the Belmont groundbreaking and the Islander Alumni week in October. (And Mr. Ledecky made a point of recognizing John Tonelli’s return to the fold. Could a number retirement ceremony be far behind?)
Training camp is only weeks away…
See you at the rink!