Several things to talk about on this Friday afternoon as it was a very busy day in the National Hockey League, despite the Stanley Cup Finals not beginning until tomorrow. First, commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the media today in Chicago for his annual "state of the league" speech. Steve Zipay at Blue Notes has everything Gary talked about over on his blog, so I take out some of the highlight points and discuss them with you below.
As we reported last night, the 2011 NHL Winter Classic will be held at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where the Penguins and Capitals will go head-to-head in hopes of raising the ratings from this year's outdoor game between the Bruins and Flyers. In addition to that, an outdoor contest between the Flames and the Canadiens is expected to be hosted in Calgary and played sometime in February. From my understanding, they are not calling that the Winter Classic also, but the game will be held outdoors nonetheless.
NHL revenues went up four percent this season according to Bettman, so as long as the NHLPA accepts an escalator, you can expect the salary cap to be raised by $2 million for the 2010-11 season. At least some of the league's promotion and introduction of new events is raising the bar as far as what the league is able to do and how they do it. Events like the Winter Classic have brought in more money and now good things like the cap being raised by a couple of million dollars are happening. That is certainly a plus for the NHL.
Also, ESPN's Pierre Lebrun brought up the fact that the past All Star weekend's have been "stale" and Mr. Bettman did not seem to disagree. He states that a new format is currently being worked out and that changes could be made for next year's ASG in Raleigh, North Carolina. Of course, this has not been entirely confirmed just yet, but I think fans will begin to get bored of the usual format if they continue to use it. Change is always good.
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Aside from Gary's speech, today also marked the beginning of the NHL Draft Combine, in which the top 100 prospects expected to be drafted into the NHL in June undergo a series of both physical and mental tests. Among the major storylines, Tyler Seguin, expected to be selected in the top three, completely tore up every test by exceeding expectations and outworking all of the players participating. Taylor Hall, on the other hand, did not participate in any testing as his agents urged him not to because of "fatigue" and "lack of preparation".
Honestly, I don't know what his agents were thinking because now Seguin has a clear edge to be drafted first overall by the Oilers because of that, if he did not already.
As for me, I prepare for my trip to Chicago for game one of the Stanley Cup Finals. Don't forget to check in for live coverage both on the site and on twitter.