LeBrun: Senators’ new regime talks, plus expansion, cap projections and more BOG rumblings

NEW YORK — Michael Andlauer reached into his suit pocket Wednesday and found a Montreal Canadiens pin.

It’s hard to change your stripes overnight.

The new Ottawa Senators owner was wearing a Sens pin on his suit on this day, and he made sure to find someone specific at the NHL Board of Governors meeting to unload the old Habs pin onto.

“I told (Habs majority owner Geoff Molson), ‘This doesn’t belong to me anymore. Here you go,’” Andlauer laughed.

It was Andlauer’s first Board of Governors meeting since officially taking over the Senators franchise two weeks ago and selling his minority share in the Habs.

It’s been a whirlwind.

“It’s been pretty hectic for me, obviously just coming in just as the season starts,” Andlauer told a handful of assembled media members after the board meeting. “You’re a bit behind the eight ball. But we’re fast and furious and ready to go to get the season started.”

One top priority for Andlauer will, of course, be building a new arena closer to downtown Ottawa.

“Certainly optimism as I see it,” Andlauer said of his preliminary conversations with the stakeholders. “There seems to be a good direction. Everyone wants to go in the same direction. They want to see something, a new arena closer to the downtown area.

“So the motivation is there. It’s just a matter of sitting down and collaborating and doing what’s in the best interest of Sens fans.”

In terms of a timeline, Andlauer reiterated that it’s possible the Senators stay at Canadian Tire Centre for another four of five years before a new arena is built.

“Let’s put it this way, to build a new arena is going to take a minimum three years … approvals, etc.,” he said. “We’re going to get going right away to talk about it. Governments move at their own pace sometimes.

“If I could do it tomorrow, we’d do it tomorrow. And I have a group of partners, too, that are in the real estate development field that understand the game, understand creative ways of doing things.”

Meanwhile, Shane Pinto remains unsigned, a situation Andlauer is obviously monitoring closely.

“I think it’s a situation, like a lot of teams right now, in the fact we’ve been stuck at the salary cap … it is what it is,” said Andlauer. “From all accounts when talking to the players and the coaching staff, everybody loves Shane Pinto. He’s been a great asset to this team. We’re in a bit of a pickle obviously with it.

“I’m not going to comment about the discussions between (general manager) Pierre (Dorion) and the agent through this process. But we’re desirous of having Shane onboard and we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to get there. I feel for the young man because I know he wants to be there and you know the situation when there’s a player who misses training camp — sometimes it hinders their performance moving forward.”

Steve Staios was hired last week as president of hockey operations, which naturally leads to the question of what the is future for Dorion, who has rebuilt a team that seems ready to make a run at a playoff spot this season.

“Other GMs had called me throughout this whole (sale) process and said, ‘Boy, you’ve got a really good core, a good team.’ So some credit has to be given to that,” Andlauer said of Dorion’s work. “For me, it’s really trying to create an environment that’s going to make it better from the hockey ops standpoint.

“I said to Pierre, ‘We just strengthened the hockey ops by bringing Steve in to complement things.’ Ultimately, we will look at making the hockey ops department stronger. … But it’s my second week and Steve’s third day. Someone asked me at the (introductory) news conference what my first order of the day was. It’s to learn and observe, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Michael Andlauer says the Senators are “desirous of having Shane (Pinto) onboard and we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to get there.” (Chris Tanouye / Getty Images)

Shanahan on Leafs’ expectations and Nylander

The transition at GM from Kyle Dubas to Brad Treliving has been rather seamless so far for the Maple Leafs, which is noteworthy given the end-of-season drama.

Of course, the real games haven’t started yet. But so far, the decision to hire a steady hand in Treliving has proven to be what the Leafs needed.

“Well, give the credit to Brad,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan told The Athletic. “And to the team of people that he brought in as well, and the team that we already had in Toronto. This happens in sports. This happens in business. It’s never pleasant when it happens, but I have to say that Brad and the new people he’s brought in and the people that remain part of our staff deserve all the credit for how smooth it’s gone.”

Being GM in Toronto isn’t a job for everybody. Treliving looks comfortable handling the demands of the market, which isn’t overly surprising after doing it for nine years in another Canadian market in Calgary.

“I’ve known him in the game for a long time. You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody that doesn’t have respect for him and hasn’t enjoyed working with him,” Shanahan said. “In this day and age, that’s part of it as well. You’ve got to obviously be good at your job and we’re in a competitive business, but managing people is an important aspect.

“We’ve been lucky in Toronto with people like that. And Tree is no exception.”

The Leafs finally won a playoff series last season, knocking off the perennial Cup-contending Lightning, but obviously losing in the second round fell short of the goal.

Expectations for this season?

“Well we want to build on last year,” Shanahan said. “And we learned some valuable lessons in the second round. And I think that’s what the players are looking just to come back and build on.

“It’s nice to get Auston (Matthews’) contract situated. That’s great news for us and the team and the city.”

Shanahan has liked what he’s seen at camp.

“I see a lot of competition at camp, the players who are coming back, who are locks, seem to be highly, highly motivated,” Shanahan said. “There have been a few surprises at camp — not that we didn’t think some of our younger players were going to be good, but some are pushing a little sooner than we thought they might. So we’re going to have some difficult decisions to make, but that’s usually a good thing.”

And finally, there’s the situation with William Nylander, whom the Leafs hope to extend past this season. It’s a priority task.

“It’s incredibly important,” Shanahan said. “William is a very important player for us. And the conversations have gone well. We’re not going to do this thing through the press, but everything has gone very well. We’ll continue to work quietly on that and remain optimistic.”

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Brendan Shanahan says talks with William Nylander “have gone well.” (Joel Auerbach / Getty Images)

Bettman on the cap and expansion

It wasn’t a big news day as far as the actual agenda for the Board of Governors, and that’s normal for this one-day fall owners’ encounter. It’s really a meeting featuring all the obvious league updates. The newsier meeting comes in early December when owners meet for three days.

Still, there were a few nuggets after commissioner Gary Bettman met with a small media contingent following the three-hour afternoon Board meeting:

• Bettman confirmed that the players’ escrow from the pandemic will be paid in full this year and he predicted a salary cap next season of around $87 million to $88 million based on “very, very preliminary” revenue figures; there will be a firmer revenue/cap projection at the December Board meeting.

• There continues to be speculation about potential NHL expansion.

“The best answer I can give you is that we have continuous expressions of interest from places like Houston, Atlanta, Quebec City, Salt Lake City, but expansion isn’t on the agenda,” Bettman said. “If something were to progress along where you say, ‘Well, this could be ready to go,’ then I’ll bring it to the owners and we’ll discuss it. But we’re not in a mode where I’m saying, ‘OK, if you’re interested in expansion, submit your applications and we’ll evaluate them,’ like we’ve done previously. We’re not there.

“We’re just getting expressions of interest. And as you all know, I take meetings all the time on a variety of subjects. If somebody wants to talk to us, we talk to them.”

Colleague Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet asked Bettman how much the next expansion team could cost: “A lot, a lot,” the commissioner said without hesitation. “Our franchises have historically been undervalued, but if you look what’s been going on in terms of franchise values, they’ve been increasing pretty dramatically.”

My read: Expansion is coming within the next two to three years. I’m not sure how I feel about a 34-team league, but it’s pretty clear reading between the lines when Bettman is asked about it, that it’s eventually coming again. So get ready, everyone.

• One would think figuring out the situation with the Arizona Coyotes, once and for all, would need to happen before any potential expansion, but Bettman said those things were not linked.

“I think they’re independent of each other,” Bettman said. “There are different tracks. We remain optimistic that (Coyotes) owner Alex Meruelo is going to find a solution to get a building going into the ground in the not-too-distant future.”

Bettman said there’s no hard deadline in Arizona to figure out the new building but did say: “I know his timetable is trying in the first half of the season to get something done, so we’ll see where we are, come February.”

• I asked Bettman for the latest on the league’s investigation into the 2018 Canadian world juniors team. “The process continues. And when I have something to say, I’ll say it. But nothing more to comment.”

I tried to ask Bettman a follow-up, which was whether it was possible some of those players face league discipline even if there’s no criminal repercussions (and I’m not saying there won’t be criminal repercussions), but the commissioner declined to comment on that scenario. “As I said, I had no further comment,” Bettman said. “When we’re ready to discuss it, I promise you we’ll tell you.”

• On the February 2025 World Cup of Hockey: “We’re continuing to work on it with the players’ association,” Bettman said. “And I think you know the world complexities (war in Ukraine) is still an issue, but we’re focused on wanting to do something for ’25. And hopefully we will.”

• On the February 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy: “We’re still working with the Players’ Association in dealing with the IIHF and the IOC for the Olympics,” Bettman said. “I know the players want to go. We want to go. But the IIHF and the IOC have to make that a possibility and a reality.”

Again, Bettman is reminding everyone here that the IOC and IIHF have to do their parts on things like player insurance and travel or it’s not happening. Which would be brutal. Let’s hope it happens finally.

• On the June NHL draft, for which the location still hasn’t been announced (although it’s believed to be going to Vegas if the league can finally secure that deal): “We’re not ready to announce, but (NHL executive) Steve Mayer tells me we’re getting close,” Bettman said.

• The early December Board of Governors meeting is normally in Florida (or sometimes Pebble Beach, Calif.), but this year it’s in Seattle. Why?

“Because when they were coming into the league I had promised them a board meeting so that they could greet their new partners, welcome them to Seattle, and show off the building (Climate Pledge Arena), and then COVID hit,” Bettman said. “So I owe them this meeting and that’s why we’re doing it. My guess is in the future we’ll go back to more traditional places in warmer climates. But this was one that I had promised.”

Molson on Andlauer

Perhaps an underestimated story was the fact that Andlauer’s sale of his shares in the Habs was such a smooth transaction. Those things sometimes aren’t. Obviously, the value of Andlauer’s stake would have risen greatly since buying into the Habs in 2009.

“He’s become a good friend and a good business partner as well,” Molson said of Andlauer. “We parted ways in a very good way, as well. It was a healthy negotiation. Two friends trying to get a deal done. We both took the right approach, and it turned out to be good for both sides.”

The Habs ownership group acquired Andlauer’s shares, believed to be around 9.5 percent of the team, and that sum of money was obviously used as part of Andlauer’s $950 million purchase of the Senators.

And if the Senators are worth $950 million, where does that put an Original Six franchise like the Habs in terms of an updated franchise valuation? I asked Molson if he could share how much it cost to buy Andlauer’s shares, and he predictably declined to offer up that information. Bettman also declined to provide that info.

Jets remain ‘hopeful’ on 2024 UFAs

Jets chairman Mark Chipman reiterated that his team hopes to find a way to extend Connor Hellebuyck and Mark Scheifele, which is what GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said last month.

“Everything I’m hearing is that it’s been very positive, the conversations are ongoing,” Chipman told The Athletic. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in Chevy. So yeah, there’s nothing to report other than the conversations have been progressing.

“Everybody remains hopeful.”

Point being: The Jets aren’t rebuilding.

“No, no, we’re trying to win. This has been a long build for us and we think we’ve got a good team, a good core of guys that really like each other,” Chipman said. “The vibe, and the message I keep getting, is that these guys want to win. That’s encouraging because that’s what this has always been about.”

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Mark Chipman says of the team’s progress with Connor Hellebuyck: “Everything I’m hearing is that it’s been very positive. (Jason Halstead / Getty Images)

Predators-Saros update

Juuse Saros enters the final year of his contract and the star goalie can be a UFA in July, but the intention is to get him signed in Nashville.

“Absolutely,” Predators GM Barry Trotz told The Athletic. “I’ve already reached out to (Saros’ agent) Kevin Epp and their group (to) see what their thoughts are on talking.”

The Predators might be re-tooling or rebuilding, but either way, Trotz wants Saros to be part of that roster moving forward.

“Yes, absolutely,” Trotz said. “I think he’s a special goaltender. Obviously, he’s created his own little legacy. We’ve been blessed with great goaltending in Nashville. It started with Tomas Vokoun then Pekka Rinne and hopefully Juuse for the future.”

New governors’ impressions

New Oilers president of hockey operations Jeff Jackson took in his first-ever Board of Governors meeting after years in the industry as an agent, assistant GM and former player. But to get into this room on this day, you need to be a governor, which he is now.

“It’s an opportunity to actually see the scope of the business with what the NHL is, and I’d never really seen that before obviously,” Jackson said. “Really interesting discussion across a whole bunch of stuff. I found it very interesting and look forward to the next one.”

Keith Jones took in his second Board meeting since being named Flyers president of hockey operations in May.

“It’s very informative, no doubt about that,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of smart people providing information in that meeting. A lot to take in.”

The rookie executive did not raise his hand in the meeting. No rookies do in that setting with owners.

“Not yet, not yet,” Jones laughed. “I’m a very good listener.”

(Top photo of Gary Bettman: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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