NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was in Raleigh much of Tuesday but not to make any major announcement.
The Carolina Hurricanes badly want to be a part of an outdoor game and N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium has been proposed as the venue. Bettman took a walking tour of the stadium -- the dimensions of a hockey rink marked off by traffic cones on the playing field -- and while not officially committing to playing a game made some encouraging remarks.
“Yes, we are taking it very seriously and looking at the possibility,” Bettman said.
The game would not be played in the 2019-20 season, Bettman said, adding that his “best guess” is that it could be a part of the league’s Stadium Series, possibly in 2020-21.
“I don’t want to mislead anybody or say anything or promise anything until I’m sure,” Bettman said. “We have some more work to do, we have a variety of arrangements to make. As important as anything else, if we decide we want to do it, I have to make sure it’s OK with N.C. State.”
Bettman said he liked Carter-Finley’s “tight bowl” and good sight lines, saying the NHL’s events staff already has visited to check on logistics.
Bettman visited Tuesday with the Canes players before the team’s morning skate and met with owner Tom Dundon. He met with N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper. He met with the Centennial Authority, the PNC Arena landlord, to be updated on the facility upgrades being considered.
Bettman attended the Canes’ game against the Los Angeles Kings -- and predictably was booed when introduced in the first period. And, yes, he made it known he endorsed the Canes’ postgame celebrations after wins on home ice.
“The players enjoy doing it, that’s important,” Bettman said. “And the fans enjoy seeing it. So to me that’s the most important element to what goes on after a game when there’s a win.”
Don Cherry, the flamboyant, outspoken Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster, has labeled the Canes players a “bunch of jerks” for their postgame productions. Not Bettman.
“I consider Don Cherry a friend and I respect him but we can agree to disagree on certain things,” Bettman said. “The fact is the way people, fan bases, connect with our game evolves over time. And what might work in an ‘Original Six’ city might not work in a city and market that’s newer to the game.”
Dundon, who became the Canes’ majority owner in January 2018, has been a proponent of enhancing the fan experience at PNC Arena. It was Dundon who suggest the players do something different after games to thank the fans -- certainly more than raising their sticks in a salute -- and Dundon who earned the league’s approval to wear Hartford Whalers jerseys two games this season.
“I think he has been an absolute ball of energy,” Bettman said. “People call him a disrupter, an innovator. But he is looking to make things happen. He wants this team to be competitive. He wants this team to be a more important part of the community. For a tenure that’s barely a year old I think he’s done some dramatic things and we’re seeing the results.”
Dundon recently announced he was putting $250 million into the Alliance of American Football to fund the fledgling developmental league. Dundon, as the league’s chief benefactor, is the AAF chairman.
Asked about Dundon’s involvement, Bettman grinned and said, “I wish him good luck.”