CHICAGO - Outlining the next season before the final playoff series of the current one could even commence, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman gave his annual State of the League address yesterday at the United Center.
Bettman divulged that the next Winter Classic, featuring Washington and Pittsburgh, will take place at the Steelers' Heinz Field on Jan. 1, 2011.
He also said the NHL will add a second outdoor game, in Calgary, pitting the Flames against Montreal on Feb. 20 in the reincarnation of the Heritage Classic.
Most important, Bettman said the league - partially behind the strength of the Canadian dollar - earned a record revenue, approximately a 4 percent increase over last year. Believe it or not, that means a lot for Flyers fans.
The increase in revenue correlates directly to the salary cap, which will jump an estimated $2 million (or 3.5 percent) to $58.8 million next season. That's a far cry from the first year of the salary cap, which was introduced after the 2004-05 lockout, of $39 million.
The lower limit, or team minimum, of this year's salary cap - just 5 years later - was $5 million above the initial ceiling.
Next season, the Flyers have $48.6 million tied up in existing contracts, which would leave Paul Holmgren a little more than $8 million in wiggle room. The contracts of Michael Leighton, Dan Carcillo, Braydon Coburn, Ryan Parent, Ray Emery, Lukas Krajicek, Danny Syvret and Darroll Powe expire on June 30.
Bettman also said the Flyers will open the new Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, the Penguins' new home, on Oct. 7. The NHL All-Star Game will played in Raleigh, N.C., on Jan. 30, 2011. The entire league schedule will be announced on June 22.
Eager to face old friends
Chicago forward Ben Eager spent parts of five seasons in Philly, splitting most of his time between the Flyers and Phantoms. Tonight, some of Eager's closest friends will become enemies.
"It's one thing to be in the Stanley Cup finals," Eager said. "And it's another to be playing against your old team. It's going to be exciting, a good test for us. It's awesome to be playing for the Cup at this time of the year."
Eager was traded to Chicago on Dec. 18, 2007, in exchange for Jim Vandermeer. He played 101 games for the Flyers over three seasons. With the Blackhawks, he has been reunited with former Flyer Patrick Sharp; the two played together on the Phantoms' 2005 Calder Cup-winning squad with Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Riley Cote.
Eager said he exchanged text messages with a few Flyers earlier in the playoffs. At this point, that communication has ceased.
"It's going to be business first," Eager said. "We'll catch up after the series."
Tonight's game on WIP (610-AM) will be synced to the television action if fans want to tune out NBC's talking heads . . . Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he will not make any line changes from Monday's win over Montreal . . . Hockey and the warm temperatures of late May and early June do not always mix well. Historically, conditions at the finals have been dicey; see: 1975 foggy final between the Flyers and Sabres at Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium. A television monitor in the Flyers' locker room broadcasted the United Center's thermals yesterday: arena bowl, 59 degrees; relative humidity, 36 percent; ice temperature, 24 degrees. Outside the arena, it was 72 degrees with a relative humidity of 40 percent. This is the latest hockey has ever been played at the United Center since the Hawks arrived in 1994 . . . Did you know that the Blackhawks' name changed from two words (Black Hawks) to one word (Blackhawks) in 1986? . . . The Blackhawks have the league's longest Stanley Cup drought, 49 years dating to 1961. *