Cross Checks: Board of Governors meetings



PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- It wasn’t discussed in the actual meeting itself, but commissioner Gary Bettman’s responses to media inquiries on future expansion generated the most buzz Tuesday as the NHL’s board of governors meeting wrapped up.

For the record, Bettman once again insisted that there is no current plan in place to expand, nor any timeline the league has established to do so -- if ever -- but what made an impression on the assembled media was that Bettman was willing to spend time tackling the subject.

In years past at this same meeting, he would quickly brush aside expansion talk from the media. On Tuesday, he was at least willing to acknowledge its possibility.

So that, on its own, raised eyebrows.

“We’re getting lots of expressions of interest and no decisions have been made to do anything other than listen so we haven’t embarked on a formal expansion process, but when people want to talk to us, we listen,’’ Bettman said after two days of meetings with owners concluded.

That ignited a round of questions from media pressing on the issue, including what possible criteria existed for potential expansions groups.

“When there’s an expression of interest, you look at three factors predominately, showstoppers so to speak,” Bettman said. "You want to understand the market and can it support NHL hockey? Would it be a good addition to the league? Two, you’ve got to have an arena and three, and perhaps most important, it comes down to ownership. At 10,000 feet, those are the criteria you’re dealing with.”

Seattle and Quebec City are considered by most as the front-runners, with a second team in Toronto another possibility. Houston, Portland, Kansas City and Las Vegas also have been mentioned in the past as potential expansion cities.

Just don’t ask the commissioner to rank them.

“There’s no ranking. Please stop,’’ he said, growing somewhat annoyed, perhaps, with the media’s line of expansion questioning.

"This isn’t like a game where we’re going to come up with a score at the end of the scrum. The fact is there are lots of expressions of interest from lots of different places and that’s great, it’s gratifying. It shows the business and the game are healthy because there is so much interest and people want to be a part of the game and invest in the game. That’s a good thing.”

And again, Bettman said, it’s not a guarantee that the league will expand.

“The questions, while they are good and they’re valid, presume that we are necessarily interested in expanding. Nobody has made that decision.”

Bettman then pointed out how interesting it was that the media was focusing on it.

“My, my how far we have come since the summer when all the articles and speculation was about all these franchises that were supposedly in trouble, which we never believed were,’’ said the commissioner. "We sold three franchises in six weeks. We have strong ownership, the franchises have never been stronger. So we went from relocation in your view and distress to now we should be expanding. Everybody needs to slow down. We don’t operate like that. Everything in due course. If, in fact, there’s a due course to pursue.”

No question the mood of this board of governors meeting was unlike any other in the past decade, the league not dogged by some of the issues of the past like the ownership situation in Phoenix, labor uncertainty or lackluster TV deals.

None of that at this meeting. You can argue Bettman has perhaps never had a more positive board meeting in his career, having found new owners over the past six months in Phoenix, New Jersey and Florida, signing a massive Canadian TV deal, and of course last January finally negotiating labor peace with a new collective bargaining agreement, which pushed the players down to a 50 percent share of hockey-related revenue.

It’s been a heck of a year, business-wise, for the much-maligned commissioner. All of which is exactly why we’re waiting for the expansion shoe to drop.

It would not surprise anyone if the league officially began the expansion process a year from now at next December's meeting, and if not then, a year later, one would think.

PLAYERS’ RELATIONSHIP
Part of the league’s long-term stability is its ability to avoid another work stoppage after the lockout that marred the sport last season, as well as in 2004-05 and in 1994-95. Enough already.

On that issue, the league feels its relationship with the players continues to grow stronger.

“There’s no doubt our ongoing relationship with the players' association is more regular and uniform that it has been in my memory,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Tuesday after the board meeting wrapped up. "We deal with them on all the issues associated with the game. We work through issues. Sometimes we don’t always agree, surprise, surprise. I think we have a strong working foundation and hopefully that will continue [to] improve in time.”

Then Bettman, standing next to Daly, said:

“I’d like to add to that that if you think that we went through a period where we had five different executive directors of the union in a relatively brief period of time. There is stability now in the union and that is a positive, not just for the players and the union; that’s a positive for us because you can’t build a strong working relationship based on trust when the cast of characters is changing every few months. So the strength and stability of the union, I think, is important as we try to accomplish the things we want to do moving forward.”

WINNIPEG OUTDOOR GAME?
Colleague Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press reported Monday night that the Jets have been given the green light from the NHL to host the Heritage Classic in 2016, quoting Jets chairman Mark Chipman.

Yes and no, Bettman said Tuesday, but mostly yes.

“We had a discussion with Mark Chipman where we said we would like to have an outdoor game in Winnipeg, Heritage Classic, and Mark said, ‘that’s great.’ We said we’re not ready to make any announcements and what is your preference on dates? He gave us a preference of ’16. There’s no formal agreement, announcement or anything else,” Bettman said. "It’s still a work in progress, but at some point in the next few years, perhaps ’16, perhaps not, we’ll have an outdoor game in Winnipeg.”

Bring your parka!

REVIEW OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE PROGRAM
Bill Daly gave governors Tuesday an update on an independent review the league commissioned on the NHL-NHLPA Substance Abuse Behavorial and Health program, which came in the wake of the tragic deaths of Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien two summers ago.

“In connection with the tough summer we had a couple of summers ago, the league committed to everything we do in respect to that program and other programs with respect to players' mental health,” Daly said. "We commissioned jointly with the players' association and cooperated with them on an independent review of our program and I reported on the results of that review today. The bottom line is the report was good, that the program is doing what it is intended to do, it is helping players and former players in times of need. Obviously some recommendations in improvement more in the administrative improvement than in the substance. The board is very comfortable with the program we put in place.”

As for drug testing itself, the league’s program is far from perfect, but it’s accurate to say it’s more detailed than it was before.

“We did broaden testing pretty significantly as part of the CBA,” Daly said. "We have year-round testing. We broadened the prohibited substance list. We’re working on and evaluating whether we can improve the program further by adding an element of HGH testing; quite frankly I’m not sure on that yet, but that certainly is something we are evaluating with the players' association. We’re happy with our performance-enhancing substance program.”

INTERNATIONAL UPDATE
Daly updated owners on Olympic logistics for Sochi, but there was no talk of Olympic plans post-Russia. That’s because there aren’t any at this point. That remains to be determined at a later date.

"I think the issue on that is twofold,” Bettman said. "One, we're going to have to evaluate the experience so it's not going to happen until after that. And two, it's going to be put into the context of what else we may want to be doing internationally. And as it always is, it's a joint decision with the players' association."

What’s clear, however, is that all signs point to the return of the World Cup of Hockey, run jointly by the league and NHLPA.

"Yesterday, when John Collins gave a business update, we talked a little bit about the discussions that we were having in general owith the players' association,” Bettman said. "I think it's no secret that we collectively believe having a World Cup on a regular basis makes sense, the specifics we're not there yet. It's something we need to do jointly with the players' association."

SHERIFF SHANNY
NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan addressed owners Tuesday, and of interest was his use of Matt Cooke as a great example of how organizations can help a player rehabilitate himself from a repeat offender to a clean player. The Penguins frnt office and coaching staff helped Cooke change his ways, and it’s the kind of thing Shanahan would like to see from other teams as well with their own players.

"Number one, it goes to Matt Cooke in wanting to change and knowing he had to change,” Penguins general manager Ray Shero said of his former player, now with the Minnesota Wild. "It was part and parcel the organization and the player. That was a 17-game suspension. It was the moment he needed. Our coaches spent a lot of time with Matt, going over video, and some of the videos were about showing him a safe hit, not destroying a guy, and that’s been part of his M.O. So for the Department of Player Safety, if they can look at one guy and say if Matt Cooke can change …’’

I think what Shanahan was really saying here, if governors were paying attention and reading between the lines, is that coaches in particular need to take greater responsibility in helping players understand what’s right and wrong on the ice.

As for Shanahan and his work so far handing out discipline, there was not a movement from owners asking him to dole out longer suspensions as some people had suggested might happen.

Status quo was the message.

"I believe the sense in the room is that Brendan Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety has the confidence of the board of governors,” Bettman said. "He certainly has my confidence. He is doing a good job. My guess is people don't analyze the things he does and the detail that he does. If you studied the videos that he's put online, the specific instances where supplemental discipline is imposed or the more general tapes that he's put online explaining what the standards are of play, people should take a great deal of comfort that we're being extraordinarily proactive. In a game where through the course of a season you have 55,000 hits, as Brendan said today there are probably 50 or 100 that we don't like, but it's again about an ongoing education process. It's about modifying an element of the game's culture and we think we've made positive, dramatic steps forward."

Added Daly, "I think Brendan was able to demonstrate to the board that players as a group are starting to change behavior, and behavior is getting better than when he first took this job. I think the board was very comfortable that we're making progress in this area."

NEW RULES
Colin Campbell and Stephen Walkom walked the governors through the new rules and how they’re working so far this season, specifically the uniform rule (no allowing players to tuck in their jersey) and the hybrid icing.

"The learning curve for the hybrid icing has been great, the players are getting it, the officials are getting it,” Walkom said. "In a lot of games you don’t even notice it. On the uniforms, there’s been a real buy-in by almost all the teams through the equipment managers. We’ve only had one penalty [called]. Because we warn them and the players fix it. They’re not intentionally altering their equipment anymore. There’s been a lot of conforming. The players aren’t coming on the ice wanting to break the rule, they’re wanting to wear their uniform properly, which is good for them because it’s safer."

The most popular question on the hybrid icing, Walkom says, is whether there are more icing calls because of it. The answer?

"There’s about one more icing every 9-10 games. That’s it."

SNIDER ON FIGHTING
The Flyers and fighting have been synonymous for years. So my colleague Craig Custance of ESPN The Magazine certainly took the opportunity when Flyers owner Ed Snider walked by Tuesday to broach the subject with him.

"I don't know that I really want to talk about it that much. I don't like staged fights, never have," Snider said. "I don't like the fact that guys are banging their fists up against helmets and masks. It's a different game."


PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Big-spending clubs got the news they wanted to hear here Monday evening, the NHL delivering a salary cap projection for next season that goes up a healthy $6 million or so.

"These are preliminary estimates, it's in that range,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said after the first day of meetings with owners. "And I said to the board there shouldn't be any issue or consternation, if that's the cap level, it's because the revenues have gone up. And that's a good thing."

The cap will rise from the current $64.3 million maximum to around $71 million, Bettman told owners. Essentially the cap is back up to where it was last year when teams were allowed to spend up to $70.2 million in the lockout-shortened season.

"I think $71 million is an indication that the NHL is healthy and that's good for everybody," St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong said.

"The business is certainly healthy and it’s recovered quite well, and that gets reflected in an equal partnership with us and that was nice to see," said Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli.

The drop to $64.3 million last summer was a tough pill to swallow for top-spending teams, who struggled to get under the maximum entering this season; it also left a number of free-agent players without a job or with low-paying offers come August because teams simply ran out of cap space.

For big-market teams, a push up to $71 million is a help.

"Yes ... but there’s spending money and spending it wisely," Chiarelli said. "We’ll keep trying to spend it wisely, for the most part, and try to ice a winner."

That was a comment echoed by Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis, another team that stands to benefit form a higher cap.

"None of us know what the actual number will be at the end of the day, but a projected number in that range just adds flexibility for us and adds the opportunity for us to spend that money wisely," Gillis said. "And if we can do it wisely, then we look at it as opportunity."

For the smaller-market clubs, it’s a tougher adjustment, the cap floor is expected to rise to around $52 million. And a cap at $71 million will be daunting for some.

"I think the way to look at it is it’s just that hockey’s doing so well that revenues are going up," said Nashville Predators GM David Poile, his team among the smaller-market clubs in the league. "I think that’s all good news. We’ve got to move with everybody else. There’s a lot of components in the way this whole thing’s been put together. There’s revenue sharing for teams like ourselves that it always works out. I think the main thing you’ve got to focus on is how good the business is doing. This is fabulous just the way the game has been growing. The fact that we’re playing these outdoor games is going to create a lot more interest than we’ve ever had before. As far as I can see it, there’s just a lot of good things happening."

Indeed, the higher the cap goes, the more teams like Nashville and Carolina get to pocket from revenue sharing. So there’s that.

The salary cap projection, meanwhile, is one of the more important nuggets governors pick up here every year at their December meeting. It allows them to budget/plan accordingly, especially when it comes to some of the bigger contract extensions that are in the works. Whether it’s Montreal with P.K. Subban, Toronto with Dion Phaneuf or San Jose with the troika UFAs-to-be in Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle and Joe Thornton, knowing a more precise cap number for next season should clarify things to a degree moving forward in those respective contract negotiations.

CANADIAN TV DEAL
The 12-year Canadian TV deal was explained and then ratified by the oard as well on Monday evening. Who’s going to say, "No," to $5.2 billion CDN ($4.9 billion U.S.).

SHERIFF SHANNY
Brendan Shanahan cancelled his flight to Pebble Beach on Monday so he could deal with discipline matters, namely suspending James Neal for five games. But Shanahan is expected to be here Tuesday to address owners on Day 2 of the board of governors meeting.

Shawn Thornton's hearing still hasn’t been officially set, but it’s expected to be either Thursday or Friday, given that Shanahan will be at Pebble Beach, as will the Bruins general manager.

The fallout from Saturday’s mayhem between the Penguins and Bruins continued to generate buzz at the owners’ meeting.

"We’re a physical team and we usually have incidents that involve physicality," said Chiarelli on Monday night. "With that comes these types of things. It’s something you deal with. I respect Shawn as a player, he’s come over to us and done very well for where his career had been. There’s no fallout other than we’re going to have a player that contributes to our team who will be suspended. He usually handles his business in a respectful way. This time he lost control a little bit."

COYOTES’ OUTDOOR GAME?
Well if they can hold an outdoor game in Los Angeles, why not Phoenix, right?

A source confirmed Monday before the meeting that the Coyotes have pitched to the NHL the idea of hosting an outdoor game next season in conjunction with the Arizona Cardinals hosting the Super Bowl. It's a similar idea to the two New York outdoor games around the Super Bowl this season.

A league source said it was still premature at this point to confirm any potential cities for outdoor games next season.

FLAMES’ ROSTER FREEZE
The NHL’s roster freeze goes into effect Dec. 19 at 11:59 p.m. ET, but for the Calgary Flames, it went into effect Monday night (10 days prior) as per Brian Burke’s longtime custom wherever he’s worked. Burke, president of hockey operations in Calgary, said Flames GM Jay Feaster agreed to pick up his tradition.

"It was to up to him and we’re doing it," Burke told ESPN.com Monday before the meeting. "I’ve always felt the league’s freeze is inadequate for players to arrange travel for their families, especially the Europeans. I don’t think players should get traded at Christmas time. So I put this in many years ago on my teams, I think it’s fair to the players. If you’re from the Czech Republic, it’s pretty hard to make flights on Dec. 19 if you think you might get traded. This just gives players piece of mind and I think they’re entitled to it."
LAS VEGAS -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said an Arizona judge’s ruling Tuesday, that some of the wording in a controversial lease agreement between the City of Glendale and potential Coyotes owner Greg Jamison has to be reworked, shouldn’t affect the potential sale of the team.

“Not that I’m aware of. Obviously since I’ve been in meetings all day, I haven’t had a chance to either discuss it with the city or with Greg Jamison, but as of this moment, I don’t think it’s changed anything,” Bettman told reporters after a lengthy meeting of the league’s board of governors.

The judge’s ruling makes it clear the lease agreement, which would pay Jamison $325 million over the course of the 20-year deal and is crucial to the sale of the team, was not signed as an emergency measure. That will give concerned citizens time to gather signatures to force a potential referendum on the lease agreement.

Bettman insisted he remains confident the Coyotes, owned by the league for the past three years, will play in Arizona next season.

The NHL’s 2012-13 schedule is set to be released Thursday.

“The Coyotes have been scheduled to play in Phoenix,” Bettman said. "Our hope and expectation is that all of the efforts that have been worked on and are continuing to be worked on will come to fruition."

The commissioner also updated owners on another troubled franchise -- the New Jersey Devils. Although there have been rumors the team was headed for bankruptcy, that hasn’t happened, and owner Jeff Vanderbeek continues to try to sort through the team’s massive financial issues.

“They’re in the process of finishing their refinancing with the banks, and Mr. Vanderbeek continues to do the things he needs to do to try and perpetuate that,” Bettman said.

“The playoffs ended, and they didn’t go into bankruptcy. I caution many of you with this on a regular basis, particularly when it comes to club operations, [there is] entirely too much speculation. And most of it wrong.”

Owners also were given an update on the upcoming talks with the players regarding a new collective bargaining agreement, talks that are expected to begin before the end of the month. But owners declined to talk about what was discussed during the meeting, as did Bettman.

“I don’t think I want to do that,” the commissioner said.

“When we have something to discuss about what’s going on in collective bargaining, I’ll be happy to tell you. But at least for the time being, especially since we haven’t had any formal session yet, I’m going to reserve all my comments at the appropriate time.”

The owners approved the sale of the Toronto Maple Leafs to telecommunications giants Rogers and Bell Canada.

And the board of governors agreed to two small changes to the rules regarding hand passes. First, any player who puts his hand over the puck anywhere on the ice to conceal the puck from an opponent will be assessed a minor penalty for closing his hand on the puck. This usually happens in the defensive zone with players trying to move the puck via a hand pass to a teammate. A player can still tap or bat the puck to a teammate in the defensive zone with his glove but will be penalized if he covers or conceals the puck.

Second, a minor penalty will be called now if a player takes a faceoff with his glove. This will prevent players from simply dropping down on the faceoff and batting the puck to a teammate. This will be called a delay of game faceoff violation.
The NHL's board of governors got it right with their new four-conference setup. Well, almost right. Here's how it would have looked if I'd been asked my opinion (shockingly, I wasn’t).

Conference A
Boston
Buffalo
Montreal
Ottawa
Philadelphia
Pittsburgh
Toronto

Conference B
Carolina
Florida
Nashville
New Jersey
N.Y. Islanders
N.Y. Rangers
Tampa Bay
Washington

Conference C
Chicago
Columbus
Dallas
Detroit
Minnesota
St. Louis
Winnipeg

Conference D
Anaheim
Calgary
Colorado
Edmonton
Los Angeles
Phoenix
San Jose
Vancouver

LeBrun's plan: What I would have done

December, 5, 2011
12/05/11
11:03
PM ET
The NHL's board of governors resolved realignment Monday night, and I don't mind the four-conference lineup it came up with. But if I were given the power of 20 voting governors (you need 20 of 30 votes to pass realignment), here's what I would have chosen in the Pierre LeBrun Realignment Solution, which begins with going back to some old division names and some new ones:

Eastern Conference

Adams Division
Boston
Buffalo
Carolina
Detroit
Montreal
Ottawa
Toronto

Patrick Division
Florida
New Jersey
N.Y. Islanders
N.Y. Rangers
Philadelphia
Pittsburgh
Tampa Bay
Washington

Western Conference

Smythe Division
Anaheim
Colorado
Calgary
Edmonton
Los Angeles
Phoenix
San Jose
Vancouver

Norris Division
Chicago
Columbus
Dallas
Minnesota
Nashville
St. Louis
Winnipeg

Four-conference realignment plan

December, 5, 2011
12/05/11
10:02
PM ET
The NHL's board of governors approved a four-conference realignment plan Monday, creating two seven-team conferences and two eight-team conferences.

Under the format, every team would play every other team outside its conference twice -- once home, once away. Every team also would play every other team in its conference either five or six times.

The first two rounds of the playoffs will be played within the conferences, and the four conference winners will advance to play off for the Stanley Cup.

Conference A
Anaheim
Calgary
Colorado
Edmonton
Los Angeles
Phoenix
San Jose
Vancouver

Conference B
Chicago
Columbus
Dallas
Detroit
Minnesota
Nashville
St. Louis
Winnipeg

Conference C
Boston
Buffalo
Florida
Montreal
Ottawa
Tampa Bay
Toronto

Conference D
Carolina
New Jersey
N.Y. Islanders
N.Y. Rangers
Philadelphia
Pittsburgh
Washington
So, what now for the reeling Anaheim Ducks?

Ducks general manager Bob Murray was slated to take in the Islanders-Sabres game in Buffalo on Tuesday night after spending the weekend in Syracuse, N.Y., for pro scout meetings.

The hockey world awaits his next move with his team near the basement of the standings.

Will he fire his coach or make a big trade? Either one is a possibility.

The Ducks are listening to offers for Bobby Ryan, sources confirmed to ESPN.com Tuesday. But really, "they're listening on a lot of guys. They have to at this point," another source said.

It's not that the Ducks are actually shopping Ryan, but rather the rest of the league phoning Anaheim and, more often than not, inquiring about the star winger, sensing that Anaheim might be willing to shake up their roster.

There's a difference between shopping a player and listening to offers for a player -- the Ducks are in listening mode.

One NHL source told ESPN.com that Carolina and Anaheim had a chat about Ryan, although given his $5.1 million salary, it's not likely the budget-conscious Hurricanes can pull it off. Fact is, there would be no shortage of teams interested in Ryan if the Ducks do ultimately decide to go that route.

The asking price in any Ryan deal would likely revolve around a young defenseman, a young forward and possibly a high draft pick -- in other words, a big package involving two to three pieces.

As for head coach Randy Carlyle, as late as last week, I would have told you he was as safe as safe can be despite his team's struggles. But I'm not as confident about that now. I think with the losses continuing to pile on, the Ducks have been forced to reconsider everything -- including the coaching.

Miller clears the air

Ryan Miller doesn't want out of Buffalo.

A weekend note in the Edmonton Journal by respected hockey columnist Jim Matheson caused a stir with some fans in Buffalo, with the veteran writer saying he kept hearing that Miller wouldn't mind if the Sabres traded him.

Some Sabres fans reached out to me via Twitter asking me what I knew. Well, I put the question right to Miller himself whether it was accurate that he may want a change of scenery.

"That is not true at all, and I have never made any comment concerning my status with the team," Miller told ESPN.com via text message Tuesday. "I am proud of being a Sabre for all we have accomplished, and I am excited about the new chapter Terry and Kim Pegula have inspired. I am working hard to get healthy and build my game back to where I want it so I can start to contribute to an effort to build a championship team."

Iginla's future

There's been much debate already in Calgary this season about Jarome Iginla's future. It's a delicate situation. He's arguably the most popular player in franchise history, and the owners of the team adore him.

GM Jay Feaster needs Iginla to approve any trade given the players' no-movement clause and, just as importantly, needs his owners' blessing. And that's if Feaster himself decides it's the best route of action.

If and when Iginla decides he's finally ready for a change -- and on Tuesday he told Calgary media that he hasn't changed his stance on not wanting to be traded -- you can bet the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins will be among the teams sniffing that one out. The B's won't be alone, of course, but a source confirmed to ESPN.com Tuesday that the club would have some genuine interest in bringing Iginla on board should a trade possibility ever come to pass later in the season.

Iginla has one more season left on his deal, paying him $7 million.

NBA labor deal's impact on NHL

Basketball owners were able to drive players down from 57 percent of revenues to around 50 percent in the recently agreed-upon labor deal. And you better bet NHL owners were paying attention with the league's collective bargaining agreement set to expire next Sept. 15.

My guess, based on a bit of chatter with industry sources, is that the NHL will try to reduce the players' share from the current 57 percent to below 50 percent. That's the most direct and impactful way of minimizing player costs in the next CBA. The NBA deal's limit on term for contracts will also interest NHL owners.

But it takes two to tango. The NHL Players' Association, led by executive director Donald Fehr, isn't going to roll over. After all, the players feel they gave up a lot last time around by agreeing to a salary cap, so you can expect the players will want some serious givebacks in return for lowering their share of the revenue pie -- if they agree to lower it at all.

The players' biggest bugaboo with the current system is escrow. Other items the players may focus on include the 35-and-over rule, walk-away rights for salary arbitration and the NHL disciplinarian/appeal process.

The next CBA will be a big topic next week in Pebble Beach, Calif., when NHL owners meet for the Board of Governors meeting. Yes, realignment will be the lead item as owners try to resolve that tricky issue, but a full CBA update and discussion will also be among the agenda items.

The NHL and NHLPA are expected to commence labor talks sometime after the All-Star Game.

Watch: Burnside and LeBrun's BOG report

January, 29, 2011
1/29/11
3:53
PM ET

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun recap Saturday's board of governors meeting in Raleigh:


Relocation not going to happen

December, 7, 2010
12/07/10
7:42
PM ET

West Palm Beach, Fla. -- With all due respect to our friends north of the border, isn't it time Canadians stop waiting for the relocation fairy to drop by with a brand-new NHL franchise?

We understand why every whisper and burp out of the league offices might be big news in Winnipeg and, more lately, Quebec City. Is this it? Is this the time when the NHL comes back home to Winnipeg or Quebec City or finds a vacant parking lot somewhere in Southern Ontario?

But does anyone really think there is a snowball's chance in, well, Phoenix in mid-July that an NHL team is going to up and move anytime soon?

The answer is an emphatic "no." It is not going to happen. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman tells us it's not going to happen, and history tells us he is right.

Although there was a strong contingent of Canadian reporters at the NHL Board of Governors' meetings in Florida, among them Francophone reporters eager to chase down the latest on a potential move of a team, any team, to Quebec City, the topic did not even come up at the meetings.

Bettman was asked whether he was concerned about the situation in Atlanta, where crowds continue to be thin even though the team is as competitive now as it has ever been. He was not concerned, he said.

"You know, too much is made about franchise issues at a particular point in time. Our goal is to keep all our franchises where they are. That's always been our goal and that's what we try to do," Bettman said at the close of the annual December gathering of the NHL's owners.

It's true the commissioner does have a tendency to see life-giving rain when others see ominous storm clouds when it comes to various issues around the NHL. This is never truer than when discussing issues of attendance and franchise health. But history bears out Bettman's assertions.

No NHL team has relocated in more than 14 years.

The last team to move was the Carolina Hurricanes, who relocated from Hartford prior to the 1996-97 season.

A year earlier, the Winnipeg Jets moved to the desert and became the Phoenix Coyotes, and a year before that, the Quebec Nordiques quietly folded their tent and became the Colorado Avalanche.

Have teams been in trouble in the intervening years since that period of transition early in Bettman's tenure? Of course. There have been bankruptcies north and south of the border, criminal owners and owners behaving criminally, and all manner of hiccups along the way.

At various points in time, the Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Phoenix Coyotes and New York Islanders all have been rumored to be on the move to places as diverse as Las Vegas, Kansas City and somewhere in Southern Ontario.

None have moved. None are likely to.

During this meeting of the Board of Governors, the executive committee was introduced to Matthew Hulsizer, who is set to take over as owner of the Coyotes.

Who knows how that will turn out, but it appears hockey will remain in the desert long into the future, much to the disappointment of fans in Winnipeg who were hoping the Coyotes would be relocated there.

With that ownership fire beaten down, the focus has shifted to the Atlanta Thrashers and Dallas Stars.

Tom Hicks is looking for someone to buy the Stars and the ownership group in Atlanta is looking for investors, if not someone to come in and buy the Thrashers outright.

Recent history suggests it is only a matter of time before someone turns up with enough money and enough interest in the game to try to make a go of it in those markets.

Don't believe us?

It wasn't long ago that the Coyotes looked all but dead, but Hulsizer appears to be the perfect owner, a wealthy devotee of the game prepared to take losses while things get turned around.

Jeff Vinik brought stability to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and already that franchise is showing signs of rehabilitating itself after a period of turmoil under former owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie.

The Buffalo Sabres are apparently in play, and there are rumors Terry Pegula, an ultra-wealthy hockey fan from Pennsylvania, will make an offer to buy the team from Tom Golisano. Golisano, who rescued the Sabres from bankruptcy, wouldn't comment on the issue Tuesday, but Pegula looks at first blush to be someone like Hulsizer and Vinik who would be a nice fit within the ownership group.

The St. Louis Blues ownership situation looked a bit dicey earlier in the year when a private equity firm that owns a significant portion of the club announced it would divest itself of its investment, sending the Blues into a scramble to find alternative investors. Since then, the firm has scaled back that plan, and owner Dave Checketts said Tuesday that he hopes to have additional investors in place early in the New Year.

"We're well along," Checketts said. "We have said that we thought probably early in the New Year we'll be done and we will hit that."

Big picture, he and team president John Davidson are optimistic about the attractiveness of NHL teams to quality investors.

"I feel good about Gary's leadership. I feel good about the way we're addressing our issues. I think the league is an attractive investment for a lot of people now," Checketts said.

"For Dave and his restructuring, he's certainly staying, but he's had a lot of very good people very interested in being a part of it," Davidson added.

Beyond that, Davidson, a longtime NHL netminder and national broadcaster, said it's important from a stability standpoint that the league continues its practice of working as hard as possible to keep teams from relocating.

"I give the commissioner a lot of credit for being patient with a lot of these situations.

"You can't be a transient group, you just can't, when you have issues, jump up, move somewhere else and hope it works," Davidson said.

"I admire the way they battle to stay in all these cities where they committed themselves to. There are a lot of people on the other end in those cities, not just ownership, a lot of people who commit to your franchise when it comes in there," he added.

Because the game is such a motherhood issue for Canadians, these ownership discussions always will be shot through with emotion, which often clouds the issue.

Does Atlanta deserve to have a team when Winnipeg does not?

If an arena gets built in Quebec City, doesn't it deserve to have a team ahead of a place like Atlanta or Florida or Phoenix?

It's an interesting debate, but it has little to do with how the league does its business.

It's not about who deserves to have an NHL team. It's about making it work where the NHL has put down its flag, and that means no amount of pining for a return of the NHL is going to see a team head north anytime soon.

Commissioner Gary Bettman spent little time discussing the possibility that the salary cap could go up as much as $3 million next season, but he did take issue with the suggestion that if the cap does go up, it puts more pressure on small-market teams that struggle to get to the salary-cap floor.

"Actually if the salary cap goes up it means revenues are going up. It means revenue sharing goes up," he said at the conclusion of the NHL board of governors meetings in Florida on Tuesday. "You've got to look at the system in its totality. It’s a little premature for us to be worrying about those things."

Silence on Colin Campbell


Shocking as it may seem, apparently not one single NHL owner had any concerns about the head of NHL discipline, Colin Campbell, in spite of the recent spate of stories and columns referencing embarrassing internal e-mails sent by Campbell to league officials that, among other things, referred to Boston forward Marc Savard as a "little faker."

Bettman said the issue wasn't discussed by the board of governors during two days of meetings in Florida.

"This obviously seems to be a bigger issue outside that room than inside it because while it was going on the expressions of support for him were constant, universal and unqualified," Bettman said. "But it didn't come up in this meeting."

European adventure


The NHL continued to debate how its European adventure will look moving forward. This fall six NHL teams opened the regular season in Europe -- the most ever. Bettman said the league is still working through what will happen next fall in terms of which teams will be asked to go and how many wlil be sent.

"We're actually working on that. We've got some work to do yet. I don't want to announce anything but our hope is to be going back with some more premier games next year," Bettman said.

He would not say whether he favors the six-team model or the four-team version that had been the case the previous two years.

"That's one of the things we're evaluating. I thought we had a pretty good presence last year and a pretty good number in six teams. Worked well, got a lot of attention, the teams liked it but that's what we're in the process of vetting right now," Bettman said.

It's believed the planning framework is to return six teams next year with the possibility of having regular-season games in Russia -- either in Moscow or St. Petersburg -- for the first time ever.

Television contracts


The NHL's American television contracts expire at the end of this season and the league is currently in a 90-day period of exclusive negotiations with Versus, its cable provider in the United States. A similar period of exclusivity will follow with NBC, its over-the-air provider.

"We're also awaiting what approvals are finally issued on the NBC/Universal/Comcast merger because I think that will move things along if and when that happens. Hopefully it won't be if it'll just be when," Bettman said.

The commissioner was asked about the possibility that the league would return to ESPN and whether that would benefit the game.

"We can all have a good debate as to whether or not that's the case. But in the final analysis, Versus and NBC have been terrific partners and over the last 5½ years, I don't think anybody could have been a better partner and given us better promotion and scheduling and frankly if you go back to last year's playoffs, the first two rounds were the most viewed on cable since they started doing these ratings I think in 1994," Bettman said.

The commissioner did say he felt the league was in a different place than when it was coming out of the lockout.

"What's different is we're a much more significant player in the media landscape than we've been for a whole host of reasons," Bettman said. "I think there's interest in us more than there's ever been and that's a good thing."

Fleury's recovery


There is so much attention surrounding Pittsburgh now with the play of Sidney Crosby (he has recorded points in 16 straight games) and the Penguins' 10-game winning streak. Throw in the upcoming Winter Classic and the HBO programming leading up to that game and it's possible to overlook the dramatic recovery of netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.

The good-natured Fleury endured a rocky start to the season and, coupled with a less than stellar playoff last spring, there was some discussion about whether he'd lost his confidence for good.

Not so, apparently, as Fleury has been terrific over the past month or so.

"My message was you have to play your way through it. What fans really don't see with him is how much he cares and how competitive he is," Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero said. "He has that [happy-go-lucky] demeanor, but he is very competitive.

"From a management standpoint and a coaching standpoint, we never doubted he would. It was just a matter of when," the GM added.

Fleury has won nine straight and 11 of 12.

"He has too much talent. He cares too much. He works too hard at his craft to fall apart," Shero said.

Plus, what was the alternative given that Fleury is signed through the end of the 2014-15 season.

"At the end of the story was if it didn't change, what was I going to do?" Shero quipped. "You aren't going to be able to trade him so I'm stuck. So Marc, could you please play good. That was me to him. Sent him a text, 'Love you. [He's laughing]. I know you can, you've done it before.'"

One factor Shero cited in Fleury getting back in a groove was the play of veteran backup Brent Johnson, who held the fort during Fleury's inconsistent play.

"The way Johnson was playing the first month really bought [Fleury] time to find his game, to work with Gilles Meloche in practice and really work on his technique video. If Brent was struggling we would have been in a lot of trouble. Luckily, his play allowed us to keep our head above water," Shero said.

Devils' changes not imminent


If New Jersey Devils president and GM Lou Lamoriello is going to pull the plug on head coach John MacLean, it doesn't look like such a move will be imminent. At least that was the message Lamoriello repeated Tuesday at the conclusion of the NHL board of governors meetings in Florida.

Although the Devils lost their third straight Monday night to Pittsburgh and sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference and own the second-worst record in the NHL at 8-17-2, Lamoriello said no changes are planned.

"Well, right now we're going to stay the course," Lamoriello said.

Lamoriello has insisted throughout the Devils' terrible start that he has confidence in MacLean, who is in his first season as an NHL head coach, and the rest of the coaching staff.

Road to the Winter Classic


The board of governors got a look at a preview of the HBO project "24/7 Road To The Winter Classic" that will take viewers behind the scenes as the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins prepare for their Jan. 1 outdoor game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Apparently they liked what they saw.

"The governors gave it an ovation. They started clapping when it was over," Bettman said.

"Even though there were 28 teams that weren't Pittsburgh or Washington [represented in the meeting], they appreciated how good this could be for the game because hockey fans and sports fans are going to get an insight and a connection to our game that most sports don't get," the commissioner added.

"This is truly special. This is perhaps unprecedented, particularly in the regular season, for any sports. People were extraordinarily pleased with the trailer and from what we hear the trailer isn't anywhere as good as the real show will be. People are real excited about it."

Shero said he thinks star captain Crosby will be a natural for the production, even though Crosby is a stickler for detail and routine and having cameras around nonstop in the days leading up to the Winter Classic will definitely be something out of the ordinary.

"When you see him in the locker room, that's his element. Most people see him after a game getting interviewed on the ice or between periods," Shero said. "He has a great sense of humor. He's a good kid. He's good with his teammates. That's his comfort level, right there in the locker room with the guys, or on the road, on the plane, on the bus. He has a great personality and hopefully it does come out."


Joe Sakic makes stop at BOG meetings

December, 6, 2010
12/06/10
8:54
PM ET

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- There was a familiar face in the unfamiliar surroundings of the NHL board of governors meetings Monday: former Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic.

Sakic retired after the 2008-09 season after playing 1,378 regular-season games, winning two Stanley Cups and an Olympic gold medal in 2002.

Even though Sakic isn't formally a part of the Avalanche front office, the sure-fire Hall of Famer was invited to the meetings by Colorado Avalanche president Pierre Lacroix to get a taste of what might be a future calling.

"It's great because I want to learn," Sakic told ESPN.com. "The more I can hear, the more I can learn, the better off I'll be. I was very lucky that Pierre asked me to come and join them. It's a great opportunity for me."

Sakic has seen contemporaries like Steve Yzerman (now the GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning), Cam Neely (president of the Boston Bruins), Al MacInnis (the vice president of hockey operations for the St. Louis Blues) and Luc Robitaille (president of business operations for the Los Angeles Kings) move from Hall of Fame careers to significant management roles.

He isn't there yet, content for now to spend his days with his family. But some day, perhaps.

"I don't have a role [with the Avalanche]. I mean, my role is to be around and to learn about the game, once in awhile come down to the rink," Sakic said. "But I'm still in that mode where I'm with my kids, my wife, my family, and it's nice being home and doing all that.

"But in the meantime ... [I'm] learning the business side of the game so that eventually if it's something I get into, I want to already have that knowledge rather than learning on the fly."

More from Day 1 of the BOG meetings

Among the topics discussed by the board of governors Monday was the possibility that the salary cap could go up for the sixth straight season, as much as $3 million. The current salary cap is $59.4 million.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was expected to further address the issue Tuesday during Day 2 of the meetings.

"There were very preliminary projections, league revenue forecast information," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. "You build in a whole bunch of assumptions and variables and you try to give them a sense of where that might be."

A lot can change between now and next season, though, Daly cautioned.

"It depends on the variables," Daly added. "We use as much information as we have and we try and make reasonable projections. There are things like, whether the union wants to invoke a five-percent inflator, that comes into play; the value of the Canadian currency and where that goes for the rest of the year comes into play. Obviously the accuracy of the projections themselves -- what the clubs are experiencing in their revenues, what we're experiencing in our revenues -- they all come into play. I think for the most part, based on the information we have, they've been reasonable projections."

1. Board of governors meetings

We are in West Palm Beach, Fla., for the NHL board of governors meetings Monday and Tuesday, and while you can't necessarily expect any hard news to break out at the posh resort where the governors are ensconced, there will be lots of discussion on the ownership front.

Of particular interest will be Matthew Hulsizer's first appearance before the board of governors' executive committee. The Chicago businessman is in the final stages of working up a new lease agreement with the City of Glendale, Ariz., and a final purchase price with the NHL to buy the long-troubled Phoenix Coyotes.

Sources continue to tell ESPN.com that everything is on track for both sides of the deal -- new lease and purchase price -- to be settled by Christmas, but the league will be in position after Dec. 31 to begin negotiations to relocate the team if a deal isn't in place, so there is some urgency to get everything squared away before the end of the calendar year. The time line on a final deal, along with how he plans to right the long-listing franchise, is sure to come up during Hulsizer's meeting with the executive committee on Monday.

As my colleague Pierre LeBrun reported over the weekend, commissioner Gary Bettman is expected to tell the owners that the salary cap will likely go up again next year, thanks in large part to the continued strength of the Canadian dollar, which has seen revenues continue to rise even though there are attendance problems in places such as Atlanta, Dallas, Long Island and Phoenix.

We are told the cap could go up about $3 million from the current $59.4 million.

USA Hockey officials are expected to discuss initiatives, and the governors will be brought up to speed on negotiations on national television contracts in the U.S., which come up at the end of this season.

2. Callahan's lack of suspension

Guess we really don't understand the NHL's blindside hits rule. We still don't understand how New York Rangers forward Ryan Callahan wasn't suspended for his elbow/forearm to the head of an unsuspecting New York Islanders forward, Frans Nielsen, on Friday night.

Callahan was whistled for an elbowing penalty, and Nielsen did not miss any time during the game between the Islanders and Rangers. But we thought the whole point of introducing sanctions against blows to the head against unsuspecting players was, well, to stop it. Nielsen did not see Callahan coming, and he sure didn't see the elbow/forearm as it connected with the side of his head, a hit that immediately dropped Nielsen to the ice.

Oh well, maybe next time. Or not. Funny how it was the Rangers, specifically Brandon Dubinsky, who accused Sidney Crosby of slew-footing Callahan during a recent game. Wonder what Dubinsky thought of Callahan's hit on Nielsen.

3. Flyers whirlwind year

A couple of anniversaries of note in the NHL this past week that illustrate positive change can be both swift and glacial.

In Philadelphia, Peter Laviolette celebrated his one-year anniversary as head coach of the Flyers. He took over a Flyers team that had underachieved early on for former head coach John Stevens. Although it took some time, Laviolette got the Flyers into the playoffs, after which they enjoyed one of the more remarkable playoff runs in franchise history, coming back from a 3-0 series deficit against Boston in the second round and advancing to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1997, losing in six games to Chicago. The Flyers this year look even more formidable under Laviolette and are considered, along with Pittsburgh and Washington, to be among the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

The other anniversary was the arrival of Brian Burke in Toronto two years ago. Burke's tenure has been significantly rockier than that of fellow American Laviolette. Burke's Leafs have not made the playoffs since the lockout, and there is every indication they'll miss again this year. Burke acknowledged last week that the team isn't where he envisioned it would be when he took the job after overseeing a Stanley Cup win in Anaheim.

Although he continues to be flayed for trading what looks to be two lottery picks for Phil Kessel (the Boston Bruins picked Tyler Seguin second overall with the Leafs pick last June and own the Leafs first-round pick in the 2011 entry draft), Burke's biggest challenge may lie ahead of him. Burke has steadfastly refused, at least publicly, to consider replacing head coach Ron Wilson, who is a close friend. And while he may not do so before the end of the season, another year without playoff revenues and no appreciable improvement in key areas like penalty-killing and the power play and Burke may have no choice next summer but to look for a coach who can move his Leafs forward.

4. Jackets weaknesses showing

When the season started, there weren't many folks who considered the Columbus Blue Jackets to be a playoff-worthy team. But their play under rookie head coach Scott Arniel through much of the first quarter of the season was one of the surprise stories early on in this campaign.

Now it's crunch time for Arniel and the Blue Jackets, who have started to look a lot like the team that sputtered through most of last season. Columbus has lost five straight games and has been outscored 22-8 over that period, highlighting two significant problems Arniel must deal with. The squad's defense hasn't been good enough through this stretch, and the widely-held belief that the Blue Jackets' blue line isn't mobile enough has been born out through this skid. The team's balanced scoring, a big part of the team's success early on, has dried up, too. Derick Brassard, for instance, has one goal in his last 13 games and one assist through the team's five-game slide. Jakub Voracek, likewise, has one assist in his last five games. And so on.

As of Monday morning, the Blue Jackets were still in playoff position, tied for the eighth spot with Nashville but technically ahead of the Preds based on their number of wins. So it's not too late for Columbus to get back on track. But this is the time in the season when water reaches its own level and the Blue Jackets will have to work hard to ensure they don't end up where many believed they would reside -- under the surface.

5. East's defense shifts balance of power

It's generally accepted that the balance of power continues to lie in the Western Conference, but it's interesting to note that the top four defensive teams in the NHL all reside in the Eastern Conference. Boston, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, in that order, are allowing the fewest goals per game this season. Boston and Montreal are allowing fewer than two goals a game (Boston 1.88 per game and Montreal 1.96). Last year, those four teams finished second, 13th, 20th and 15th, respectively, which is a credit to the coaching staffs on all four of those teams. If it's true that defense wins championships, maybe observers shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the Eastern Conference, even if it is home to some of the worst teams in the NHL.

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