Weekend wrap: Staal, Pens have preliminary talks; BOG meeting preview

December, 7, 2008
Well folks, I'm off to sunny West Palm Beach, Fla., on Sunday, as the NHL's owners and executives will meet Monday and Tuesday in what is being billed as a very significant board of governors meeting.

The world economy is in the toilet and owners want to know what the league's plan is to deal with that reality.

The league, we are told, will conduct a very detailed economic presentation on all the variables and all the different possibilities moving forward. Economic experts, one from Canada and one from the United States, will be brought in to talk to the owners. You need the Canadian rep because of the Canadian dollar's immense impact on NHL revenues.

Since the lockout, the BOG meeting has traditionally been the time when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has given his owners a sneak peak at next season's salary cap. That's a little more difficult to do this season, for obvious reasons; nevertheless, based on all the information the league currently has, we're told Bettman will tell owners the cap should barely budge for next season -- it should be anywhere from $54 million to $58 million (it's at $56.7 million this season).

That's probably surprising to most hockey fans given the state of the economy. But keep in mind that 70 percent of the league's total revenues were basically in the bank in early September (season tickets, corporate sponsors, TV deals), before the Wall Street crumble. The salary cap is calculated off league revenues.

However, if the economic blues continue into next year, you can expect a huge drop in the salary cap for the 2010-11 season, as the corporate world and season-ticket holders around the league could possibly cut back on their hockey spending.

Paul Kelly not invited to BOG meeting
For the first time since the end of the lockout, the head of the NHL Players' Association will not be at this board of governors meeting. Paul Kelly addressed the owners last year in Pebble Beach, but was not invited this year (Ted Saskin, the former head, was also at this meeting the first two seasons after the lockout).

Why isn't Kelly coming to West Palm Beach? There's no real official reason, but behind the scenes, there's talk that Bettman thought he was going to be invited to the players' meetings last summer, but was not. You can figure out the rest.

Sean Avery
We are told the Stars do not have a leg to stand on if they try and void his contract. Yes, Paragraph 14 of the Standard Player Contract says you can terminate a contract for material breach and Paragraph 2 says you have a certain standard of conduct. But we are told it is a long shot for an arbitrator to uphold this. The NHLPA would likely win this grievance.

So, waiving him and making him play in the AHL probably is the best option for the Stars. But will an AHL team take him? The Manitoba Moose, one of the teams the Stars have agreements with (they don't have their own AHL team right now), have already gone on record as saying they don't want Avery. Still, I would think at least one AHL team would appreciate the jump in gate receipts. And, for the record, AHL president David Andrews told us Saturday he would not stand in the way of Avery playing in his league once his NHL suspension is served.

Jordan Staal
We find it interesting that preliminary talks for a new contract have begun between Jordan Staal's people and the Pittsburgh Penguins. That's not to say a deal will get done, but at least there's contact. Staal is a restricted free agent July 1.

It had been speculated by many over the past year this might be his last season in Pittsburgh given the amount of money the Penguins already have locked up in their other two star centers, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But word is both sides are kicking around the idea of a short-term deal that could fit under the cap. Talks should pick up again in the New Year.

Tim Thomas
The Bruins are talking contract extension for No. 1 goalie Tim Thomas. He's an unrestricted free agent July 1 and earning only $1.1 million this season.

Claude Lemieux
We feel the need to clarify something regarding Claude Lemieux's comeback with the AHL's Worcester Sharks. The San Jose Sharks cannot simply call him up if and when they ever believe he's done enough to warrant a shot.

"People have to understand, he's on an American Hockey League contract," Sharks GM Doug Wilson told ESPN.com Saturday.

In other words, all 30 NHL teams have the same equal shot at him since, a) he would have to sign an NHL contract; and b) he would have to clear NHL waivers.

We're not saying Lemieux won't end up in San Jose, we're just saying it's wrong to assume that.

"We've provided him an opportunity to play hockey and help our team in Worcester win games," said Wilson. "I have respect for Claude and I've known him for a long time. He wanted the opportunity to see where his hockey career can go and we've provided that opportunity. That's really where it sits."

With the 43-year-old Lemieux and 46-year-old Chris Chelios on a conditioning stint in Grand Rapids this weekend, talk about retro time in the AHL!

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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