Board expected to take up rules changes, draft order

NEW YORK -- The NHL board of governors will meet Friday to
rubber-stamp their approval of the new collective bargaining
agreement with the players' association, hold the Sidney Crosby
sweepstakes, and discuss rule changes they hope will liven up the

The union will hold a two-day meeting in Toronto on Wednesday
and Thursday so players can voice their opinions on the tentative
deal that was reached last week and then vote on it.

Commissioner Gary Bettman, the league's chief legal counsel Bill Daly, NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow, players' association No. 2 man Ted Saskin and the players' association executive committee will discuss the players' vote at a press conference Thursday afternoon in Toronto, ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek reports.

On Friday, after the league Board of Governors meeting, the commissioner will hold a press conference in New York to announce the governors' vote on the ratification, release the order for the 2005 draft and discuss possible rules changes for the upcoming season.

Even though some players have publicly criticized the agreement,
that is believed to contain a $39 million salary cap and a 24
percent rollback on existing contracts, union members are expected to ratify the deal which would put an end to the owners' lockout that forced the cancellation of last season.

Executives from all 30 teams are expected to overwhelmingly approve the agreement that provides the "cost certainty" Bettman set out to get.

The fight with the union caused the NHL to become the first
North American sports league to lose an entire season to a labor
dispute. Bettman imposed the lockout on Sept. 16, and then called
off the season exactly five months later.

Now that a deal in principle has finally been reached, the NHL
is looking forward to next season. The first order of business,
after both sides sign off on the agreement, is to hold the draft

That will take place during the board meeting on Friday. All 30
teams will have some shot at winning the first pick -- which is a
virtual lock to be the Canadian phenom Crosby -- but clubs that have missed the playoffs in recent years will have extra pingpong balls in the weighted lottery.

Columbus, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the New York Rangers will have
the maximum of three pingpong balls.

It is expected that a toned-down version of the draft,
originally scheduled for June in Ottawa, will take place at the end
of this month in Canada's capital city.

Possible rule changes that could be enforced in the upcoming
season are, shootouts to eliminate tie games, wider blue lines to
increase the size of the offensive zones, the removal of the center
red line, and limitations on where goalies can handle the puck.

Goalies are already expected to be playing with smaller pads
next season.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.