Board can't unanimously agree on schedule issue

Updated: January 24, 2007, 8:13 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

DALLAS -- There won't be an imminent change in the NHL schedule, after all.

After sources indicated that the NHL's board of governors were set to revert back to the pre-lockout schedule format, the group was again unable to reach an agreement on the issue when it met Tuesday morning in Dallas.

A bid to return to the old format -- six divisional games with four games against each conference opponent outside the division and one game vs. each team in the other conference -- was narrowly defeated during the session.

That means, at least for next season, the schedule will remain as is.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league will instead complete the three-year cycle which goes through the 2007-08 season before making any changes to the schedule.

"I think it will be a final discussion for a while on the schedule," Bettman said after the board of governors met.

While the vote on scheduling was close and not unexpected, Bettman said he's "been in more passionate meetings than that."

Why the change of heart? Panthers GM/coach Jacques Martin told reporters after the meetings ended that more teams seemed to want to stay with the current divisional-friendly format because they couldn't agree on the counter-option.

The schedule has become a ponderous topic and many wanted it put to rest.

The schedule issue was debated back in early December, when the board last met in Palm Beach, Fla. It was then believed that 27 teams wanted some change and did not want to see more divisional play. That sentiment was especially strong in the West, where it was believed the East teams enjoyed an easier travel schedule.

The Eastern teams were also perceived to have cornered the market on marketable young stars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres.

Many believed that the pre-lockout format would boost attendance for those West teams who don't get to market such big stars as often as East teams.

"I'm not suggesting that this is the schedule for the next 100 years," Bettman said. "We're going to finish the cycle and have to decide what to do after that. ... We started something. We're going to finish it."

But the commissioner said there was no interest in having home-and-home series among all 30 teams every season.

The board did approve Montreal as the site of the 2009 All-Star Game, an event that will come during the season when the Canadiens celebrate their 100th anniversary. Montreal has hosted a league-high 13 All-Star Games, but the last was in 1993.

Other items Bettman discussed after the board's meeting Tuesday:

• Teams "overwhelmingly" like the structure of two conferences with three divisions each.

"There are some clubs -- Minnesota and Dallas that play most of their division games in other time zones -- in an ideal world that would like to see an adjustment. Based on geography, there's no way of doing that," Bettman said.

• There are no expansion plans. The commissioner said the league is "focused on 30 healthy teams right now, focusing on the teams where they are."

• Bettman said the league's "goal, our hope" is for the Penguins to remain in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are working with state and local leaders about building a new downtown arena to replace the league's oldest building.

"We haven't given up," he said.

• The league plans to upgrade to high-definition cameras and monitors for its video review system to get clearer views. But there won't be any changes in how and when replays are used.

• A 27 percent increase of hits on NHL.com, plus an even more substantial growth in online voting for the All-Stars. There were nearly 27 million All-Star votes cast in six weeks this year, as opposed to 6 million in eight weeks for the last game in 2004.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.