Board examines state of game, but keeps it as is for now

12/1/2007 - NHL

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- The NHL's board of governors
discussed nearly every aspect of the league's product Friday
morning, and most of the league's rulers headed to their afternoon
golf matches with a sunny conclusion.

"The sense was just overwhelmingly positive about what's going
on," Toronto Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson said. "We
had a real positive, proactive discussion about how to make a great
game even better and showcase our talent and our excitement."

The Monterey Peninsula's pleasant weather matched the board's
mood after its two-day session concluded with an evaluation of the
state of the game. The owners and executives made their most
interesting moves Thursday night, selecting a schedule format with
fewer intradivision games and approving the sale of the Nashville

While a few governors, including Buffalo Sabres president Larry
Quinn, favor a more aggressive examination of the game,
commissioner Gary Bettman echoed many governors' beliefs that the
NHL's extensive rule changes after the lockout deserve more time to

"We need to constantly poke and prod and be vigilant, but we
need not be revolutionary," Bettman said. "We need not be
impatient. We need to see how it evolves and how it all settles

Bettman and the board again discussed several proposals floating
in the hockey world to increase scoring, which is slightly down for
the second straight season since the initial year after the lockout. NHL teams average 5.4 goals per game this season, down from 6.2 just two seasons ago.

"The way the game is played today, there's a lot of good
coaches," New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather said.
"There's a lot of smart, tactical people playing the game the way
it should be played."

The board entertained no formal proposals for rule changes, and
Bettman described any changes to the size of the nets as a "last
resort." The board seems more interested in further limiting the
size of goalie equipment, a proposal that would probably be
accepted by the players.

"I think we were revolutionary when we came out of the lockout,
and there was a period of adjustment," said Boston Bruins owner
Jeremy Jacobs, the chairman of the board. "I don't think there's
enough pattern there to make a judgment on it. I've got one of the
lowest-scoring teams in the league, and we had seven goals the
other night. I think there's a fluctuation going on."

The NHL's reduction of intradivision games from 32 to 24 was the
biggest change coming out of Pebble Beach, with only Buffalo, New
Jersey, Anaheim and the New York Islanders voting against a move
widely favored by players.

Bigger scheduling changes could be in the making, perhaps as
soon as the 2009-10 season. Several governors seemed receptive to
players union head Paul Kelly's thoughts on an 84-game schedule,
adding more contests against the other conference to every team's

Bettman also said the league didn't discuss any possibility of
expansion. The NHL is on pace for another year of record revenues
even without adding more teams, and the money will lead to another
rise in the salary cap -- a development the board can understand, if
not exactly love.

"The salary cap is a reaction to how the NHL is performing, so
it fits within the agreement," said Jacobs, one of the outspoken
owners whose desire to curb spending drove the lockout three years

"You may not want it to go up for your own personal reasons,
but on the other hand, recognize the realities," Jacobs said.
"We're going to be giving the players more money than ever before.
They're being enriched and rewarded for the success of the league.
Hopefully we'll be giving them more money going forward."

League executives Colin Campbell and Stephen Walkom made a
presentation on the state of the officiating, pointing out marked
decreases in obstruction since the lockout. Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation officials also spoke to the gathering.

The board also listened to a presentation from Alan Hershkowitz,
a senior scientist with the National Resources Defense Council, on
ways to improve the game's environmental impact. Bettman said
players have expressed interest in such steps.

"Perhaps [we] present the most graphic visual with respect to
global warming, when you hear people talking about the ice
melting," Bettman said.