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

Updated: December 1, 2007, 6:12 PM ET
Associated Press

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 Predators.

Burnside: No more change

The board of governors meetings ended Friday with another discussion of how to better the game. Well, the NHL needs to be careful that its self-reflection doesn't alienate the very people to whom it is trying to appeal. Story

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 grow.

"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 in."

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 schedule.

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 ago.

"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.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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