\"I think it\'s clear that there will be a change,\" NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said after the four-hour meeting with owners. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)
The league's current schedule format will be history after this season, the NHL's board of governors finally agreeing that change was needed Tuesday. "I think it's clear that there will be a change," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said after the four-hour meeting with owners.
A formal vote will take place at the next board of governors' meeting in late November.
"The end result is we're going to see change in the best interests of the league," said Calgary Flames chairman and part-owner Harley Hotchkiss.
The current format has been in existence since the lockout ended and has ignited much debate among owners. It features eight games versus each divisional opponent - too many according to some - and only 10 games (five on the road) against non-conference opponents.
Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins finally plays his first regular-season games in Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary this season - in his third year in the league. This season the unbalanced schedule also has the Oilers, Flames and Canucks not playing a single regular-season game against Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa.
"We think everybody should play everybody at least once," said Ottawa Senators president and CEO Roy Mlakar. "Whether that's home and away, we'll need to see more evidence that that's the direction the majority wants to go in. But we're willing to change."
The vote at the next owners' meeting will require two-thirds majority to pass and Bettman was confident he would get it after conducting a straw poll Tuesday.
"After a discussion with the board I have a sense of where we need to be and where I think we need to be," said Bettman. "I'm optimistic we will get there in December."
But just what exact schedule format is adopted remains to be seen. While the room agreed the unbalanced schedule had to go, there still isn't consensus on the right option to replace it. Here are some options:
-Drop to seven games against each divisional opponent play each team in the other conference once. That would mean a team from the West would play in each Eastern city at least once every two years;
-Or drop to six games against each divisional opponent and play a home-and-home with every team in the other conference. That would guarantee a visit each year from each team in the league.
There are other tweaks and variances as well.
"We want to play all of the Canadian teams at least home and home every year," said Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
The bottom line is that no matter what the new schedule is, it won't feature eight games against the same division opponent.
"Our fans are telling us they see a little too much of that," said Hotchkiss. "They'd like to see all the teams more frequently than they do now."
Meanwhile, Bettman did touch on possible expansion Tuesday, but downplayed any short-term decision on that front. Las Vegas, Kansas City, Seattle and Winnipeg are on the radar as possible targets.
"We know there is interest from a number of places but we haven't got to a point where we want to open this up to a formal expansion process," Bettman said.
"As we continue to explore the expressions of interest we will decide on how we want to proceed."
Owners and GMs leaving the meeting Tuesday did not sound terribly interested in expansion.
"There might be markets out there that want to pay a lot but let's make sure we have 30 strong teams," said Peddie. "Let's make sure we are in the best markets before we add markets, that's Toronto's point of view."
One executive, who requested anonymity, went one step further: "We've got too many weak spots right now to think about expansion."
Other items of discussion Tuesday:
-NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly gave governors a "state of the business" presentation and provided an analysis on the contract and salary trends heading into the third year of the collective bargaining agreement;
-Updates on the proposed sale of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators. Bettman said neither sale was ready for a vote by the board just yet but there would be one by December at the latest.
-There discussion about NHL on-ice officials in lieu of the Tim Donaghy scandal in the NBA and the safeguards in place to avoid a similar situation.
"We did our own self evaluation of what our procedures are and how we handle them," said Bettman. "We gave the update of where we were to the board and I think there was a comfort level in the room that we deal with these matters appropriately."
-Colin Campbell, the NHL's director of hockey operations, addressed the board concerning hits to the head, an issue the league continues to monitor closely.