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Board of governors mix it up over expansion, salary cap

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No timetable yet for NHL expansion (3:03)

Craig Custance and Pierre LeBrun recap the first day of the NHL's Board of Governors meeting, including news on future expansion of the league. (3:03)

MONTEREY, Calif. -- The NHL's journey to potential expansion took another step Monday, when the board of governors was presented with its most meaningful information package yet on the bids from Las Vegas and Quebec City.

But there's still no sense of when, or if, the league's 30 owners will actually vote on expansion.

The update to the full board was preceded earlier in the day by a near three-hour meeting with the smaller executive committee of owners. Those are the guys who will eventually recommend to the board whether to proceed.

"It was very interesting, that's all I'm going to say," Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, the chairman of the board and member of the executive committee, said Monday evening after the full board meeting wrapped up.

Jacobs, who in early October questioned the merits of expansion, suggested we ask the commissioner for a more detailed update. Gary Bettman was happy to provide that.

"The purpose was to update the (executive) committee on everything that we've done since the filing of the applications, the data that we've collected, the research that we've done and the information that we have at our disposal," Bettman said. "And to kind of outline the issues that would have to be addressed whether we expand at all, whether it's one team or two teams.

"There was not a substantive discussion of those issues. It was really more a 'this is the information we have for you, are we missing something? Here are the issues that we ultimately think need to be addressed.'"

Bettman said he feels they have collected "99 percent" of the information they need on the expansion bids.

So when can an expansion vote be expected?

"The board will meet to vote when we decide there's something to be put to a vote," he said. "That will really be after the executive committee begins and finishes deliberations and are prepared to make a recommendation.

"We haven't set a date. We've had this discussion now the last couple of board meetings. We're not on a timetable. When I was asked, I said the earliest it would be would be the 2017-18 season, maybe, if we were going to expand. Maybe if we are, maybe we'll make the 2017-18 season. Maybe we won't."

One theory that's been bandied about is that the expansion process has slowed down in part to give Seattle time to get its act together and jump back into the expansion race.

Bettman shot that down.

"I know I've seen the articles speculating that things have slowed down to wait for somebody else or somewhere else to apply," he said. "Those stories are categorically untrue. We're going to go through this process, complete this process one way or the other, and that's where we'll be. If we decide at another point in time to re-open expansion, and I'm not saying we would, that's a subsequent decision. This process is this process for these two applicants. Period."

Perhaps the most important point of all Monday night was this: The NHL didn't come out and say the expansion process was dead. It remains alive at this point despite some reservations from a contingent of owners.

SALARY CAP PROJECTION

The other important news nugget Monday was the league delivering a ballpark projection of its salary cap for next season: $74.5 million.

The current cap is $71.4 million.

The figure estimation delivered by the league to the governors includes the 5 percent inflator, which the NHLPA and NHL must agree to include or not after the season.

The $74.5 million figure is a bit higher than most people had been speculating the past few months.

"Yes, I’m surprised," said one NHL governor who requested anonymity.

Surprised, because with the weakened Canadian dollar, the expectation was that the cap might not go up much, if at all.

It's important information for many teams who have big contract decisions to make. Think the Tampa Bay Lightning with Steven Stamkos or Los Angeles Kings with Anze Kopitar. Every dime under the cap counts.

"The league has been pretty accurate in their estimation of the cap in the coming year," Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. "So it does help you plan a little bit, and you have a better idea. From the manager's perspective, the cap going up gives you a little more flexibility to do what you need to do."

Said Kings executive Luc Robitaille: "It is what it is. There's nothing you can do. It's the way the revenues are. You just have to manage within the cap and figure it out. It gives an opportunity to everyone. At the same time, if you believe in your team, you push it and try to go there. When you have a good team, you have a lot of good players who deserve a good salary. That's the way it is."

Still, one governor said after the meeting that he doesn't buy the $74.5 million estimation.

"Our internal cap is more around $73 million," the governor said. "I think $74.5 million is too high."

On the flip side, said another governor: "I think I trust the number the league is giving us. They have access to all the numbers. They've been pretty accurate before."

Bettman cautioned that the $74.5-million projection is a loose estimation.

"When I give a number, they're all soft this time of year," he said. "Is the number I put on the chart that or something close to it? Probably, but don't take that to the bank yet because it's early. It's only December. We still have a lot more of the season to play and a lot more revenues to collect. But it'll be somewhere around between where it is and another $3 million plus or minus a little bit."

EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION

The headliner on Tuesday should be the debate over the executive/coach compensation rule. The new rule isn't even a year old yet, but it's been a hot button issue as many teams are upset that fired guys have garnered draft-pick compensation. It's not what most GMs envisioned the new rule to look like.

So the question is whether the rule gets deep-sixed altogether or whether there's a compromise to save it.

Keep an eye on Brian Burke, the Calgary Flames' president of hockey operations, with this one. Burke long ago started the push to bring back executive compensation, and, if the league eliminates it, he won't be happy. And I doubt he'll be shy to say so.

"I’m really hoping common sense prevails," said one governor, who wants the rule modified so as not to include fired guys.

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

As noted Sunday, the board's executive committee of owners consists of Murray Edwards (Calgary Flames), Jeremy Jacobs (Boston Bruins), Peter Karmanos (Carolina Hurricanes), Craig Leipold (Minnesota Wild), Ted Leonsis (Washington Capitals), Henry Samueli (Anaheim Ducks), Ed Snider (Philadelphia Flyers), Larry Tanenbaum (Toronto Maple Leafs), Jeff Vinik (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Rocky Wirtz (Chicago Blackhawks). Snider did not make the trip to Pebble Beach. Leonsis wasn't here, either, but he joined the executive committee session Monday via conference call.