Gary Bettman says Board of Governors could begin expansion process in June

TAMPA, Fla. -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman shed more detail Wednesday on the possibility of expansion, saying that the formal process could potentially begin if given the green light by his owners at the June 24 Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas.

During his state-of-the-game address before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, Bettman cautioned, however, that even if the NHL officially began the expansion process, it doesn't mean at the end of it that the league is guaranteed to add teams. It would depend on what the process uncovered.

"If after our discussion in June where I'm going to report where all of the expressions of interest stand, including what Las Vegas has been able to accomplish with the ticket drive, if the Board has any interest in pursuing it, my recommendation would then be to open a formal expansion process," Bettman said. "The board may say, 'That's interesting, but we still don't want to do anything.' That's an option. And even if they green-light a formal expansion process, it doesn't mean we're going to expand. It means we'll go through the steps of looking through things, and the conclusion at the end of that process could be very well no expansion. So it would just be a question of possibly looking at the expressions of interest and looking at them a little more seriously than we have."

The potential expansion cities include Las Vegas, Seattle and Quebec City.

Bettman also addressed another hot-button topic, that of the new rule regarding draft-pick compensation for team personnel. The new rule enables teams to ask for either a second-round pick or a third-round pick, depending on whether the hire was in season or out of season, in return for losing personnel to another club for a head-coaching job, general manger or president of hockey operations.

The point of debate right now among some NHL GMs is that it's not right for someone who was fired to warrant a draft pick -- for example, the Boston Bruins getting a second-round pick in return for Peter Chiarelli being hired by the Edmonton Oilers as GM.

What is clear is that Bettman is annoyed that this new rule has created debate, because he didn't really want to bring back compensation to begin with.

"Arising out of a series of disputes eight or nine years ago, I established a policy that there was no compensation," Bettman said. "If you wanted someone that was under contract, you talk to the team that has their rights, and they either say yes or no. If it was yes, and they're hired, they were free to go.

"The managers, for years, cajoled, begged, pleaded and demanded that we make a change. They wanted something straight forward and simple, although I don't know if there was anything more straightforward and simple than what we had.

"But we put into effect a new policy with the potential for compensation on Jan. 1," Bettman added. "We'll let it run a full year before we agree to do anything. At that point in time, the options will be to clarify, modify or eliminate."

The point here is that some GMs believe the original spirit of the new rule did not incorporate people who were fired. On that the league -- including NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who authored the new rule -- disagrees.

"I don't think, based on the conversations that led to the rule, it violates the spirit at all," Daly said Wednesday evening before Game 1 when asked about that specific complaint. "The fact of the matter is, clubs still have the right to deny permission to those employees to talk to any other team based on the terms of their contract. So if they have to grant permission in the first place, they should be entitled to compensation."

Both Bettman and Daly said no changes will made to the new rule until it has been in effect for a full year next Jan. 1.

Other topics Bettman addressed:

• The commissioner soundly refuted any rumors concerning potential issues with the Florida Panthers as for the health of the franchise or possible relocation.

"They're on the absolute right track," Bettman said of the Panthers. "Ownership is the key difference. You see it in franchises that are successful, you see it in franchises that have gone through a difficult time and have come back. [Team owner] Vinnie Viola has got the resources and the commitment to make it work. He's had to retool and revamp the operation down there, and I believe the club is heading in the right direction. There were some rumors that we were made aware of over the last few hours, one saying that a club was going to relocate by the end of June. That is not going to happen. I don't know why publications make those things up, even under the guise of a rumor. The Panthers are not filing for bankruptcy. I don't know where these stories come from, but they're not true."

• Bettman also strongly denied any issues with the Arizona Coyotes and their arena lease agreement with the city of Glendale.

• Finally, regarding the Olympics, Bettman said there still haven't been any formal discussions regarding potential involvement in the 2018 Games in South Korea.