LAS VEGAS -- A week has passed since the Chicago Blackhawks touched off a renewed debate over what constitutes a dynasty with their 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, to bring home their third championship in the past six years.
And while that win and the following celebration -- including an emotional Stanley Cup parade and victory pep rally ending at Soldier Field in Chicago -- might feel like an ending of sorts, those events, as they do every year, mark as much a beginning of the next season as they do the end of the last. That feeling of looking forward while honoring the past season's great performances has never been more sharply illustrated than this offseason. And this week the board of governors, general managers and the finalists for all the top awards will gather in Las Vegas to discuss, among other things, expanding the league for the first time since the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets joined the NHL in 2000, before the scene shifts later in the week to South Florida for the annual draft.
Here are the big storylines to watch for during what will be a busy week:
Viva Las Vegas expansion: Even though there will be no formal expansion announcement in Las Vegas for a new team in Las Vegas -- that's expected to happen in the fall -- the NHL is expected to take the first formal step toward adding at least a 31st team when the board of governors meets Wednesday before the awards ceremony. As commissioner Gary Bettman noted earlier this month at the Stanley Cup finals in Tampa, Florida, if the board gives the go-ahead, the league will formally open the expansion process and investigate the merits of various ownership groups in various potential expansion cities. Bettman warned that simply formally opening up the process doesn't guarantee the league will expand, but the league won't be going down this road unless it is virtually certain it will add at least one and likely two teams in the coming years. It might seem like semantics, with prospective owner Bill Foley having collected down payments on season tickets for a potential expansion team in Las Vegas since early in 2015. Multiple sources have told ESPN.com that Foley, who will not meet with the board this week and in fact isn't expected to be in town, has topped the 13,300 mark for season tickets and, barring a red flag as the league does its due diligence (a process that has been going on in a less formal manner for months already with regard to the Foley bid), look for the league to announce plans in September for a Las Vegas team to join the NHL for the 2017-18 season.
Don't sleep on Seattle: In the pantheon of cities the NHL would like to add, Seattle still ranks No. 2. And while a number of ownership groups are interested, the fact there are no firm plans for a new arena remains the biggest stumbling block. Still, the city remains attractive on a number of fronts, not the least of which is that Seattle and Las Vegas would provide a natural balance between the East and West conferences, with 16 teams in each. And a Seattle franchise would be a welcome rival for its nearest competitor, the Vancouver Canucks. As ESPN The Magazine's Craig Custance reported earlier this spring, the region of Tukwila, Washington, has quietly been making progress on building a privately funded arena just outside Seattle with the idea that an NHL team would be the anchor tenant.
The mess in the desert: The governors will also get an update on the latest in the never-ending saga of the Arizona Coyotes and their tortured relationship with the city of Glendale. The city has voted to dissolve the current lease agreement signed two years ago with the ownership group that bought the team from the NHL. Ownership has received a temporary injunction, so business can continue more or less as usual, and filed a $200 million lawsuit for damages against the city of Glendale, which is alleging conflict of interest issues stemming from the hiring of a former city attorney. Messy? Yes. Unexpected? In Glendale, nothing is unexpected. The governors will also get an update about a subtle shifting of ownership makeup within the Coyotes' structure that sees several well-heeled investors taking a more prominent role. Meanwhile, Andrew Barroway, who purchased 51 percent of the team on Dec. 31, is taking a lesser role amid rumors he did not have nearly as much financial clout as first believed. Barroway will nonetheless remain the investor who controls the largest percentage of the Coyotes, assuming the governors approve the restructuring.
Talk not of relocation: One thing the governors are not expected to give much time to is the idea of relocation in general and, specifically, relocation of an existing franchise to Las Vegas. Bettman has insisted the Florida Panthers, the other team most often linked to relocation talk along with the Coyotes, aren't going anywhere. And there is no way the owners would trade in the expected $500 million expansion fee expected from a new team in Vegas for considerably less in relocation fees. As one person familiar with the process told ESPN.com, the two issues -- the Coyotes' ongoing lease issues and possible expansion into Vegas -- are completely unrelated.
Meanwhile, on the ice: The governors are expected to approve recommendations from the league's GMs and competition committee to introduce a coach's challenge next season that will allow coaches to ask for a review of goals that might have been the result of goaltender interference and goals that might have been scored on an offside play. This significant change was most recently approved by the competition committee early in June and will allow coaches to challenge plays, provided they have a timeout remaining. The governors will also approve tinkering to faceoff protocols that will see defensive zone players have to put sticks down first.
World Cup of Hockey update: League officials are also expected to update the governors on plans for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Canada announced Monday its management team will be led by St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong, with GMs Ken Holland (Detroit Red Wings), Marc Bergevin (Montreal Canadiens), Bob Murray (Anaheim Ducks), and Los Angeles Kings assistant GM Rob Blake and Scott Salmon of Hockey Canada. The remaining seven teams, including Team USA and a hybrid team of Canadian and American players who will be 23 or younger as of Sept. 1, 2016, will unveil their management team structure in the coming days and weeks. It's believed Team USA will announce its management team in August, possibly in Lake Placid, New York, with Kings GM Dean Lombardi expected to lead, with the Blackhawks' Stan Bowman, New Jersey Devils' Ray Shero and Nashville Predators' David Poile likely in the mix with either the U.S. squad or the under-24 group.
Overtime overhaul?: The general managers are set to meet Tuesday, and they will be updated on the work done by the competition committee. Not getting full approval by the competition committee but continuing to be discussed by the GMs are changes to overtime. There has been a push to try to reduce the number of games that go to shootouts by expanding overtime to include a segment of 3-on-3 hockey after the standard 4-on-4 session or variations on that theme (e.g., beginning with 3-on-3). The competition committee wanted more time to discuss this issue, and it's still possible there could be changes introduced that could take place next season or at least introduced as a trial during preseason games.
Goalie equipment an issue, again: The supervisor of goaltenders, Kay Whitmore, will provide an update on goaltending equipment, something also discussed by the competition committee. There was much gnashing of teeth during the playoffs at the scarcity of goals, though the Western Conference finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks, which featured 45 goals scored in a boisterous seven-game set, did mute some of that talk. Also, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, this postseason's average of 5.03 goals per game was only the ninth-lowest since 2000 and was actually higher than the average in two of the past three years' playoffs. Still, expect discussion about ways to introduce more scoring, and look for goaltenders to be the focus of much of that discussion. The problem, as Whitmore has outlined a number of times, with cutting down goaltender equipment, as was the case with recent reduction in pad length, is goalies sometimes actually get faster and end up making as many, if not more, stops. In short, easy to say you want more scoring, not so easy to simply say, make goalies smaller.
Compensation issue still unsettled: It's also possible the GMs will revisit the controversial issue of compensation for coaches, GMs, assistant GMs and other prominent front-office staff who are hired by other clubs. Bettman reluctantly reintroduced the policy of teams receiving compensation in the form of draft picks for staff hired elsewhere, though he has warned that if there are issues with the compensation package, he will simply eliminate the policy and go back to the status quo, which was no compensation of any form. The earliest that could happen would be the end of the calendar year, but any picks given up would remain property of the team losing staff, Bettman said during the finals.
And: The GMs will also hear udpates regarding player safety and officiating.