Board of governors newly cautious about expansion

MONTEREY, Calif. -- Remember the buzz from a year ago before this meeting?

Who soon will forget NHL commissioner Gary Bettman after the opening day of the board of governors meeting last December in Boca Raton, Florida, announcing to a room full of jaw-dropped reporters that the league had agreed to allow Bill Foley from Las Vegas begin a ticket drive to gauge market interest for an expansion team.

No promises, Bettman was quick to add on that evening of Dec. 8, 2014, pleading with reporters on hand not to blow the announcement out of proportion, because by no means, the commish said, was this definitely the first step toward expansion to Las Vegas.

Many an owner, executive, GM and media member left those meetings a year ago thinking for sure we would have an expansion announcement or at least a vote at this December's board of governors meeting.

Not so, as the league's board of governors convenes here in picturesque Pebble Beach for this year's two-day meeting starting Monday at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Yes, there's an expansion "update" on the official agenda, but beyond that it's unclear.

"It doesn't feel like there's a lot of momentum," one NHL owner, who requested anonymity, said this past week. "I could be wrong about that. But I think there's a growing contingent of owners that are anti-expansion. The expansion [fee] check is nice, but ... ."

The concern, and some other owners I believe share this view, is what if a team in Las Vegas has its hand out in revenue sharing five years down the road?

But you better believe there's also a healthy contingent of owners who are salivating at the idea of their share of a $500 million expansion fee.

I reached out to more than a dozen NHL owners either directly or via their team spokesman this past week. None of them agreed to be officially interviewed. Some sent back background hints but not a whole more.

"I want to hear more about it once I get there before I comment," said one NHL owner, a common response I got. Which is fair, after all. Better to comment once you know more about where expansion is at now.

And that's interesting in itself, isn't it? That so many owners are still largely in the dark heading into this week's meetings when it comes to expansion.

This much we do know:

The board's executive committee of owners, the smaller group of powerful men who basically decide a lot, will meet on Monday before the full board gathering and discuss the Las Vegas and Quebec City expansion bids. The executive committee 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).

The league office will then update the full board of governors on the information the league has been gathering and probably provide a listing of the various issues that must be addressed as the process continues.

The intention by meeting's end is that there will be a better sense of where the board wants to go with this. But even that isn't a guarantee.

To be fair, Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly have said from the beginning, and maybe we just didn't want to believe it, that there is no deadline or target date for an expansion decision. Either way, the league will take the time it needs to take, Bettman has said many a time.

And I guess we're seeing that play out now.

Of course, the slow pace of it all might also be because not all owners are on board, or maybe because there are still franchises on shaky ground.

"How do we talk about expansion when we still have these weaker markets, that's my problem with it," said one governor.

Know this: The day Bettman brings an expansion vote to the full board of governors, it's because he knows he's got the support he needs to move forward. I don't think there's ever a full board vote without the outcome already guaranteed.

And today, a yes vote on expansion doesn't seem to be there quite yet.

In fact, you might remember what Bruins GM Jeremy Jacobs said about expansion before the season, just a few days after he and the rest of the executive committee heard the official presentations from the Las Vegas and Quebec City bids.

"There's a lot of content there," Jacobs, the chairman of the board, said Oct. 1. "There's a lot of capability there, but I don't know if there's a desire or will within the board of the existing franchises for expansion yet. They both made pretty interesting proposals. Both have very legitimate arenas in place and organizations in place. There's a capacity out there, but I don't know if there's a will from a league standpoint."

Among the topics expected to be discussed by the board on Monday and Tuesday:

  • Executive/coach compensation: Will the controversial rule that's barely a year old be killed? Or modified?

  • Concussion protocol update: Always topical, given the lawsuit from former players that remains in front of the courts.

  • Salary-cap projection for next year: Always a hot item for some teams who are waiting to hear that news to plan ahead on contract extensions and other actions.

  • Collins replacement: An update from the league to the owners on next steps after COO John Collins' resignation.

  • All-Star Game format report: And within that, mention of the new "bye week" for next season between Jan. 1 on Feb. 28, which the players gained as part of the All-Star negotiations.

  • Executive vice-president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell will report on 3-on-3 overtime and the coach's challenge.