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NHL owners to discuss possible changes to schedule and playoffs

The owners will try to find the consensus their GMs could not. Despite the talk coming out of the GMs meeting in early November that the schedule would likely remain the same for next season, the owners can change it if they find a solution that appeases two thirds of the room this week.

There remains a faction, mostly from Western Conference teams, that will press for change, wanting more outside conference games so that stars such as Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin make the rounds in every arena. Still, reaching consensus won't be easy.

Also on the agenda this week will be playoff bracketing. Teams currently get reseeded after the first round of the playoffs based on regular-season finish, but owners may vote to change the format so that teams are bracketed - NCAA basketball-style - and know who they will face in the second round no matter who wins.

For example, if No. 8 Vancouver plays No. 1 Anaheim in the first playoff round, the survivor would automatically play the winner of the No. 4 San Jose and No. 5 Detroit series, regardless of whether the Canucks upset the Ducks or not.

Owners will also get a look at the early projected revenue numbers for this season.

Contrary to popular belief, NHL revenues are not expected to "flatline" this season. Sources indicate owners will be told that "medium growth" is expected at this point, which means the US$44-million, team-by-team salary cap will raise again next season, although not nearly as much as the $5-million jump from last year when revenues blew away initial projections.

While NHL attendance is down about one per cent across the board, balancing things out is the fact that most clubs raised tickets prices this season, so gate receipts overall are up compared to last year at this time.

Ted Saskin, the executive director of the NHL Players' Association, will address the board of governors for the second year in a row Monday, having been the first union leader in NHL history to be invited to the meeting last December in Scottsdale, Ariz.

While the full board of governors meeting doesn't get underway until 3 p.m. ET Monday, the owners' executive committee will meet with prospective Pittsburgh Penguins owner Jim Balsillie in the morning. Providing, as expected, that the interview goes smoothly, it is anticipated that the Penguins ownership sale will be presented to the full board for approval later this month.

Other items on the agenda this week:

- owners will be updated on the national TV landscapes in the United States and Canada, particularly with respect to the Canadian arrangements with CBC and TSN which expire at the end of 2007-08.

-reports on the NHL's new media businesses, branding and marketing initiatives, and an update on the new player health management system - a trend-setting innovation that essentially is an online, secure database with individual medical files on every player in the league.



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