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Ownership issues in the spotlight as NHL governors meet in Florida

PALM BEACH, Fla. - As members of the NHL's board of governors prepare to sit down for two days of meetings this week at The Breakers resort, they might want to consider taking some time out for a quick photo.

It promises to be a unique opportunity.

With a couple ownership groups in a state of flux, the governors can expect to see some changes before they meet again. The sessions on Monday and Tuesday will touch on ownership issues involving the Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars and league-run Phoenix Coyotes.

Unlike the other two teams, the Flames are not in need of a new owner. Instead, members of Calgary's current structure will be buying up the interest currently held by Harley Hotchkiss, a former chairman of the NHL's board of governors who stepped down from that position in June 2007.

The Hockey Hall of Famer was part of the original ownership group who brought the Flames north from Atlanta three decades ago.

To this day, the league continues to struggle with teams in warm climates. It marks the second straight year NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly will attend these meetings as the men in control of the Coyotes.

However, there is hope that will soon change. Chicago-based businessman Matthew Hulsizer is scheduled to meet the NHL board's executive committee in Florida this week.

While there will be no formal vote on his proposed purchase of the team, the league still expects that transaction to be finalized ahead of the Dec. 31 deadline.

After that date, Bettman is allowed to look for another owner to relocate the Coyotes. If that were to happen, it would open the door for David Thomson and Mark Chipman to bring the franchise back to Winnipeg.

Tom Hicks remains the official owner of the Dallas Stars, but the banks are in control of his team after his company defaulted on more than US$500 million in loans. The NHL governors will be given an update on the situation and the search for someone to purchase the team.

Among the other items on the agenda are a progress report from director of hockey operations Colin Campbell on the headshot rule, a discussion on preparations for a new national television deal in the U.S., and an update on the salary cap.

Owners are expected to hear that next season's cap number is projected to jump modestly from its current position of $59.4 million. The NHL's salary cap has never declined since coming into existence after the lockout in 2004-05.

Even with some ownership uncertainty, the overall mood of the meetings should be much better than the last time the governors were at The Breakers in December 2008. The recession was at its height then and a pair of economists who addressed the group were given the nickname Doctors Doom and Gloom after painting a bleak economic picture.

Expect it to be a little sunnier in South Florida this week.


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