Owners stickhandle sked, playoffs

BRUCE GARRIOCH, FREE PRESS NEWS SERVICES

, Last Updated: 12:44 PM ET

The NHL will have some tough decisions to make tomorrow at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla.

Sources say not only will the schedule be a major topic of discussion during the two-day board of governors meeting, NHL owners are also considering a major change to the playoff format.

While NHL general managers decided to put off any discussion of the schedule a couple of weeks ago, it's believed more than 15 owners called commissioner Gary Bettman and demanded he put it on the agenda.

There are seven different proposals on the table for a new schedule next season.

The big complaint about the current schedule is it hasn't created the rivalries everybody expected.

The owners would like to see every team from the East and West play at least once because, under the current format, the Toronto Maple Leafs might not travel to Edmonton or Calgary for a three-year stretch.

And, for the playoffs, the NHL is looking at a bracketed format -- using the NBA and the NCAA March Madness tournament as examples.

Currently, the NHL re-seeds after every round.

"These are very divisive issues and there is going to be a lot of discussion because the GMs couldn't find a consensus," said a source.

BODY CHECKS

There is a lot of speculation Florida GM/coach Jacques Martin might step down from his role as bench boss at the end of the season. You have to score goals to win and there's some belief that Martin's philosophy of playing the game isn't working anymore. That's backed by the fact the club didn't score in three games last week. Should Martin decide to move upstairs or get moved out, a strong possibility as a replacement is Randy Cunneyworth, coach of the AHL's Rochester Amerks. The former Senators captain is one of the most well-respected, successful coaches waiting to move up to the NHL. Cunneyworth's contract with the Amerks is up at the end of the season. There's talk the Florida dressing room is a mess. An insider suggested "morale is extremely low" and owner Alan Cohen isn't happy with the job Martin is doing . . . Carolina goalie Cam Ward, who led the club to a Stanley Cup in June, unveiled a new mask Thursday against the Habs. It features the images of his friends in the band Nickleback . . . Trent Yawney didn't listen three weeks ago when Chicago GM Dale Tallon warned him to change his style. Last week, he was fired. There's talk former Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk, a longtime Hawk, could end up in the Chicago organization.

AROUND THE BOARDS

Another item on the agenda for the board of governors is the approval of the sale of the Pittsburgh Penguins to Jim Balsillie. There's still no guarantee the Penguins will stay in Pittsburgh. Houston remains the No. 1 candidate if the franchise decides to move . . . Did the Flyers even consider Carolina associate coach Kevin McCarthy when they fired Ken Hitchcock last month? Instead of selecting McCarthy, who has a Stanley Cup ring, they brought in John Stevens, who boasts an AHL championship. No wonder they're in last place . . . Buffalo centre Tim Connolly, signed to a three-year, $8.7-million contract, still hasn't resumed skating from post-concussion syndrome and there's no timetable for his return. After a hit from Ottawa winger Peter Schaefer in last year's playoffs, the Sabres said Connolly would be out more than five months That would have meant a return next month, but it won't happen . . . The Blues are going to retire Brett Hull's No. 16 Tuesday . . . The Wild are worried about Marian Gaborik. He has resumed skating, but continues to be troubled by a sore groin and there's talk he may have suffered a setback last week.

RUMOURS DU JOUR

Vancouver GM Dave Nonis has been busy working the phones, trying to get scoring help for his club. It's believed Nonis talked to the Senators about centre Antoine Vermette, but the Canucks were politely told he's not going anywhere. Maybe the Canucks can bring in Philly's Peter Forsberg, if his health is good, for a playoff run . . . Habs GM Bob Gainey has also been calling around the league to see if he can get a centre. Oddly enough, nobody wants defenceman Janne Niinimaa. Instead, rival GMS are asking for Sheldon Souray, but the Habs aren't ready to make that move. When he becomes a free agent after this season, Souray could be looking for as much as the $6.5 million that Wade Redden is pulling down with Ottawa . . . If Gainey does want a man in the middle, he could always call his old buddy Doug Armstrong in Dallas. The indications are he's trying to move Mike Ribieiro, who the Habs dealt to the Stars for Niinimaa in September . . . Nashville's Scott Hartnell is a strong candidate to get moved before the deadline. After turning down a three-year deal last summer, he may score 30 goals. It's believed the Rangers, Kings, Bruins, Canadians and Islanders all have called to check on his availability, an unrestricted free agent on July 1 . . . The Hawks continue to shop for help up front and there are whispers they may have held discussions with the Habs about left winger Sergei Samsonov . . . Unable to trade defenceman Ric Jackman, the Panthers placed him on waivers yesterday . . . The Kings are looking for a goalie. Would they make a pitch for Martin Gerber if he gets his game back in order? . . . The Pens recalled John LeClair yesterday hoping someone takes him on re-entry at $750,000. The Flyers might take a chance.


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