SUN Hockey Pool

Playoff payoff for NHL?

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

SCOTTSDALE -- For the most part, the National Hockey League's governors will concern themselves with financial matters when they meet here today and tomorrow.

But at some point, they'll also decide whether they should push ahead with their plan to put 20 teams into the playoffs.

That proposal was one of many made to the league during the summer by NHL executive vice-president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell.

But a few days later, when the board met to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement that had just been hammered out with the players, it accepted most of Campbell's recommendations and rejected the 20-team format.

The theory was that with this being an Olympic year, the extra week that would be required for the "play-in round" would make the season too long.

Now, the proposal has been brought back for a sober second thought and although there's never any way to predict the whims of governors, it does not appear to have sufficient support at the moment.

On the other hand, this is one more opportunity for the governors to put profit ahead of integrity, and anyone who has followed hockey over the years knows what a mismatch that likely is to be.

If the proposal does pass, the teams that finish seventh through 10th in their conferences would play a best-of-three round. The losers would go golfing; the winners would advance to the standard 16-team round.

The governors have a busy agenda, although much of it will involve the tabling of reports.

The governors will be told that the league is working out a deal with satellite-radio networks and be brought up to date on the status of Olympic participation.

They will hear how well the public has responded to the fact that after watching the game deteriorate for 12 years, commissioner Gary Bettman finally recognized the need for a new approach.

Bettman will update the board on the league's policies regarding performance-enhancing drugs, and the ongoing discussions in that regard with the United States Congress.

The governors also will hear about the disaster that is the league's arrangement with the Outdoor Life Network.

OLN has few subscribers and in some markets, its ratings are too small to measure. To make matters worse, OLN antagonized many of its subscribers by imposing blackouts.

And, in order to celebrate the league's "partnership" with the players, the embattled executive director of the NHL Players' Association, Ted Saskin, will address the meeting.

Even though the players and owners are partners in the same sense that the Roman Senate was in partnership with the gladiators, both sides want to perpetuate the myth that all is well behind the scenes.

That will set the stage for Bettman's announcement that the league's revenues have beaten expectations and that as a result, the salary cap likely is to be raised next year.

Both sides no doubt will hail this revelation as an indication of the virtues of the CBA. Those who make up the dissident wing of the NHLPA will see it another way.

They will say that it is further proof that the league massages its numbers, a claim that Saskin often made before becoming a partner.

They will say that the league projections were intentionally skewed (foreseeing 80% attendance in Colorado, for example, when the team has never had an unsold seat) in order to mask the true result of the CBA.

They will suggest that the league is inflating its attendance figures because if it did not do so, it would not be able to claim increased revenues.

But the fact remains that despite the occasional blip on the radar, these are happy times for the NHL governors and the meeting will reflect that fact.


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