Off The Draw
Expansion talk will be front and center as the NHL's Board of Governors gather for two days of meetings that start on Monday in Boca Raton, Fla. But talk is likely as far as things will go on this contentious subject.
Blessed with labor stability and increased revenue from recent TV deals, the board has no pressing concerns to address beyond the imbalance between the league’s two conferences. Commissioner Gary Bettman said last month that while there were no immediate plans to round the NHL up to 32 teams, the league has received “expressions of interest” from several parties and that expansion is one avenue that could be considered as the league “continues to grow the game.”
The talk in Florida then will center on how to deal with the expressions of interest, instead of an actual vote on expansion. While there’s no doubt that several owners would be happy to green-light two new teams because of the lucrative expansion fees that the franchises would have to pay—at least $500 million each, by many estimates—there are number of concerns, including the timing of the admissions and the viability of various markets.
It is believed that Las Vegas and Seattle are the favorites to get new teams, with Quebec City and Toronto lagging behind because of the presence of the Canadiens and Maple Leafs, respectively, in each of those markets. It’s widely believed that the league would prefer expansion to Western cities to address the issue of conference imbalance.
“Eastern expansion, at this point, would probably have more issues to deal with than a Western expansion simply because we’re already out of balance,” Bettman said in November. “I’m not sure that anybody would want to see that get worse.”
Sentimental (and financial)favorite Quebec City, despite having a modern arena that is nearing completion, will apparently have to wait for an existing team to relocate in order to get a second shot at the NHL. And despite sparse crowds at Panthers games, that does not seem imminent. The league has expressed faith in the new Florida ownership group headed by Vincent Viola and wants to give it time to succeed in the market on its own terms.
The salary cap is also expected to get some floor time in Boca Raton, with an update on how currency fluctuations could affect business. There are concerns that a decline in the Canadian dollar—which is taking a beating as a result of falling oil prices—could lead to a drop in the cap’s current $69 million ceiling, although other revenue sources are expected to balance out any decline and possibly allow for a slight increase when the 2015–16 cap is set next summer.
If anything significant comes out of these meetings, it will likely be about international play. NHL participation in the 2018 Olympic Games could possibly come up, but the board is expected to focus on the details of the 2016 World Cup tournament, including dates and participation. The rumored plan would see two all-star teams and six national teams—Canada, the U.S., Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic—square off against each other. One all-star roster would consist of players from smaller hockey nations, allowing players like Slovenia’s Anze Kopitar, Switerland’s Nino Niederreiter and possibly even Australia’s Nathan Walker to participate. The other would be a “Young Guns” squad that would include the top 23-and-under players from around the world.
Other topics on the docket for the board include a presentation from Department of Player Safety boss Stephane Quintal and an update on the Coyotes’ ownership situation in Arizona.
What to watch tonight
Thee third meeting of the season between Pittsburgh and New York could come down to the performance of Henrik Lundqvist. The perennial Vezina Trophy candidate is well off the mark this season, with a .905 save percentage that’s 15 points below his career average. He’s already been lit up for at least five goals on four separate occasions this season, including a miserable performance last week that saw him allow five on just 20 shots against the Lightning. That said, Lundqvist has played well in both games this year against the Penguins, with a .972 save percentage and a shutout on Nov. 11.
Carolina enters this game looking to salvage a miserable 1-3-0 home stand in which the Hurricanes have scored just six goals. Of course, they should be used to that kind of offensive ineptitude by now. Carolina is averaging just 2.23 goals per game, better than only four other teams. The problem on most nights is how easy the Hurricanes make it on the opposition: They get their shots (nearly 30 per game), but take too many of them from low-percentage areas. They have to be willing to pay the price down low.
New Jersey has scoring problems of its own, with one or fewer goals in three of the last four games. But a game against Carolina might be the cure to what ails the Devils. They have won three straight at PNC Arena, outscoring the Hurricanes 12–4 in the process.
Panthers at Blues (8 p.m. EST; FS-F, FS-MW)
The fans at Scottrade Center finally get to welcome Martin Brodeur as one of their own when the veteran goalie makes his home debut tonight against Florida. The legendary netminder went 1–1 on the Blue’s recent road trip, earning career win No. 689 by stopping 14 of 15 shots in relief of Jake Allen to lead St. Louis to a 6–4 win over the Islanders on Saturday. It was a nice rebound performance by Brodeur, who looked shaky in his first appearance of the season last Thursday (a 4–3 loss to the Predators), but it was also another soft outing for a Blues defense that has allowed four goals in each of the last three games. They will need to tighten up in their own zone against a Panthers team that averages 31 shots per game (eighth in the league) and is starting to show the ability to finish. Center Nick Bjugstad and defenseman Aaron Ekblad are keying the offense, combining for 11 points in the last four games.
Rest of the schedule: No other games
What you may have missed over the weekend
• Mike Babcock won his 500th game on Saturday, becoming the second-fastest coach to reach the milestone.
• The Stadium Series is coming up soon, and we have an early look at the what San Jose and the Kings will be wearing.
The numbers game
• Five defensemen currently lead their teams in scoring: The Senators’ Erik Karlsson (7-13-20 in 27 games), Arizona’s Keith Yandle (3-16-19 in 28), the Flames’ Mark Giordano (7-21-28 in 28), the Avalanche’s Tyson Barrie (3-17-20 in 27) and Florida’s Aaron Ekblad (tied; 4-13-17 in).
• Through this season’s first 405 games, there have been 35 multi-goal comeback wins.
• The Ducks now sit atop the NHL standings. Each of Anaheim’s last 11 wins has been by one goal, including two in overtime and three in the shootout. Overall, the Ducks are 14-0-5 in one-goal games, and the 14 victories leading the league.
Today's must reads
• The inability to draft support players in later rounds has been identified as a contributing factor to the continued struggles of the Oilers. That’s not a good sign for another Western Conference team whose draft record is equally miserable.
• Compare that story to the riches mined from the depths of the 2011 draft by this Stanley Cup favorite. There’s more to the scouting game than just luck, fellas.
• Jack Todd writes that Montreal won’t be considered a serious Cup contender until it secures an upgrade for this player.