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Ownership updates de rigueur at Governors meeting in Montreal

by Adam Kimelman
MONTREAL -- Ownership updates were the theme of the day at the Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday.

Commissioner Gary Bettman updated the board on a number of franchise situations during a session of five-plus hours. Another briefing came from Montreal Canadiens owner George Gillett, who is in discussions to sell the team to three members of the Molson family. Bettman said the talks are in the preliminary stages, but said he was excited to see a well-known family involved with the sale.

"I think we were very gratified, as I know George Gillett was, that there was a lot of interest in buying the Canadiens," said Bettman. "It is an iconic franchise. Obviously to the extent that you're dealing with a well-known family like the Molsons, you don't anticipate any surprises. This is a family with not just a long history in Montreal but in hockey. But we do have our processes to go through and we go through them with the same rigor with everybody. The fact that somebody may be more or less better known gives you a level of comfort that you're likely not going to find any surprises, but the process must be conducted in the ordinary course as it is for any transfer."

Bettman addressed speculation over the ownership situation with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Recent reports have suggested that co-owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie were not speaking. Bettman had the pair in his New York office Tuesday, and the commissioner said he was confident that whatever differences of opinion the two might have can and will be ironed out in time.

"Things are OK right now," said Bettman. "They're speaking and they sat at the Board meeting next to each other. They may, long-term, have some issues they'd like to resolve, (but) things are stable and OK right now. I think ultimately whatever's going on can be resolved. The owners are in a position where they're working together right now. They each understand what they need to be doing. Whether or not that changes in the future is up to them to decide, ultimately."

Coming off record television viewership and unique visitors to, Bettman said the focus on ownership situations were unfortunate but not nearly as critical as some are making them out to be.

"I think sometimes they get overblown," he said. "When you have partnerships, people don't always see eye to eye on everything. It's like marriage, like friendships, like all relationships. My guess is at a point in time … where the economy has been a little more difficult, sometimes these issues come to a head because people in other businesses are under more pressure. I don't think any of them warrant the amount of attention they're getting, but they're there and they're all being dealt with. My guess is it's happening throughout industries, it's happening throughout sports and other places. It's a fact of life."

Other issues that Bettman said were discussed at the meeting:

"There was no decision reached on the salary cap for next season. Bettman said Governors were provided economic projections for next season and beyond, but he said the final decision on the cap will come from the NHL Players' Association.

"We haven't heard yet from the Players' Association, so I'm not in a position to advise you," said Bettman. "My position remains the same -- it'll be somewhere around where it is ($56.7 million) or down a little bit depending on whether the union is interested in taking the five percent deflator. It has to be a joint decision, but I'm going to see what they're inclined to want to do and we'll take it from there."

"The commissioner said he had yet to hear a formal offer for the Phoenix Coyotes from a group led by Chicago Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf: "Counsel on behalf of Mr. Reinsdorf appeared telephonically before the court in Phoenix on Monday and indicated they would be making a bid proposal by Friday. It hadn't been done by the time I started the (Board of Governors) meeting and it's not Friday yet, so I'm not surprised there hasn't been a development yet."

"The commissioner said he is continuing to work with International Ice Hockey Federation as well as individual national federations to craft a transfer agreement.

"We are in discussions about having a transfer agreement on some basis with some federations, but that isn't done yet," said Bettman. "Some federations, it's clear we won't have an agreement with, and there's a couple that we might."

"The commissioner said there was nothing to announce concerning the 2010 Winter Classic. Media reports have centered on the game being at Fenway Park in Boston, but Bettman said it was far too early for any announcement regarding the game. He said speculation regarding a second game being held in Canada was just that -- speculation.

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