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Positive vibe as Board of Governors meeting ends

by Shawn P. Roarke /
PALM BEACH, FLA. -- After two days of presentation at the Board of Governors meeting here, which wrapped Tuesday afternoon, many of the NHL power brokers walked away from the information-gathering summit believing the game is making significant gains in a variety of areas.

"I don't think the game has ever been better," said John Davidson, president of hockey operations for the St. Louis Blues. "I can go look at tapes from 15 and 20 years ago and the game is faster, it's more physical, (there are) more blocked shots, more commitment. There's fewer dud games because with parity there is more competition from day one of the season all the way through. Just about every game is so much more important to everybody."

The governors spent much of their time here reviewing the recent advances the game has made and looking for even more ways to grow the game in the future.

Tuesday, NHL Senior Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell delivered the latest in a continuing series of presentations on the effectiveness of Rule 48, which was instituted before the start of the 2010-11 regular season to limit the amount of blind-side hits to the head.

The NHL believes that those dangerous hits are one of the primary causes of concussions and need to be removed from the game.

"I don't think the game has ever been better. I can go look at tapes from 15 and 20 years ago and the game is faster, it's more physical, (there are) more blocked shots, more commitment. There's fewer dud games because with parity there is more competition from day one of the season all the way through. Just about every game is so much more important to everybody. "
-- John Davidson

"There was a candid discussion as to how the rule is working," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in the closing press conference. "I think people in the room were comfortable that it's working the way we intended. It'll continue to evolve, it's a work in progress, but people were comfortable that we're on the right track.

"We did some fan research and overwhelmingly our fans are supportive of what we've done. But I think everybody is going to take a wait-and-see look and I don't think that's over a week or two. That's at least through this season if not longer to make sure the rule is working the way we intended."

The rule is gaining more acceptance, according to Campbell.

"There's more acceptance," Campbell said. "There are a lot of parties that need to accept this. The party we are most concerned with are the players because it is about protecting players from players. That is what we are most interested in. It's about taking this hit out of the game and saving careers."

There was also some candid discussion about the shootout, the League's tie-breaking process. But with the number of shootouts down by almost 50 percent this season, there was no pressure to tweak the existing rules.

"What is also clear from our fan research, is that somewhere around 70 percent of our fans, give or take, both in the U.S. and Canada prefer the game to be ended with a decision as opposed to a tie," Bettman said. "I don't think there's any move whatsoever to get rid of the shootout. The only concern was whether or not we were seeing too many of them, but that concern -- at least by what's taking place on the ice this season -- doesn't seem to be warranted at least at this stage but we're going to keep an eye on it."

Tuesday, the Board of Governors was briefed on the new format for this season's NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover in Raleigh, a format that will see two captains -- selected by the all-stars themselves -- pick the teams in a fantasy-draft format.

Discussion about the expiring television deals in the United States also was a prime subject of conversation.

The current deals with both Versus, the League's cable partner, and NBC, the League's national network, expire after this season.

According to Bettman, the League is currently in an exclusive negotiating window with Versus, to be followed by a similar window for NBC. After those negotiations, other suitors could enter into the process.

It is a situation that appeals to many in the League because television numbers are on the rise in many local markets and both Versus and NBC have enjoyed successes during the life of the current deals.

Several other topics were covered during the course of the meetings.

Revenue projections were made and sponsorship opportunities were discussed, as was the League's continuing annual foray into Europe.

On Monday, ownership issues dominated the agenda.

Matt Hulsizer, the prospective buyer of the Phoenix Coyotes, met with the executive committee Monday morning to discuss his plans. Tuesday afternoon, Bettman said that interview went very well and that Hulsizer was well-received by the committee.

"When we ultimately get to the point of going for League approval where all the clubs vote on the transaction, it will carry the unanimous recommendation of the executive board for his approval," Bettman said.

Hulsizer still has a few hurdles to clear -- including the securing of a new lease from the city of Glendale for Arena, home of the Coyotes.

In Calgary, Harley Hotchkiss was granted the right to sell his 22-percent stake in the Flames to the team's other owners in what Bettman said was "estate planning" on the part of Hotchkiss, who will remain in the game.

Also on Tuesday, the board received a presentation from USA Hockey on its attempts to grow the game at a grass-roots level.

Finally, the governors were shown the 12-minute sizzle reel produced by HBO to hawk the upcoming documentary "24/7 Road to the Winter Classic" that will focus on the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals as they prepare for a matchup at Heinz Field on New Year's Day in the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

For many, the HBO presentation was a highlight of the two-day gathering.

The governors gave it an ovation," Bettman said. "To see the investment that HBO is making in our game, to see the beauty and elegance of the coverage that they were providing to our game, to see the insight and access that they were given: everyone in the room, even though there were 28 teams that weren't Pittsburgh or Washington, they appreciated how good this could be for the game. Hockey fans and sports fans are going to get an insight and a connection to our game that most sports don't get.
"This is truly special (access). This is perhaps unprecedented, particularly in the regular season, for any sport. People were extraordinarily pleased with the trailer and from what we hear the trailer isn't anywhere as good as the real show will be. People are real excited about it."
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