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Schedule, Nashville sale, Paul Kelly address headline NHL owners meeting

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The NHL owners have a busy agenda as they gather this week in picturesque Pebble Beach, Calif., but they'll still find time to squeeze in a little golf.

The annual two-day board of governors meeting, the most important of the year, goes Thursday and Friday and should finally bring about a new format for the NHL schedule. It means that every team will play one another starting next season.

"There's quite a large sentiment for change," said Edmonton Oilers president and CEO Patrick LaForge.

Other main items on this week's agenda include:

-A vote on the sale of the Predators to a local group in Nashville.

-A thorough discussion of the on-ice product. Scoring is down, but what should be done?

-A look at the finances, including last season's final numbers and an early season projection on this season's revenue figures. It's expected owners will be told the salary cap should go up again next season for the fourth consecutive year.

-An address to owners from new NHL Players' Association executive director Paul Kelly.

The latter might be a surprising development for some, given the tougher stance with owners the players' union is expected to have under Kelly compared to predecessor Ted Saskin.

But Kelly said cautions against misreading the fact he accepted the invitation from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

"No. 1, I think it's a positive," Kelly told The Canadian Press. "As I said to Gary, the more that we communicate with one another, the better. I was appreciative of the invitation and frankly look forward to the opportunity to meet several of the owners - I've only met a handful - and meet some of the other GMs, and express some of my early thoughts.

"I'm only a month into the job and I still have a lot to learn, but I do have some early impressions of some things that I look forward to sharing with them."

Kelly, who has been busy meeting with players around the league, only accepted Bettman's invitation after getting the full endorsement the players' executive board.

"And they unanimously support it and have encouraged me to attend," said Kelly. "So that's a plus as well - knowing that people won't be somewhow misreading this visit than anything other than what it is, which is a constructive opportunity to communicate and start working together with these guys."

LaForge, for one, can't wait to hear from the new NHLPA leader on Thursday.

"Absolutely," said LaForge. "The partnership we have with the Players' Association is critical and critically important to our success.

"I want to listen to what he has to say and the way he's going to say it. I'm sure we'll be hanging on his every word. It'll be a very attentive audience.????rdblquote

The change in format for the NHL schedule will be a major headliner. The current format has been in existence since the lockout ended and has ignited much debate among owners. It features eight games versus each divisional opponent - too many according to some - and only 10 games (five on the road) against non-conference opponents.

Superstar Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, for example, will finally plays his first career regular-season games in Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary in December. It's his third year in the league.

This season the unbalanced schedule also has the Oilers, Flames and Canucks not playing a single regular-season game against Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa.

In all probability, owners will simply vote to return to the pre-lockout format - six games against each divisional opponent, four against each of the remaining conference opponents, and at least one game against each team in the other conference and in some cases two. The bottom line is that every team would play every team in the league.

"We're in favour of that," said veteran Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford. "We completed the three-year cycle of this current format. I'm fine with going back to the old schedule matrix. We think it works well."

The discussion of the game could provide some debate. Expect the Buffalo Sabres to make the case that the game is headed back towards the pre-lockout defensive hockey.

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