League will stay with unbalanced schedule

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DALLAS (AP) – The NHL is sticking to its unbalanced schedule for now, falling one vote short Tuesday of making changes to the post-lockout schedule which limits teams to one visit every three years to some cities.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league will instead complete the three-year cycle which goes through the 2007-08 season before making any changes to the schedule.

“I think it will be a final discussion for a while on the schedule,” Bettman said after the NHL board of governors met in Dallas, the site of Wednesday night’s All-Star game. After about an hour of discussion, the board voted 19-11 to return to the pre-lockout schedule with six division games instead of eight and ensuring that each team visits every city at least once every two years. But the measure needed a two-thirds majority, or 20 votes, to pass.

While the vote on scheduling was close, and not unexpected, Bettman said he’s “been in more passionate meetings than that.”

The board did approve Montreal as the site of the 2009 All-Star game, an event that will come during the season when the Canadiens celebrate their 100th anniversary. Montreal has hosted a league-high 13 All-Star games, but the last was in 1993.

Under the current scheduling plan, some cities still haven’t seen Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby or Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, the young All-Stars who weren’t playing in the NHL before the lockout. Crosby is in Dallas for the first time at the All-Star game, then plays with the Penguins there for the first time Friday night against the Stars.

“I’m not suggesting that this is the schedule for the next 100 years,” Bettman said. “We’re going to finish the cycle and have to decide what to do after that. … We started something. We’re going to finish it.”

But the commissioner said there was no interest in having home-and-home series among all 30 teams every season.

Other items Bettman discussed after the board’s meeting Tuesday:

• Teams “overwhelmingly” like the structure of two conferences with three divisions each.

“There are some clubs – Minnesota and Dallas that play most of their division games in other time zones – in an ideal would that would like to see an adjustment. Based on geography, there’s no way of doing that,” Bettman said.

• There are no expansion plans. The commissioner said the league is “focused on 30 healthy teams right now, focusing on the teams where they are.”

• Bettman said the league’s “goal, our hope” is for the Penguins to remain in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are working with state and local leaders about building a new downtown arena to replace the league’s oldest building.

“We haven’t given up,” he said.

– The league plans to upgrade to high-definition cameras and monitors for its video review system to get clearer views. But there won’t be any changes in how and when replays are used.

– A 27 percent increase of hits on NHL.com, plus an even more substantial growth in online voting for the All-Stars. There were nearly 27 million All-Star votes cast in six weeks this year, as opposed to 6 million in eight weeks for the last game in 2004.

AP-ES-01-23-07 1556EST

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