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NHL salary cap expected to increase Add to ...

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will tell the league's governors that next season's salary cap will increase when their annual meetings begin Monday in the old-money setting of The Breakers resort in posh Palm Beach.

Bettman is expected to announce the cap will grow by about $2.1-million (all currency U.S.) from this season's $59.4-million. That is assuming the players do what they have always done, which is exercise their right to bump the owners' projected figure by their 5-per-cent inflator clause in the collective agreement.

The meetings will also see the distinguished ownership of Harley Hotchkiss come to an end. Hotchkiss stepped down as chairman of the NHL's board of governors three years ago to start winding down his days as an active owner of the Calgary Flames. The board will be asked to approve the sale of Hotchkiss's 22-per-cent stake in the team to the Flames' other owners.

Outside that, not a lot of news is expected. There will be a lot of housekeeping reports on things like relations with the NHL Players' Association and the state of various franchises with ownership issues. Which is where the back-hall chatter comes in.

Some of that chatter will concern the Phoenix Coyotes. Prospective owner Matthew Hulsizer is expected to show up and explain his plans to the governors' executive committee, although an official sale is still not in sight.

Also sure to be part of the unofficial discussions among the governors are the Atlanta Thrashers, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Thrashers are a candidate, along with the Coyotes, to move to either Winnipeg or Quebec. Bruce Levenson, Michael Gearon Sr., and Michael Gearon Jr., the main players in the ownership group, are not happy about all the money they are losing on the team.

Among those who populate the governors' set, the talk is that the Thrashers are headed for Quebec City, if the former NHL town can pull in enough government and private money for a new arena. Winnipeg is also in the mix, though, and if Hulsizer really does buy the Coyotes, the western Canadian city could shoulder aside Quebec and land the Thrashers.

Word is that Levenson and the Gearons have mused in the past about applying to their fellow governors for permission to relocate. Even NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said publicly in recent days that the Thrashers could move.

The St. Louis Blues are not a candidate to move but they are having trouble finding an investor to replace the private equity fund that cashed out last year. Blues governor Dave Checketts's lack of success on that front has more to do with the economy, which has dampened the enthusiasm of business people for owning teams and that of the bankers who used to lend them money to do so.

Hurricanes owner Pete Karmanos is in the same boat as Checketts. According to banking and NHL sources, he would really like to sell the entire team, not just the 49 per cent that belongs to the estate of a deceased partner.

Also having trouble finding a buyer are the Dallas Stars, although they recently got a new president in former Anaheim Ducks boss Tony Tavares. The Stars have not been sold because owner Tom Hicks's creditors want too much money for them to cover the pile he owes on the team.

However, not all of the gossip in the corridors at The Breakers will be gloomy.

The Predators, who need to refinance their debt soon, are showing signs of life at the box office. This means lenders will be friendlier, although before extending credit they will want assurances the $9-million the Predators get every year from the city in one form or another will continue when they complete a new agreement with Nashville. But there are no signs it will be cut off.

There are also signs of an actual billionaire having actual interest in buying an NHL team. That would be Pennsylvania energy tycoon Terrence Pegula, who is kicking the tires on the Sabres.

And finally, there may be some chuckling with Larry Tanenbaum and Richard Peddie, the Maple Leafs governors, over last week's media storm in the wake of erroneous reports Rogers Communications made an offer to buy the majority stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment held by the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board.

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