It was during the NHL board of governors meeting a year ago that potential Las Vegas ownership got the green light to proceed with a season-ticket drive. That development came out of nowhere.
There remains no firm timeline on expansion, though this week's board meetings could take the process another step further. The executive committee is scheduled to meet before the big group Monday in Pebble Beach, Calif., to review expansion presentations from Las Vegas and Quebec City.
The earliest expansion could happen is the 2017-18 season, something deputy commissioner Bill Daly said last month was still possible even if the board doesn't vote this week. Such a vote to approve or decline expansion is not expected.
"We really haven't canvassed the ownership as a group," Daly said last month in Toronto. "[The executive committee meeting will] be really the first time where we kind of roll up our sleeves and talk about the applications and where they stand."
Quebecor and Bill Foley's Black Knight Sports & Entertainment presented to the board in September in New York. That came on the heels of the Hockey Vision Las Vegas ticket drive receiving 13,500 season-ticket deposits and the brand-new Videotron Centre in Quebec City selling out for a preseason game between the Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Officials from Quebecor showed the board a DVD of that successful night, and commissioner Gary Bettman said in a sit-down interview in late September that it "wasn't a bad thing that the building was test-driven."
"Were we surprised that it was sold out and there was enthusiasm? Absolutely not. I could've told you that before they did it," Bettman said. "Unlike Vegas, where they ran a season-ticket drive because people really questioned whether there was interest in professional sports in a unique market like that, nobody had any doubt that there was fan interest, certainly by 20,000 people, in Quebec City."
Bettman said at the time Quebec excelling in that test drive was one of many factors going into expansion deliberations. The current alignment of 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the West and the sagging Canadian dollar are ones that could hamper Quebecor's efforts to bring back the Nordiques.
If the NHL opts to expand by one or two teams, there's also the matter of splitting revenue 31 or 32 ways, something Bettman and Daly brought up last month. Their point that was even though each new team could bring expansion fees of $500-million (U.S.) or higher, owners must consider the long-term implications against the one-time cash windfall.
One thing that's clear is the league is in no rush to make the decision.
"This is an important business decision, and it doesn't get governed by PR or politics or various pressures," Bettman said. "You've got to make a decision for the right reasons."
Expansion is one of many topics on the docket for this board of governors meeting, which will also include a updates on business and player safety, the departure of chief operating officer John Collins, an early projection of the 2016-17 salary cap and the controversial executive compensation policy.
Under the current system, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2015, a team must surrender a second- or third-round pick if it hires a coach or executive from another team, depending on whether it's in or out of season.
The policy as written forces compensation even for those relieved of their duties, such as the Columbus Blue Jackets forfeiting a second-round pick to the Vancouver Canucks for hiring John Tortorella, despite the coach getting fired after the 2013-14 season.
"That wasn't the intent of the deal at all," Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray said Friday in Orchard Park, N.Y. "It had gotten away from us."
At their last meeting, GMs talked about modifying or scrapping the compensation policy, which Bettman staunchly opposed from the start. The board can make that decision, and any chances would likely go into effect Jan. 1.
"It has to be modified," said Murray, who voted against the policy originally. "I'm not sure it'll go away completely, but if it doesn't go away completely it's going to be tweaked or it's going to be just like a fourth-round pick for a guy that is not just under contract but working for a team."