The NHL's board of governors will meet in Pebble Beach, Calif., beginning Monday, for two days of fun in the sun, a get-together that mostly will deal with housekeeping matters rather than anything explosive or sexy.
The new Canadian television deal, which will bring in $5.2-billion from Rogers Communications starting next year, will be ratified the first day and is the single biggest item on the agenda because of how it will reshape the NHL's financial landscape in the years ahead.
The deal likely won't get any opposition and it isn't even clear if anybody will ask commissioner Gary Bettman to outline the process, which saw TSN shut out of the national cable picture and Hockey Night In Canada effectively emasculated, even though it will continue to air games on Saturday nights for the next four years, with Rogers calling the programming shots.
But the massive increase in Canadian rights fees only kicks in at the start of next season, meaning that it won't have any salary cap implications until two years down the road, which is why there's so much uncertainty about next year's number.
Generally, Bettman likes to use this December gathering to give the 30 NHL teams a sense of what next year's cap will look like, on the grounds that general managers need some basic parameters if they want to ramp up contract negotiations.
The question isn't if the cap is going up from the current $64.3-million level - it is - but by how much. Estimates from a handful of NHL decision-makers vary.
Those with a conservative view think it could be as little as $68-million. A greater number suggest it could return to the psychologically significant $70-million plateau, which would leave it roughly where it was pre-lockout ($70.2-million).
Many NHL GMs anticipate the big bump will come in 2015, when the cap could go to $75-million or higher, because of the Canadian TV deal and a few other irons the NHL has in the fire, particularly relating to opportunities in Europe. If they can get an agreement for a World Cup of hockey in place, which likely won't be played until 2016, the cap could approach $80-million.
Still, some, such as the Chicago Blackhawks' general manager Stan Bowman, are cautious and want it to hear the number definitively before they start doing business, which in Bowman's case, will be negotiating expensive extensions for both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane after next season.
"I don't know if I'm in the minority, but I'm hesitant; there's no accountability for these random people making these predictions the cap is going to be $80-million," Bowman told ESPNChicago.com. "I might be wrong. I think there's folly. There are so many factors that go into the salary cap.
"Because there's a new television deal, I'm not going to assume it's going to be $80-million. I don't operate that way. If you base your assumptions on predictions and you're wrong, I can't say, 'They said it was going to be $80-million.' I'm going to wait to see where it goes. I think it's safe to say it's going to go up. It's think it's a little bit irresponsible to say where it's going to be unless you have intricate knowledge of the cap."
THE SHARK WATCH: The salary-cap guidelines are significant for every team, but they will be particularly important to the San Jose Sharks, the No. 1 team in the Western Conference and a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, their slide of the past few days notwithstanding. San Jose has three of its top players – captain Joe Thornton, former captain Patrick Marleau and defensive leader Dan Boyle – all on expiring contracts, with Thornton earning $7-million, Marleau $6.9-million and Boyle $6.66-million.
All three have shown loyalty to the Sharks and the Bay Area in the past by taking hometown discounts, but the problem for general manager Doug Wilson is that two of his other key players – Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski – are already signed to long-term contract extensions that kick in next year. Couture jumps from $2.875-million to $6-million; Pavelski from $4- to $6-million. So that effectively burns up the first $5.15-million bump, before you open up a single fresh negotiation. If Thornton, Marleau and Boyle are all willing to play for roughly the same amount of money, or small raises, then the Sharks should be able to manage it. If not, then they could have a problem.
Of course, the most practical solution for the Sharks might be to buy out the final year of Martin Havlat's contract, worth $5-million. A succession of injuries has made Havlat, once a great player, a shadow of his former self. In his first 16 games this season, Havlat has just two goals and three assists, despite playing more than 15 minutes per night.
SHERRIFF SHANNY: Just about everyone in hockey operations, including discipline czar Brendan Shanahan, is attending the governors meetings, which could have some bearing on upcoming disciplinary hearings. After a busy first suspension-filled first month, things had quieted down until Saturday's blow-up between the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins resulted in a pair of disciplinary hearings.
Shanahan will chat on the phone with the Penguins' James Neal, who kneed the Bruins' Brad Marchand in the head as Marchand lay on the ice. Meanwhile, the Bruins' Scott Thornton was offered an in-person hearing for hurling the Penguins' Brooks Oprik to the ice and then punching him when he was helpless. Under NHL disciplinary guidelines, Thornton is facing a suspension above six games and likely in the neighborhood of 10 for his actions, while Neal is apt to be banned for around three.
Thornton targeted Orpik after the Penguins' defenceman took a run at Bruins' forward Loui Eriksson on the opening shift of the game, getting his shoulder up on Eriksson and concussing him with the hit. It's the second time this season Eriksson will miss time with a concussion; the first came back in October when the Buffalo Sabres' John Scott caught him with a blindside hit. It hasn't been a good start in Boston for Eriksson, the principal players acquired by the Bruins in the Tyler Seguin trade. Eriksson had been the most durable of NHLers with the Stars, missing only three games over a five-year span, but now is out indefinitely again.
Thornton issued a heartfelt mea culpa after the fact, which usually doesn't sway Shanahan much in terms of the possible length of the suspension. As for coach Claude Julien, he would only state the obvious – that when these sorts of things occur, there is generally enough blame that can be shared by both teams.
THE OLYMPIC WATCH: Steve Yzerman, Team Canada's executive director, came to California early to meet with the rest of his management team in advance of the board of governors' meetings. There was always a sense that the Montreal Canadiens' Carey Price was a slight favorite to win the starting nod, if his play this season was up to par, and Price has done his part to solidify his place in the pecking order. Counting Saturday's victory over the Buffalo Sabres, Price has now won seven games in a row and has allowed two or fewer goals in 10 consecutive starts, a span which includes an 8-1-1 record and a .949 save percentage. Price's strong play in goal and timely scoring from Max Pacioretty are two of the primary reasons the Canadiens have caught the Penguins for top spot in the Eastern Conference … Welcome news for the Detroit Red Wings: Centre Pavel Datsyuk is scheduled to return to the lineup Tuesday for the second of back-to-back games against the Florida Panthers. The Red Wings lost the first to Florida, which left them with just five home victories in their first 17 appearances at Joe Louis Arena, with six losses coming in regulation and six others in overtime. Datysuk has missed seven games with a concussion. With Henrik Zetterberg sidelined at least two weeks with a herniated disc in his back, the Red Wings need all the offence they can get. They're still waiting for a meaningful contribution from the ex-Panther, Stephen Weiss, brought in as a free agent to provide offence and stuck with just four points in 25 games. The fit just looks awful right now … Anaheim went on the road and won two big games back-to-back against Central Division powers Chicago and St. Louis. Ryan Getzlaf continues to produce goals at a record pace and defenceman Francois Beauchemin, out for the past eight games with an upper body injury, is about a week away from returning … The Nashville Predators received an update on the status of goaltender Pekka Rinne Friday. He's been out since the last week of October, recovering from an infection that set into his hip after surgery. Rinne is about two weeks away from ramping up his conditioning and if there are no further setbacks, it's possible he'll get back into the lineup sometime in early January … The Islanders play the Ducks Monday and with every successive loss – it's eight in a row after a 3-0 blanking by the Kings Saturday – the pressure mounts on coach Jack Capuano. The Islanders have won just four of 19 since general manager Garth Snow sacrificed first- and second-round picks along with Matt Moulson to rent Thomas Vanek for the rest of the season. If Capuano doesn't survive, the candidates to replace him reportedly include former Flyers' coach Peter Laviolette (who previously coached the Islanders a decade ago) and former Leafs' coach Paul Maurice, currently between gigs after coaching in Russia last season … The Islanders trip finishes off with a game against the Sharks, Evgeni Nabokov's former team. Nabokov has never played his former since leaving at the end of the 2009-10 season, and won't this time either. Even though he's on the trip, he's still recovering from a groin injury that's kept him out for nearly a month now.