It was a departure for Gary Bettman. As he stood in the Pebble Beach conference room last week and took questions about the state of the NHL, expansion came up more than once. At times, he sounded like he wanted to pull the reins in on the talk.
"Everybody needs to slow down," he said, when asked about interested cities. "Everything in due course, if in fact there's a due course to pursue."
But other times, he had no problem letting everyone know just how much interest there was in cities looking to add the NHL. In the past, he'd completely shoot down the notion of expansion. There were too many other things on which the league needed to focus. Now?
"We're getting lots of expressions of interest," he said. "We haven't embarked on a formal expansion process, but when people want to talk to us, we listen."
He shot down the possibility of expanding for next season, but not for the following season. And he shed light onto why expansion is now even a possibility for the NHL. The CBA is done, with a system in place that's more appealing to ownership than the last one. The long-term television deals in Canada and the U.S. are done. The NHL sold three franchises in six weeks, solidifying ownership throughout the league.
The pieces are all coming together.
"That stuff doesn't happen in a day, a week or month," he said. "It takes time to put the pieces in place."
Bettman is always careful to say that the league hasn't embarked on a formal expansion process, and when the NHL commissioner talks, every word has meaning. Usually, nothing is said by accident. In this case, the key word is "formal."
So afterward, in a quick chat with deputy commissioner Bill Daly, I asked what the informal discussions look like.