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Devils may find three's a crowd

Devils fans filled the Meadowlands parking lot Saturday for a huge tailgate party complete with hot dogs, beer, hockey on rollerblades and chants of "We want the Cup."

But will it be the last pregame party?

Will the New Jersey-based Devils bolt for Hee Haw-based Nashville?

Let's get it straight from the commish.

"They may move, they may not move," Gary Bettman said Friday. "Nobody knows. If you put a gun to my head and asked me, I wouldn't know the answer to what their desire is."

What we do know is it's about money. Devils owner John McMullen has been warring with the landlord of the Meadowlands, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, over the team's lease. And Nashville has come courting with the promise of a spanking new building.

Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said: "Once this season is over, a lot of unanswered questions will be answered."

Bettman and the NHL worked hard to keep Winnipeg and Calgary from moving. But Bettman doesn't sound as convincing when he talks about keeping the Devils in New Jersey.

Just before Bettman took over as commissioner in 1993, the Minnesota North Stars moved from Minneapolis to Texas to become the Dallas Stars.

During Bettman's reign, one team has received permission to move: the Quebec Nordiques heading for Denver's greener pastures.

"People automatically think, franchise relocation _ bad." Bettman said.

But he doesn't think that's necessarily so. He cited other franchises that have moved. The Kings and Clippers in the NBA. The Rams, Cardinals and Raiders in the NFL.

"All I've ever said is that when you have nine professional teams in one market and three in one sport, you have problems," Bettman said. "But that doesn't mean one team has to move."

And when asked if he thought the Devils winning the Cup and bolting would be a black eye for the NHL, Bettman said simply: "It's a complication."

The issue will have to be resolved fairly quickly after the Stanley Cup because next season's schedule has to be completed. And it usually is released in mid-July.

Zero tolerance: NHL general managers met for six hours Saturday and came to this consensus: Something has to be done about interference.

"Right now it's hurting the aesthetics of the game," said Brian Burke, vice president of hockey operations.

In other words, it's making for boring hockey because stars don't have room to maneuver.

There will be a committee formed to address the problem. But most believe the rule is already in place (zero tolerance) and it simply has to be enforced.

Burke thinks if interference is curbed, the trap issue won't be a problem. And according to Burke, interference is a necessary part of the game when a defenseman pursues a puck in his own zone. The other defenseman holds up the offensive player so he doesn't have a clear path to the puck.

But Burke said what isn't tolerable is "when Don Sweeney skates 35 feet across the ice to set a pick for Ray Bourque."

Said Bettman about the rule, "We might do some fine-tuning, but we won't take a sledgehammer to it."

Hockey has a history of making rule changes when one team becomes exceptionally good at one aspect of play.

In the late 1950s, the Canadians had an awesome power play. At the time, the rule allowed a team to score as many goals as it could during the two-minute advantage. The rule was changed so that once a team scores, the power play ends.

In the mid 1980s, the Edmonton Oilers had such an explosive offense that they could almost score at will in four-on-four situations. So the NHL did away with it. The rule, however, hurt scoring and was eventually reinstated.

Changes: There are six head coaching jobs open and don't expect any of them to be filled until Devils assistant coach Larry Robinson makes a decision where he wants to coach. Then the domino effect should take place.

The process of finding head coaches, which most teams like to do before the entry draft (July 8 this year), has been slowed this season because Robinson is still under contract with the Devils.

The Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and New York Islanders have expressed interest in Robinson, a future Hall-of-Fame defenseman who starred for years in Montreal. Other teams with head coaching vacancies are the Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames.

There still may be an opening in Dallas. Bob Gainey holds the general manager and coaching duties, but his wife, Cathy, died Wednesday after a five-year battle with cancer. Gainey may give up the coaching duties to spend more time with his four children.

And there's a scenario that Robinson could even become the top candidate for the Devils. Coach Jacques Lemaire has indicated that if the Devils move to Nashville, he might not go.

Word on the streets: Mike Keenan, who bolted to St. Louis after coaching the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup, has an escape clause in his contract with the Blues. He has until July 15 to exercise the escape.

One scenario has Keenan heading to Detroit. Keenan was said to have had a deal to coach the Red Wings this season, but it was nixed by the NHL.

Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman's contract expired June 15. He's making $900,000 and is said to want more than $1-million.

_ Information from other news sources was used in this report.

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