Mathematically, 32 teams is ideal for a sports league.
2^5. It's a numbers-guy's number.
I think the NHL will land at this number... but I think the league (the "owners") really want to see what shakes out with Phoenix & perhaps Florida first.
The NHL has already indicated it's desire to go to 4 conferences.
You want to have a set plan before you add the last two teams.
So... I think expansion revolves around the NHL finding out what is going to happen with Phoenix.
i) Are they stable?
ii) Should they become TOR-2?
iii) Should they become QUE?
iv) Seattle? (my guess)
We'd likely be looking at the following conferences
WEST (Smythe): LA/ANA/SJ/COL/VAN/CGY/EDM... SEA/PHX
. (I predict Phoenix ends up in Seattle)
CENTRAL (Norris): WPG/DAL/STL/MIN/CHI/DET/CBJ/NAS
^These two conferences are actually set for next year - and likely the NHL wants to keep them in tact
. Hence, my prediction Phoenix goes to Seattle. (or stays in Phoenix)
NORTHEAST (Adams): TOR/OTT/MON/BOS/BUF... +Tor#2, +Que, +FLA?
EAST (Patrick): PIT/PHI/NYR/NYI/NJ/WAS/CAR/TB?
It's a no-brainer (IMO) that the NHL will become 32 teams.
But dealing with Phoenix HAS to be step #1.
Everything else will fall in place after that.