PITTSBURGH, DEC. 5 -- Bruce McNall understands money. He's made much of his through trading in coins. He pays out much of his to the players on his Los Angeles Kings hockey team. Led by the contract of Wayne Gretzky, worth $3 million per year, the Kings had the highest payroll in the NHL last season.

Rapidly escalating payrolls are very much on the minds of league owners, many of whom are at the Board of Governors meeting in Palm Beach, Fla. The principal reason for the assembly is the possibility of expansion, which, of course, gets back to money.

"If it becomes unprofitable, you'll find people won't be anxious for expansion, and then the jobs won't be created," McNall said recently. McNall clearly has no problem in paying Gretzky top dollar, but that is because McNall knows Gretzky brings people into an arena. He said he is concerned with the good, but not marquee, players' desires for two- and three-fold increases in pay.

"I would like to see some form of salary cap and salary minimum like the NBA has," McNall said. "I think the problem with that is that the players don't trust the owners and don't trust the revenue stream. I think if they felt they were getting their fair share, it would be fine."

The first step in such a process would be to open the league's and teams' financial records.

"I would be happy to," McNall said. "I know some would not, but I would. I think players have an idea about what we make that may not be the case."

The current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of next summer.

"I think it's funny he mentioned it," said Jim Johnson, the Pittsburgh Penguins' union representative. "We've sort of talked about it, but we don't know if it would be in our best interests. To find out, we'd have to see the books and what the total team revenues are. It might be in the best interest of both parties."

The union, under the new and more aggressive leadership of Bob Goodenow, is still formulating opinions and deciding what it wants most to fight for. But Johnson says he has noticed that players are showing an increased interest in the possible topics.

"We're trying to prepare ourselves for the worst, if that means not playing for some of next season," he said. "We're educating the guys on what to do in case that happens."

Gainey's Wife Ill

The financially ailing, and outmanned Minnesota North Stars have had a difficult year, and it got much worse Tuesday. Coach Bob Gainey's wife, Cathy, was diagnosed as having a brain tumor. Gainey has taken a leave of absence, so assistants Andy Murray and former Washington Capital Doug Jarvis are running the team.

"We'll just act as co-coaches and we're operating on a day-to-day basis," Jarvis said from Toronto before tonight's game with the Maple Leafs. "Before we left, we discussed tonight's game with Bob. We had a meeting with the players. We said that they are professionals and have to continue to play as such."

Presentations to Board

Seven groups with interest in obtaining an NHL franchise made presentations to the Board of Governors today. There was no indication whether or not an announcement on a new team would come by the end of the week.

There had been eight bidders, but Ackerley Communications, which submitted Seattle's application, was forced to withdraw when it was unable to attract other investors.

And the Tampa group, which has Hall of Famer Phil Esposito as its front man, suffered a bit of a setback Tuesday when the Hillsborough County Commission failed to pass a measure that would help finance a new arena.

Another topic that probably will get some air time involves North Stars owner Norm Green. He still owns 18 percent of the Calgary Flames, but hasn't been able to agree on a price to sell the shares back to the other Calgary investors.