Gary BETTMAN, in a non-denial denial, all but confirmed Wednesday he is in discussions with True North Sports and Entertainment regarding the possible relocation of the Phoenix Coyotes to Winnipeg.
The NHL commissioner gave time to both Fan 59 and TSN Radio in Toronto on Wednesday.
"I'm not going to either confirm or deny that," Bettman said, during the first of two interviews when asked if he was in talks with True North. "I think it would be fair to say that I don't have the deal for the club to go anywhere else right now. If I had to get to a deal at some point, my guess is I could probably arrange it. You would be terribly disappointed at us and the way this league runs if you think we would just back ourselves into a corner and not have some options out there. But Plan B has not been effectuated."
Later Betttman added, "It's been well chronicled there are people interested in owning a franchise in Winnipeg... They have a building which they didn't have when the Jets left... I don't want to raise expectations, but if we have to move a franchise, there are places we would strongly consider and obviously Winnipeg would probably be very high up on that list."
Bettman reiterated that the league continues to focus on arranging a sale of the Coyotes to Matthew Hulsizer that would see the team remain in Glendale. Bettman wouldn't say when fans in both cities can expect to have this resolved.
"Whether or not we have a deadline or the Coyotes are staying or going, that's pure speculation by anyone right now, including me," he said. "I've never gotten into discussions about what we're doing.
"When I have something definitive to announce, I'll announce it. And part of this is, I don't want anybody's expectations getting raised. It's not really fair and I don't want people's expectations to be deflated in one place and raised in another when it may be completely wrong in both places."
Bettman said the only fixed deadline at this point centres around next year's schedule. At some point they must begin work on the 2011-12 schedule. Last season's was released on June 22 just prior to the NHL entry draft weekend.
"Obviously at the point we issue a schedule for next season, we're going to have to know where the team is playing," said Bettman. "So you can back it up from there. At some point, because we don't do the schedule in 24 hours, but we have some flexibility. Frankly, I don't think setting a deadline right now would serve any useful or constructive purpose. Quite frankly, I'm not operating under a deadline right now."
The commissioner was asked why the league was working so hard to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix when on the surface it appears no owner is willing to pay for the team with his own money.
"We do everything possible to protect our fans against moving franchises and disconnecting them from the franchises they root for," said Bettman, at which point he was pressed by TSN's James Cybulski, who wanted to know where that conviction was 15 years when the Jets left Winnipeg.
"I'm glad you asked that. We did everything possible in Winnipeg, and there was no prospect of a new building and nobody wanted to own the team there anymore, and that's the only reason the club moved. We didn't decide we wanted to leave Winnipeg, Winnipeg at the time chased us away because nobody wanted to own the team there," said Bettman. "And in fact I believe either the province or the city was partially funding the club and they didn't want to do that anymore."
Cybulski wanted to know why, if the league couldn't find a taker for its $170 million asking price in Phoenix, it wouldn't just take the money and run to Winnipeg.
"We had the deal done, as I said, and then part of the financing of the deal didn't come through because the Goldwater Institute threatened the bonds," said Bettman. "It's a peculiar question that you're asking because when there were people trying to buy Edmonton and move it, and it was clear that they were losing lots of money 10-12 years ago, and the building was empty. We didn't let that happen. We managed to spend the time necessary to put together the group and save that franchise. It's not about who has money to buy a club and take it where they want. It's about the covenant we have with our fans everywhere that, unless we have no choice, we don't run out on you."