NHL

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

League expecting record revenue, crowds

Commish, Daly discuss Devils, Coyotes dramas

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OTTAWA -- The happy news was the NHL is expecting to have a record year in terms of revenue and attendance (thank you on both fronts, Winnipeg). The bad news is the league still owns one club and is now advancing money to another in order to help it pay its bills.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the media Saturday following a board of governors meeting as part of this weekend's all-star game celebrations, and among the topics were ownership situations with the Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils.

Bettman also announced next season's all-star game would be hosted by the Columbus Blue Jackets and the league has extended its contract to hold its yearly awards in Las Vegas.

The league owns the Coyotes and has been looking for two-plus years for an owner to buy the team and keep it in Glendale, Ariz.

Blues minority owner Tom Stillman is in the process of purchasing a larger chunk of the St. Louis club to become its majority owner.

The league confirmed Saturday it's been advancing funds to the Devils to help with current cash-flow issues.

"We hope, based on the things that are ongoing, to have a sale in place before the end of the season that would keep the team in Glendale," Bettman said. "I don't see any reason to discuss a Plan B at this point."

But his top lieutentant, deputy commissioner Bill Daly, said time is running out on Glendale.

"We've been at this process for two-plus years now," Daly said. "At some point, if you're not successful, you have to turn the page and move on. I think there's a growing sense that we're getting there."

Bettman acknowledged the league is in discussions with three potential buyers. Earlier this week, Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs accused the league of standing in the way of a potential sale by asking too much money for the franshise. The figure US$170 million was quoted to Bettman on Saturday and he didn't correct the questioner.

"The mayor isn't very well-informed on the status of the transaction. With all the groups we've talked to, price has never been an issue," Bettman said.

A group headed by former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison and Jerry Reinsdorf are the known suitors in Glendale. The third group that has recently emerged was described by Daly as "legitimate."

"They've been working at it for a while," he said. "They've been spending money, they've been doing due diligence. So those are all positive signs. It doesn't mean they're going to buy the franchise, so we'll see how it plays out."

A large contingent of francophone media was present and while pressing Bettman for answers on relocation, the subject of building a new rink in Quebec City was raised.

"We've told anybody in any market who's asked, who doesn't have a team, 'Don't do anything on planning on having a team, because we're not making anybody any promises of anything,' " Bettman said.

Daly said the situation in New Jersey centres around a feud between team owners Jeff Vanderbeek and Ray Chambers.

"We're not a bank, we don't loan them money," Daly said. "We're advancing revenue streams that they're otherwise entitled to."

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 29, 2012 B3

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