NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed Friday that Winnipeg is considered a viable NHL market, one the league has already considered for franchise relocation.
During his annual state-of-the-league press conference at the Stanley Cup final, Bettman admitted True North Sports and Entertainment was the group that offered to buy the Phoenix Coyotes last week and voiced his approval of the MTS Centre as an NHL-calibre building.
"You know our view on franchise relocation: We try to avoid it," Bettman said in Chicago. "And frankly, if we're going to move a franchise, there are a couple of places in Canada that I'd like to give my attention first, because when Winnipeg and Quebec lost their franchises -- remember, I always talk about three things for franchises: market, owner and building.
"Both of those teams were moved because two of the criteria went away. There was no building and there was no owner. Nobody wanted to own a team there anymore. To the extent that those markets are in a position to deal with those issues, I'd like to try and fix something that I wish might not have happened in the first place, not unlike what we did in Minnesota."
The commissioner also said something that a lot of people in the hockey world either weren't aware of, or didn't believe -- that the 15,003-seat MTS Centre is an NHL building.
He was asked a follow-up question on whether southern Ontario, and Hamilton in particular, was more suitable for the NHL at this time: "There doesn't seem to be NHL buildings in either Quebec or Winnipeg at this stage..."
Bettman interrupted the question: "Winnipeg, I believe, has an NHL building, and in Quebec they're talking about building one. And to anticipate the next part of your question, I'm not sure a 25-year-old building (Hamilton's Copps Coliseum) that would need a $200-million renovation is exactly an NHL building right now."
Bettman was preaching more patience for Winnipeg fans, mainly because he said that's exactly how True North partners Mark Chipman and David Thomson are approaching their involvement.
"There has been a lot of speculation about Winnipeg," Bettman said. "Winnipeg did make a bona fide offer (on the Phoenix Coyotes). We never concluded a deal. That offer was made by Mark Chipman and David Thomson as partners in True North and they're very comfortable with the process. They understood that the likelihood was that the team was going to be remaining in Phoenix. They wanted us to know of their interest and they have told us that they are prepared to be patient."
The NHL had referred to True North's offer anonymously in the deal it signed last week with the City of Glendale that keeps the team in the Arizona desert for at least one more season. That arrangement will see the city cover up to US$25 million of cash losses in operating the team next season.
The league bought the team out of U.S. bankruptcy court last fall for $140 million. Glendale officials have said True North's offer was in the neighbourhood of $170 million.
Bettman said the team would be moving had Glendale not ponied up the $25 million.
"We would have been forced; we would have had no choice but to move it," he said.
True North spokesman Scott Brown said Friday there would be no comment on Bettman's remarks about the offer for the Coyotes.
"We're pleased to hear the commissioner confirm what we've held since we constructed the building back in 2004, that the MTS Centre meets NHL standards," Brown added.
Bettman was also asked if he had a timeline in mind for True North's offer to move the Coyotes.
"I'm not going to put a timeline on it because I do not want to raise expectations," Bettman said.