"This is a franchise that was in bankruptcy and needed a new building desperately and look at where we are today -- 108 sellouts, new building, record ratings, new radio deal. I think it's OK. The fact is we believe all of our franchises in all of our markets can be OK."
-- Commissioner Gary Bettman on the Pittsburgh Penguins
When he sees the explosive growth in the Pittsburgh market, he has reason for his optimism.
The commissioner, speaking between periods of Game 1 of the Flyers-Penguins first-round playoff series Wednesday night, said what's happening in Pittsburgh is a model for other franchises.
"As we talk about the state of the franchise here in Pittsburgh, this is the 108th consecutive sellout, the club announced a renewal of its radio deal, they announced the TV ratings locally set an all-time record, of 6.9 per game, which is spectacular," Bettman said. "I noticed a lot of steel across the street. Thing are looking pretty good in Pittsburgh, and that's nice to see."
It wasn't that long ago that Pittsburgh was considered a less-than-ideal hockey area. The team was in bankruptcy and Mellon Arena was an empty, old building.
Mellon Arena is still old -- it's the oldest building in the NHL -- but finding available seats is like finding water in the desert. There were 17,132 fans on hand Wednesday, the 108th straight game the building has been sold out.
Mellon Arena is near the end of its run while the new Consol Energy Center goes up across the street. That building is expected to be ready for the start of the 2010-11 season.
As rumors fly about struggling franchises in Phoenix and Long Island, the commissioner said he believes the same things could happen there as happened in Pittsburgh.
"What everybody can learn from the Pittsburgh situation is, don't take a snapshot, don't speculate, don't write off franchises, because even when things are looking bleak, it doesn't mean that franchises, when you solve their problems, can't be fixed and saved," Bettman said. "This is a franchise that was in bankruptcy and needed a new building desperately and look at where we are today -- 108 sellouts, new building, record ratings, new radio deal. I think it's OK. The fact is we believe all of our franchises in all of our markets can be OK."
The commissioner touched on two other issues:
* He said he is continuing to monitor the ownership situation in Phoenix and hopes to have a settlement soon.
"I'm in fairly regular contact with the folks out there and they're dealing with the many expressions of interest; I'm aware of a couple myself," he said. "We've been in some communications and we're hoping in the next few weeks to narrow things down and finalize things."
* There were no announcements regarding the 2010 Winter Classic, only to say that there will be one on Jan. 1, 2010.
"It's something we're working on," he said. "I know there's been speculation about who or what clubs have been anointed, but we're not ready to announce anything yet. But my guess is probably near or before we release the schedule at the latest. But we are going to do a Winter Classic next year."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.