While various media outlets are reporting there is a deal in place to relocate the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wants fans to know one thing: Nothing is set in stone yet.
On his weekly radio show Thursday night, Bettman addressed the increasing speculation about the franchise's relocation.
"Maybe at some point there will be a deal, maybe there will never be a deal," Bettman said during the "NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman." on NHL Radio. "But there isn't one now."
The show began with Bettman joking with co-host Bill Clement, confirming that they were both in New York -- not Winnipeg, where there have been many "false sightings" of the commissioner in recent weeks.
"I'm not in Winnipeg," Bettman said to clarify. "I haven't been in Winnipeg. Over the last few months I would get calls that I was allegedly spotted. The fact of the matter is, there has once again been a ton of commentary, speculation, you name it, that A) there's a deal and B) that we have a date certain for a press conference to announce the deal."
Bettman assured listeners that there is no deal yet. He said that the owners of Atlanta are exploring their options. But for now, nothing is permanent.
"If the team gets sold, and if the team gets moved, then there will be a press conference," he said. "If you keep saying it enough, you might ultimately be right. But the level of accountability, in terms of the willingness to just put anything out there in terms of a news story, is really just ridiculous."
After the commissioner's initial statements, he fielded calls from fans.
One fan from Atlanta posed a hypothetical question to the commissioner: If the Thrashers move, is it possible for the city to get another NHL team down the road?
"The only time we move is when we don't have a choice, and that typically happens when nobody wants to own a club there anymore," Bettman said. "The prospect of leaving Atlanta isn't something that I'm particularly fond of. So I can't even contemplate the notion of what would happen after that in terms of coming back. We respect the importance of Atlanta as a city. It's a big market, but this is a franchise that's got a problem in that market."
Another fan from Atlanta asked the commissioner if the League is comfortable walking away from the city, considering Atlanta's reputation for having strong corporate sponsorship ties, its growth in youth hockey over the past several years and the fact that so many fans have spoken out with disappointment with the Thrashers' current owners.
"Well nobody has decided to do anything yet," Bettman said. "There isn't a deal. If there is a deal, it has to go through the usual processes and procedures that we have. But the issue, if there's a problem that's unsolvable, despite the grass roots hockey, despite all of the corporate headquarters, is there somebody, if it gets to this point where the current owners don't want to own it anymore, is there somebody who wants to own this franchise in Atlanta?
"The threshold has always been for us, when we've had to move a franchise, (nobody wanted) to own the team there anymore. It would be one of those head scratchers where you say, 'Look at all of this great corporate opportunity, look at all of this grass roots hockey, why doesn't somebody want to own a team here?' And that would be a difficult, but unfortunate situation to be dealing with if it has reached, or does reach that point."