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Bettman addresses Coyotes ownership, Olympics

by Dan Rosen

CHICAGO -- The state of the Phoenix Coyotes and potential participation in the upcoming Winter Olympics were the main topics of discussion Wednesday during NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's annual State of the League press conference prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at United Center.

Commissioner Bettman said time is running short for a new owner to be in place in Phoenix.

"Obviously we're getting to the point where some decisions are going to have to be made both by the City of Glendale and by us," Commissioner Bettman said. "I haven't set a deadline, but time is getting shorter."

Bettman wouldn't speculate on what would happen to the franchise if a new owner isn't in place within the appropriate timeframe, but Commissioner Bettman and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the decision ultimately rests with the City of Glendale.

The League has negotiated a deal with a potential new ownership group for the Coyotes, but now that group has to negotiate a lease agreement with the City of Glendale for the right to use city-owned Arena.

Glendale's city council is scheduled to meet June 25. The NHL Board of Governors meets June 27.

"At some point we are going to have to make a decision," Commissioner Bettman said.

Daly admitted the possibility exists the Coyotes will not play in Arizona next season, but Commissioner Bettman reiterated several times the League's first choice is to keep the team in Glendale.

"Look, we're in the short strokes with Phoenix now," Daly said. "The ownership group that we've negotiated the deal with has been negotiating with the City of Glendale. I think the puck is in the City of Glendale's end with respect to how they're going to deal with that."

Daly said the City of Glendale is aware of the League's timeframe in terms of when a decision has to be made. He said if the city stalls, the League might have to act to address the future of the franchise.

"A delay could be a no-decision," Daly said. "A no-decision could be a decision in this case. They understand. There is no misunderstanding with respect to what our timetable is vis-a-vis the City of Glendale. They know what our decision timeline is and what other decisions we have to make. There is no misunderstanding."

Commissioner Bettman said there are several markets interested in the Coyotes should the ownership situation not be resolved. He would not name cities, however.

"The phone keeps ringing more regularly the longer that the Coyotes situation stays unresolved," Commissioner Bettman said.

He was adamant the Coyotes can thrive in Glendale with a committed owner. The League has been operating the franchise for the past four seasons.

"We actually believe if you gave the community an owner -- not the League -- who said, 'I'm committed to being here,' this franchise can actually be successful," Commissioner Bettman said. "We've seen what the fan base will do with all the uncertainty and we understand the dynamics of the business community, the broadcasters, the media, people who buy suites, naming rights, all that stuff. If there was certainty surrounding this franchise, its fortunes would improve dramatically and immediately just by virtue of putting in a real owner."

Daly said the negotiations regarding NHL player participation in the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia have gone on longer than anticipated, but he is hopeful there will be a resolution soon.

He said the Olympic outcome, the state of the Coyotes, and the late June finish of the 2012-13 season means the 2013-14 regular-season schedule will not be released until July at the earliest.

"In terms of the Olympics, specifically, [it was] a little more complicated negotiation based on it being in Sochi and the physical location," Daly said. "The IOC has been more actively involved than it has been in the past. The Players' Association has been actively involved with respect to logistics of players, families, guests. We continue to work at it. The parties have been in close contact in recent days and we hope to get together and get it hammered out in the near future."

As soon as the Olympic issue is resolved, Commissioner Bettman and Daly said the League and the NHLPA would then be able to work on a complete international schedule, which they hope will include the return of the World Cup of Hockey, which hasn't been played since 2004.

"We'll take a look at World Championship participation and we are very much committed, at least at 10,000 feet, to bringing back a World Cup and doing it on a regular basis," Commissioner Bettman said. "Once we get the Olympics figured out we'll start focusing out a long-term, Olympic, World Cup, World Championships, international competition calendar."

Commissioner Bettman also said the League has come up with names for the four divisions that will be in place next season, when the NHL moves to its new, unbalanced, two-conference, four-division setup, but he would not reveal them Wednesday.

"We have decided on names and all those things, and at some point, probably after the Stanley Cup Final is over and at or around or slightly before announcing the schedule, we'll answer that question," he said.

Bettman also said concussions sustained by players were down slightly on a per-game basis this season.

"This is an ongoing effort," he said. "Medical science is continuing to evolve, because nobody has all the answers yet. This is an area we think is vitally important and one we're devoting great deal of energy and resources to deal with."


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