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Bettman: Phoenix situation 'fixable' due to arena, fans

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"What you don't do is just abandon places to go somewhere else because somehow you think you have a divine right to a franchise in a particular place. This is about a league structure and a covenant that every game has to have with its fans. Otherwise you don't have the stability you need to stay in business. To portray the whole debate as anything else does a disservice to the fans of the game."
-- Gary Bettman

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spoke passionately on his weekly radio show Thursday about how the League's case involving the Phoenix Coyotes and BlackBerry magnate Jim Balsillie is solely about the rules and regulations and has nothing to do with the city of Hamilton, Ont.

"This is about League rules and every sports league has got to have them," Bettman said on the "NHL Hour on Sirius/XM radio" (streamed every Thursday on NHL.com, 3 ET). "The two most important issues for any sports league is who owns your franchises and where they are located. Anybody suggesting the issue is beyond that doesn't understand the way leagues work and doesn't understand me, quite frankly. Efforts to vilify the league or me are silly. It doesn't have any impact."

Bettman suggested there are cities where teams could be placed, "but that's not something you do by taking franchises away from where they are."

"When you have fans invest in a franchise emotionally and financially, you just don't give up on them when times get tough," Bettman said. "If the standard was, 'When times get tough' we would have been out of Chicago for Pete's sakes. We would have been out of Ottawa, Buffalo and Pittsburgh, and they were all situations that were fixable."

The commissioner feels the situation in Phoenix is "fixable" because there is a brand new arena in the Glendale and a passionate fan base in the growing Phoenix area.

"I know people will point to Winnipeg and Quebec, but let me refresh recollections," Bettman said. "In both of those cities the buildings were old and antiquated and the current owners at that time didn't want to own them anymore. Despite all the efforts to find buyers for those franchises, we couldn't find them to keep them there. There was no prospect of new buildings and those teams couldn't survive in the buildings they were in. That's why the franchises moved.

"There is a brand new building in Phoenix. There are people that are supportive of the franchise and want to keep it there."

He again stressed that the League's fight to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix, or out of Hamilton, is not about Balsillie, who has been thwarted in his previous attempts to purchase an NHL franchise.

"I never personalize this because it's not personal," he said.

"What you don't do is just abandon places to go somewhere else because somehow you think you have a divine right to a franchise in a particular place," Bettman added. "This is about a league structure and a covenant that every game has to have with its fans. Otherwise you don't have the stability you need to stay in business. To portray the whole debate as anything else does a disservice to the fans of the game."
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