WINNIPEG -- As NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made his tour of the League during the first week of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there was one question he says he heard more often than any other: Would he be in Winnipeg on Monday?
Commissioner Bettman was indeed at MTS Centre to witness Game 3 of the Western Conference First Round series between the Winnipeg Jets and the Anaheim Ducks, marking the return of NHL playoff hockey to the city after a 19-year absence.
"I'm here just to witness what I think will be a wonderful, emotional and exciting evening," Commissioner Bettman said about 90 minutes prior to puck drop. "I know that this has been a night that was 19 years in the making and you can feel the energy in the city. It's palpable."
Commissioner Bettman was accompanied by Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and Executive Vice-President, General Counsel David Zimmerman.
"We're here because we want to be," Commissioner Bettman said. "There's no place else we'd rather be tonight."
Commissioner Bettman immediately credited True North owners Mark Chipman and David Thomson for the successful return of the Jets to Winnipeg in 2011, 15 years after the original Jets moved and became the Phoenix Coyotes, now the Arizona Coyotes.
Asked what stands out about the Winnipeg market today, Commissioner Bettman said it wasn't anything that was surprising in any way.
"What stands out isn't something that is an epiphany," he said. "The fact is this has always been a market that we knew was passionate about hockey. The team, when they left, was a victim of circumstances. The government agreement was over, there was no prospect of a new building, there was nobody that wanted to own a team here. That's why I opened by saying that without Mark Chipman, David Thomson, this building and the great fans, who wanted a team all those years and have been waiting 19 years for this playoff game, that's what brought it back together."
Commissioner Bettman was asked to give an update on the season-ticket drive being conducted by Bill Foley in Las Vegas and he said he had heard it was going extraordinarily well. He said he expects to be briefed fully prior to the Board of Governors meeting in June, that he would report the progress to the board at that time and the next step, if indeed there is one, will be determined then.
But Foley's efforts also have a link to what has happened in Winnipeg in that he can look here for inspiration should he ever need to introduce NHL hockey to the Las Vegas market.
"My guess is Mr. Foley in Vegas had some conversations with Mark Chipman about the mechanics of doing a season-ticket drive," Commissioner Bettman said. "Obviously the timeframes are a little different because here it took 20 minutes, but everybody knew a team was coming. What they're doing in Las Vegas to gauge interest is ask people to commit and give a deposit on a franchise that doesn't exist.
"But I think in terms of introducing a team to a market, whether it's an introduction or a re-introduction, I don't know how anyone could have done it better than the Winnipeg Jets."