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Commissioner: NHL cautious about expansion, relocating franchises

Says preference is to keep teams where they are

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika / Columnist

MONTREAL -- The NHL is being cautious about further expansion and wants to keep current franchises where they are, Commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday.

Answering questions at a Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal luncheon celebrating the NHL's 100th anniversary, Commissioner Bettman said the NHL was assimilating its 31st team, the Vegas Golden Knights, which began play this season, and had 16 teams in the Eastern Conference, 15 in the Western Conference.

"We're not going to expand just to satisfy notions of symmetry," the Commissioner said. "[We're] being very careful, very cautious. We'll be very deliberate if we go through another expansion process, but I can't tell you today that that's something we're going to run off and do. If the circumstances dictate consideration of another expansion team or opportunity, then that's something that the [Board of Governors] will ultimately look at at the time."


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In a press conference afterward, Commissioner Bettman was asked about interest in the NHL from Houston and Quebec City, and teams looking for new arenas such as the Arizona Coyotes, Calgary Flames, New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators.

"It's great to know that there are lots of places that are interested in having a franchise that don't, but we're not running around actively soliciting interest," the Commissioner said. "We listen to whoever wants to come to talk to us, and we're aware of the interest. But our preference is to have our franchises right where they are, and to the extent some franchises need new facilities, we're hoping that they can achieve that result where they are."

Video: GMs gather at historic Windsor to celebrate 100 years

Tilman Fertitta, owner of the NBA's Houston Rockets, has declared interest in putting an NHL team in Toyota Center.

"As I've mentioned before, I'm very interested in the possibility of bringing the NHL to Houston, but it will have to be a deal that works for my organization, the City, fans of the NHL throughout the region, and the NHL Board of Governors," Fertitta said in a statement on his verified Twitter account Thursday. "We are in the very early stage of evaluating what opportunities may exist but look forward to a thorough process."

Commissioner Bettman would not confirm or deny meeting with Fertitta.

"I don't like speculating about things that may or may not happen," the Commissioner said. "If at some point in time there's real interest and the circumstances are right, we'll take a look at it. That's as far as it goes right now."

Commissioner Bettman reiterated the NHL's position on Quebec City and the Videotron Centre.

"The city and the province chose to build a building, and we told them every step of the way we are not promising you a team," the Commissioner said. "If you build the building, you need to build it with the understanding that you might never get a team. That doesn't mean they'll never get a team. That means we made no commitment whatsoever."

Commissioner Bettman also said during the luncheon that when he started in 1993, NHL revenues were about $430 million, and this season the League will generate revenues between $4.5 billion and $5 billion.

"That's a testament to everybody who's involved in this endeavor," the Commissioner said. "It's a testament to the players, and the players have done well as well."

Commissioner Bettman said the average salary when he started was about $300,000 and it's more than $3 million.

"Any system that is going to work to make a sport strong has to be fair to everybody," the Commissioner said. "But in the final analysis what makes the system work is that it's good for the fans, because all of our teams can afford to compete and be competitive, which is why we have extraordinary competitive balance."

Commissioner Bettman said during the press conference that the NHL tried to schedule an outdoor game in Montreal this season to celebrate the League's founding here on Nov. 26, 1917.

"Unfortunately, the city of Montreal does not have a facility that would have enabled us to put on an outdoor game," the Commissioner said. "It's that simple."

Commissioner Bettman said it wasn't only a question of the size of Percival Molson Memorial Stadium, which seats about 25,000. It was the infrastructure needed to stage a regular-season NHL game, from locker rooms and training rooms for the players to restrooms for the fans.

"We looked at everything, including a pop-up stadium," the Commissioner said. "You've got to remember: These are real games, played under conditions that generate points that could mean the difference in making the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs. We looked at all of our options, and it wasn't feasible to do it. … My events people were ready to have me thrown out of the window of my office, because we pushed very, very hard, and it just didn't work."

Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson hasn't given up hope for an outdoor game in the future.

"We did work very, very hard to try to make this work, and we will continue to work hard to make something work," he said. "We just weren't able to fit it into the Centennial year."

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