Bettman to keep all 30 teams

Bruce Garrioch, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:49 PM ET

MONTREAL - Standing in the building where the NHL was born in 1917, commissioner Gary Bettman maintained nobody is on death’s doorstep. After wrapping up the NHL’s board of governors meetings at the historic Windsor Hall (formerly the Windsor Hotel), Bettman told reporters all 30 teams are going to survive the economic challenges the league is facing and he’s confident no teams will have to be moved or relocated.

Speaking to reporters following the annual meeting on the NHL’s all-star weekend, Bettman admitted the Phoenix Coyotes need an infusion of cash, but doesn’t believe any of the struggling clubs are on life support and claimed a second team in Toronto has never been discussed.

But, the Coyotes aren’t the only ones facing issues. The Nashville Predators have discussed the possibility of buying up empty seats in their building so they can qualify for revenue sharing while Atlanta, Florida, Tampa Bay and several markets are plagued by empty seats.

“What we’ve done in the past is faced our problems and fixed them,” said Bettman, who add the Coyotes will be bring in a partner. “We have a pretty good track record of fixing franchise’s that get themselves in trouble. Sometimes franchise’s get into trouble. Winnipeg and Quebec got into trouble because there were no new buildings and nobody wanted to own teams there anymore.

“That was unfortunate. I regret that. But, it was over and nobody wanted them. We try not to abandon our franchise’s. If there’s a problem, we try to fix them. I just urge a little restraint on suggesting we’re contracting because we’re not and that teams are going to relocate because they’re not. There’s a lot of different reasons why franchises get in trouble. We go in and analyze the problems, then we see if we can fix them.”

Bettman was taken aback by a suggestion from NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly Friday that he “would not at all be surprised to see a team move in the next five years. Maybe more than one.”

“First of all, I don’t know what he’s basing that on and I’d be surprised if he has a bigger body of information with respect to our franchises than I do,” said Bettman. “I’m not so sure if that type of conversation by anybody is constructive as it relates to the ongoing operations of club’s.

“Fans invest in our club’s financially and emotionally and anytime somebody casts doubt on a franchise’s viability, I don’t think that’s good for the franchise and I don’t think it’s fair to our fans.”

Bettman also took a dig at Blackberry billionaire Jim Balsillie when it was suggested he would be the man to bring a second team to the Toronto area.

“Nobody has been identified as a potential owner and nobody has a divine right if we’re going to do that franchise,” said Bettman. “Frankly, if we’re going to put a franchise there we’re going to look at anybody and everybody who is interested and pick the person who we think would be best.

“We haven’t done a formal market study, but intuitively my guess is that it might work. You can’t make a billion dollar decision _ when you’re talking about buying a team and building a building _ on intuitive instinct. If we open it up, we will look at all comers and see what might make sense.”

Bettman said he plans to meet with the NHLPA about the decision to hold back 25% of player salaries for escrow in case there’s a shortfall in hockey revenues. He believes that number is too high.

“I don’t think it’s necessary and I’m questioning why the players are going to be engaged in that level of forced savings,” said Bettman.

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca _ 30 _


Photos