SUN Hockey Pool

Bettman on board?

CHRIS KITCHING -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:58 AM ET

By softening his stance on Winnipeg's chances of again becoming an NHL city, commissioner Gary Bettman has spurred local fans' hopes of once again calling a franchise their own.

It may be a pipe dream, but, for the first time, Bettman publicly said something positive about Winnipeg's potential, even though it was just a tiny nugget of an offering.

He made the remarks during Wednesday's NHL all-star game broadcast on CBC-TV.

"Even though we haven't done the homework, I believe, in an ideal world under the partnership we have with the players and the salary cap, that Winnipeg probably could support an NHL team," Bettman told Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean.

Whether Bettman was being genuine in his comments or playing to the Canadian audience is anyone's guess.

Regardless, Manitoba Moose governor Mark Chipman, who is interested in bringing the NHL here, said he is encouraged.

"Mr. Bettman's assessment is consistent with the conclusions we have arrived at after examining the NHL's new framework for ourselves," Chipman said in a statement. "We have been and will continue to be proactive in our attempts to explore this matter with the NHL."

"What the commissioner said, in my mind, I find very positive," Mayor Sam Katz said.

"That's certainly a good step because you certainly want the commissioner on side."

Earlier this week, media mogul David Asper told a Toronto radio station he would be interested in backing Chipman's efforts if such efforts exist. Both Asper and Chipman attended the all-star game in Dallas.

Bettman, however, did not say if Winnipeg is actually on the league's radar. The league seems more intent on growing the game in America than expanding in Canada.

It will take more than a change of heart from Bettman to get a franchise in the River City.

Private investors -- be it an individual or a group -- must pony up millions to relocate an existing team or to start one from scratch if expansion is approved.

Such a deal would require the participation of Chipman's True North Sports and Entertainment, Katz said. The company owns MTS Centre and its tenant, the AHL's Manitoba Moose.

One thing that works in the city's favour, pundits and now Bettman say, is the CBA, which is favourable to small-market teams. Player salaries are controlled by a salary cap, and a revenue sharing system is in place.

Whispers around the NHL suggest the league is considering future expansion, although it's a topic the league's governors have not discussed.

One idea being circulated is the addition of two new teams, with the league moving to a balanced two conferences with 16 teams in each. MacLean suggested Winnipeg and Halifax during the interview.

Speculation pegs the Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators as two franchises that could become candidates for relocation. Both teams don't have a solid fan base and are struggling to make a profit.

Despite leading the league in points, Nashville ranks near the bottom in home attendance.

Predators owner Craig Leipold wants to sell up to 40% of his stake, but no buyers have shown interest, according to a report in The Tennessean.

Leipold told the newspaper he does not want to move the team to Kansas City, which has been a rumoured destination if the Penguins leave Pittsburgh.


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