SUN Hockey Pool

Northern exposure

MIKE ZEISBERGER and TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:26 AM ET

ANAHEIM -- Winnipeg over Waterloo?

That certainly appeared to be the inference delivered yesterday by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who seemed to suggest that the possibility of an NHL franchise returning to Manitoba or Quebec City is more realistic than the addition of another team to the southern Ontario market.

In fact, the NHL commissioner seemed to sour on the notion of another team landing in the Toronto area.

"It's not something I've given any thought to," Bettman said. "... I frankly think -- and I live in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area -- that it's tough for all the clubs to get media attention, particularly when they're having tough years on the ice.

"There's some real downside to having multiple teams in one market."

In other words, the commissioner's message seems to be: If Blackberry magnate Jim Balsillie wants to move the Nashville Predators, the NHL would rather they go to Winnipeg than Waterloo, the home of the Research In Motion CEO.

Balsillie's recent purchase of the Predators must still be rubber-stamped by three-quarters of the owners. A vote could come next month.

Either way, Bettman warned that all the talk regarding a potential franchise relocation of the Preds is premature.

"I met with Mr. Balsillie last week and I specifically asked him whether or not he had specific plans or intentions with respect to moving this franchise and he told me that he did not," Bettman said. "So I think there has been entirely too much speculation in terms of what comes next."

The previous time an American-based team moved to Canada was when the Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary in 1980.

"With respect to a franchise returning to Canada, that's something that intrigues me," the NHL commissioner said.

Bettman was asked why he thought it might work in Winnipeg the second time around

"The combination of a salary cap and revenue sharing," he said. "Markets that couldn't afford to compete now can be more competitive. Instead of having teams with payrolls of $20 million US and teams with payrolls at $80 million, we now have a $16-million range within which everybody has to be.

"We also have revenue sharing. Some teams can get double-digit in revenue sharing in any given year."

Bettman was commissioner of the league when the Quebec Nordiques moved to Colorado in 1995-96 and when the Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix a year later.

"We haven't studied Quebec City or Winnipeg or anywhere else in Canada, but the notion that if it could work to put a franchise back in a place where one was lost, feels good -- provided we don't wind up in a situation where we've created a prescription for another failing franchise.

"So intrigued? It's obviously something I've thought about in terms of trying to make right something that one point in our history went wrong."


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