Bettman promises all teams will survive downturn

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:50 PM ET

MONTREAL -- Standing in the building where the NHL was born in 1917, commissioner Gary Bettman maintained none of its teams is on death's doorstep.

After wrapping up the board of governors' meetings at the historic Windsor Hall (formerly the Windsor Hotel), Bettman vowed all 30 teams will survive the economic downturn -- and that no team will have to be moved.

Bettman, however, admitted the Phoenix Coyotes need a cash infusion, but doesn't believe any of the league's struggling clubs are on life support. He also said a second team in Toronto has never been discussed.

The Coyotes aren't the only team facing a cash crunch. The Nashville Predators have discussed buying up empty seats so they can qualify for revenue sharing. Atlanta, Florida, Tampa Bay and several other markets are also plagued by empty seats.

"What we've done in the past is faced our problems and fixed them," said Bettman, adding the Coyotes will bring in a partner. "We have a pretty good track record of fixing franchises that get themselves in trouble.

'REGRETS' IN CANADA

"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 franchises. 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."

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

"I don't know what (Kelly'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 ... is constructive as it relates to the ongoing operations of clubs.

"Fans invest in our clubs 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 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 (another) franchise (in the Toronto area), we're going to look at anybody and everybody who is interested.

"We haven't done a formal market study, but intuitively my guess is that it might work. (But) you can't make a billion-dollar decision -- when you're talking about buying a team and building a building -- on intuitive instinct."

Bettman also plans to meet with the NHLPA about the decision to hold back 25% of player salaries for escrow in case there's a revenue shortfall. Bettman 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."


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