SUN Hockey Pool

Bettman to Winnipeg fans: Be patient

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman gives State of the League address during press conference. (Alex...

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman gives State of the League address during press conference. (Alex Urosevic/QMI Agency)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:32 PM ET

CHICAGO - Gary Bettman had a message for prospective owners and fans in Winnipeg Friday.

Be patient.

In his strongest endorsement of a return of NHL hockey to Winnipeg, Bettman confirmed the interest of Mark Chipman and David Thomson of True North Sports and Entertainment in bringing a team back to Manitoba.

While it looks like the Phoenix Coyotes - the franchise which was moved out of Winnipeg in 1996 - are staying put in Glendale for at least the upcoming season, Bettman confirmed Chipman and Thomson wanted to repatriate the franchise if it was going to be put up for sale.

“They are very comfortable with the process. They understood that the likelihood was that the team was going to be remaining in Phoenix. They wanted us to know of their interest and they have told us that they are prepared to be patient,” said Bettman.

“I’m not going to put a timeline on it because I do not want to raise expectations,” he said. “The interest is clear and bonafide, it’s gratifying. The process by which they’ve been engaged with us is as good a process as they could be involved in.”

Winnipeg has clearly moved to the top of the list in line for a franchise in need of relocation, ahead of Southern Ontario and potentially Quebec, though Bettman said Friday there are no ownership issues at this point and said “the market is not flooded with teams” for sale.

While there have been questions about the suitability of Winnipeg’s MTS Centre for NHL hockey, Bettman termed it “an NHL rink,” Friday.

Putting teams back in Winnipeg and Quebec has apparently become a priority for the commissioner.

“Frankly, if we’re going to move a franchise, there are a couple of places in Canada that I’d like to give my attention, because when both Winnipeg and Quebec lost their franchises it was because - I always talk about three things when talking about franchises: market, building and owner - and both of those teams were moved because two of the criteria went away.

“There was no building and there was no owner; to the extent that those markets are in a position to deal with those issues, I’d like to try to fix something that I wish hadn’t happened in the first place,” he said.

“Not unlike what we did in Minnesota.”

Minnesota lost the North Stars to Dallas in 1993, but was awarded the Minnesota Wild expansion franchise for the 2000-2001 season.

There was other good news for Canadian hockey fans Friday with Bettman confirming reports of the return of the Heritage Classic with the Calgary Flames hosting the Montreal Canadiens in an outdoor game at McMahon Stadium Feb. 20, 2011, subject to approval by the competition committee.

Next year’s Winter Classic will see the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field. Bettman said he expected the Capitals to be awarded the opportunity to host a Winter Classic in the next two or three years.

Also:

- Bettman was clearly ticked off when asked about that article by IIHF communications director Szymon Szemberg, which appeared on the IIHF website ripping NHLers for not showing up for the world championships. Pulling NHLers out of the world championships all together is an option Bettman said he would discuss with the NHL players association. “I’m not happy with the way the IIHF somehow feels it has an entitlement to these great athletes who risk their careers and put themselves out of their own time without anything but love of country,” said Bettman.

- Coming up with a fresh and interesting format for the NHL all-star game (next season’s is in Raleigh) is one of the responsibilities of former player Brendan Shanahan, now the league’s vice-president of hockey and business development. Good luck with that one, Shanny.

- There was a 4% rise in league revenues, thanks in part to the strength of the Canadian dollar. If the NHLPA opts to exercise its escalator clause which boosts the cap by 5%, the combination of the two could see the cap lifted by about $2 million. The cap this year was $56.8 million.

- This year’s schedule will be released June 22.

- The NHL season will start in Europe with Carolina and Minnesota playing in Helsinki Oct. 7-8; San Jose and Columbus in Stockholm Oct. 8-9 and Boston and Phoenix in Prague Oct. 9-10. The schedule will start in North America Oct. 7 with Montreal in Toronto and Calgary in Edmonton.

- Hockey Day in Canada will be Feb. 12, 2011 with the Leafs in Montreal, Ottawa Senators in Edmonton and Calgary in Vancouver.

- Like it did coming out of the lockout, the NHL plans to hold a research and development camp in Toronto Aug. 18-19 to try out different equipment and potential rule changes.


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