WINNIPEG - Gary Bettman says Quebec City and Southern Ontario shouldn’t hold their breath — they’re not necessarily next in line for an NHL franchise.
The league commissioner says the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Canada is a one-off, not a sign of things to come.
“We don’t believe anyone else should be a franchise relocation candidate,” Bettman said. “This was an Atlanta problem that couldn’t be solved for Atlanta and has nothing to do with anywhere else. And to suggest to the contrary then begins to raise expectations in other markets. And we all know how much fun that wasn’t here in Winnipeg.”
There are other struggling NHL markets in the South, and Tuesday’s news will raise Canadian hopes, particularly in Quebec City, where fans saw the Nordiques leave for Denver in 1995 — the year before the Jets bolted for Phoenix.
But Bettman poured ice water on the suggestion it was only a matter of time before Quebec fans are celebrating in the streets the way thousands of Winnipeggers did, Tuesday.
“First of all, they don’t have a building,” Bettman said. “Secondly, we don’t have a team that we’re planning on relocating. And we’re not planning on expansion. We do not want to raise expectations in Quebec City. That would be very unfair to the people of Quebec City.”
Bettman did, indirectly, offer one word of advice to anyone wanting to land an NHL franchise: the Jim Balsillie approach is probably not a good idea.
Balsillie, the BlackBerry billionaire, is persona non grata in the NHL boardroom, after his blustery, backdoor efforts to buy, first, the Nashville Predators, then the Phoenix Coyotes.
Making no bones about his plans to move whatever franchise he acquired to Hamilton, Balsillie tried to get the Coyotes through bankruptcy court, even taking season-ticket deposits before he owned the team.
“Quiet, behind-the-scenes patience tends to work better than the alternative,” Bettman said, praising the approach taken by Winnipeg owner Mark Chipman, whose group’s ticket drive begins Wednesday. “He waited for the announcement.”