Bettman: More interest in Coyotes than ever

Just two days after FOXSportsArizona.com’s Craig Morgan reported that at least three ownership groups are pursuing a potential purchase of the Coyotes, possibly under pressure from the NHL due to a desire to move forward after four years without an owner, Commissioner Gary Bettman said Sunday that the league is not yet exploring relocation and has recently received more interest in the team than ever before.

Bettman, speaking at the league’s announcement of the 2014 Winter Classic, spoke at length about the Coyotes’ situation, as reported by Yahoo Sports’ Nik Cotsonika. With investment professionals George Gosbee and Darin Pastor both submitting ownership paperwork this week, long-involved suitor Greg Jamison still in the mix and one-time frontrunner Matthew Hulsizer possiby still involved, Bettman said interest in the franchise isn’t an issue.

“There seems to be more interest at this particular point in time than we’ve seen throughout the process,” Bettman told reporters.

And he made it clear that, at least at this point in time, the NHL still has every intention of finalizing a deal to keep the team in Glendale.

“We’re not planning on moving Phoenix as we stand here today,” Bettman said, according to Cotsonika. Asked if a decision on relocation was imminent, he responded, “No. When it becomes imminent, we’ll tell you. We apparently aren’t operating on the same time frame that a lot of (reporters) are.”

This despite widely circulated reports that the league intends to either complete a deal to keep the team in the desert or begin exploring relocation options by the start of the NHL playoffs on April 30, now less than four weeks away.

“We haven’t been exploring the alternatives,” Bettman said. “We are exploring everything we can do to work this out, and there seems to be considerable interest. If you go through the history of this, there have been lots of reasons — not excuses, but lots of reasons — this has taken a lot of time. There seems to be now, in the calm of the moment, a lot more interest than we’ve ever seen.”

Bettman also confirmed, as was stated in the FOXSportsArizona.com report, that the league will be selecting an ownership bid to pursue before approaching Glendale to work out a lease agreement, which has long been a stumbling block to completing a sale. Jamison worked out a deal with the city last year but, following the NHL lockout, was unable to complete the purchase of the franchise from the league.

“I’ve been in regular touch with the mayor, and we agreed that when we get a framework lined up, then we would come see the city,” Bettman told reporters. “We don’t want the city to have to expend resources and time getting involved until there’s something concrete to present to them.”

Much of the questioning beyond the details of the current state of the ownership search focused on Seattle, often cited as the likely landing spot if the Coyotes were to relocate. A Seattle-based group has been attempting to purchase and move the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and is developing an arena that could support both professional basketball and hockey.

And while Bettman’s initial comments downplayed the possibility of relocating the Coyotes, his comments on Seattle left room for speculation.

“The research I’ve seen tells me that it would be a very strong hockey market,” Bettman said, according to the Yahoo report. “I haven’t looked at it in detail, but it’s all anecdotal and third hand. Obviously, if there were a team in Seattle, it might foster a pretty decent rivalry with the northern neighbor, namely Vancouver.

“But that doesn’t mean that anybody should take from that comment that we’re necessarily focused on Seattle or we’re planning on expanding there. You asked the question about Seattle. I wouldn’t have raised it. But it’s obviously an interesting market.”