NHL expansion ahead? No, says Gary Bettman
NEW YORK — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is flattered that North American cities without hockey teams are interested in adding one to their towns, but it just isn’t in the plans.
Bettman isn’t quite sure what fuels the talk that the NHL is looking to widen the league beyond the current 30 franchises – he suggested perhaps slow news days in the summer. He is pleased with the health of the league, and there have been no internal discussions about adding teams.
It doesn’t mean that it won’t happen down the road.
”If we go through a formal expansion process, then we will have to evaluate that very question,” Bettman said Tuesday during an interview with The Associated Press inside his Manhattan office. ”What we are doing is continuing to listen to expressions of interest, and we’re pleased that there are lots of expressions of interest, but we haven’t and are not ready to deal with them in a very structured, formal way and make that decision.”
Before any expansion discussions can be held, the NHL will have to decide how many teams is enough, and if adding others will water down the product.
”That would require us to do an analysis we haven’t done,” Bettman said. ”If you look around, there is no list on the wall ranking cities where we’re not. We’re listening. There is apparently a lot to listen to, but at this point that’s all we’re doing.”
And now that the Coyotes are again firmly entrenched in Arizona, there is no immediate risk of any team moving, either.
”There is no reason to relocate,” Bettman said. ”The 30 franchises have never been healthier, never been better owned, never been more stable.”
But back in 2013, the Coyotes were in flux and a candidate to switch cities. A story in the Seattle Times said that the Coyotes were hours and one city council vote away from being sold and packed up to Seattle.
The Seattle Times reported that if the Glendale City Council hadn’t voted 4-3 in favor of an arena lease agreement with IceArizona, buyers from Seattle were in position to buy and relocate the team the next day.
Bettman disputed how close that transaction really was to coming to fruition.
”I think that is a bit of an exaggeration,” he said. ”We were at one point considering options, but it never got that close to anywhere, and Seattle wasn’t the only place that was talking to us. But it made for a good story in Seattle.”
In the 1990s until the turn of the century, the NHL grew from 21 teams to 30 – the most recent additions being the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild in 2000. The last team to move was the Atlanta Thrashers, who relocated to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 2011 and became the second generation of the Winnipeg Jets.