Steadfastly refusing to address reports regarding a potential return to Winnipeg, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reiterated today that the league is still committed to keeping the troubled Phoenix Coyotes in Arizona.
Appearing on Toronto radio station the Fan 590 this afternoon, Bettman was asked if tonight's Game 4 against the Detroit Red Wings could be the Coyotes' final game in Phoenix.
"It's not really a fair question," he said. "And the speculation that we've been holding some announcement waiting for them to stop playing is absolutely wrong. We're still focused on trying to make it work in Phoenix.
"And I hope we're successful. Obviously when the Goldwater Institute killed the deal, it was a huge setback. Nobody expected them to do that. We didn't think it was right that they did it, but the focus is still on making it work.
"Do we have an infinite amount of time? The answer's obviously not. But we haven't been holding an announcement waiting to see when the Coyotes are done playing, I assure you of that."
Bettman then declined to confirm reports he is has been in discussions with True North Sports and Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman about a possible "Plan B" option that would see the Coyotes relocated back to Winnipeg.
"I'm not going to either confirm or deny that," Bettman said. "I think it would be fair to say that I don't have the deal for the club to go anywhere else right now. If I had to get to a deal at some point, my guess is I could probably arrange it.
"You would be terribly disappointed at us and the way this league runs if you think we would just back ourselves into a corner and not have some options out there. But Plan B has not been effectuated."
The Winnipeg Jets originally moved to Phoenix in 1996 as part of the NHL's increased presence in the U.S. Sun Belt, but without a single playoff series win and millions in losses every season in Arizona, the team is now in jeopardy of leaving.
The league currently owns the team but must sell it in the near future, and a municipal bond deal that was supposed to pay for Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer's purchase is in jeopardy due to opposition by a conservative watchdog group known as the Goldwater Institute.
The City of Glendale and Goldwater have a meeting scheduled for tomorrow afternoon to try and find common ground on the deal.
Bettman acknowledged a final decision on where the team will play next season is coming relatively soon. The NHL's schedule was released on June 22 a year ago, two weeks after the end of the playoffs, and that could serve as the final deadline this summer.
"Obviously at the point we issue a schedule for next season, we're going to have to know where the team is playing," he said. "So you can back it up from there. At some point, because we don't do the schedule in 24 hours, but we have some flexibility. Frankly, I don't think setting a deadline right now would serve any useful or constructive purpose. Quite frankly, I'm not operating under a deadline right now."
Other highlights from Bettman's interview:
- On Goldwater: "If the deal collapses, they may never have to prove they were right, unless somebody sues them for some sort of interference notion. But that's what caused the deal to go sideways. What the City of Glendale has been doing, with our help and with Matt Hulsizer, is trying to figure out another way to do this where it doesn't involve having to sell the bonds in a way that the Goldwater Institute can interfere."
- On the media attention: "Whether or not we have a deadline or the Coyotes are staying or going, that's pure speculation by anyone right now, including me."
- When league will reveal its plans: "I've never gotten into discussions about what we're doing. When I have something definitive to announce, I'll announce it. And part of this is, I don't want anybody's expectations getting raised. It's not really fair and I don't want people's expectations to be deflated in one place and raised in another when it may be completely wrong in both places."