NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had planned to be at the Canadian Tire Centre on Monday night for the game between the host Senators and the visiting Florida Panthers.
The fact he met with Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe and the National Capital Commission representatives before the game was merely “courtesy calls.”
Following his day at City Hall and reviewing the proposed site for a potential new downtown arena, Bettman met with the media at the CTC and offered very little with regards to the sale of the NHL franchise, saying only that there are about half a dozen candidates still in the mix to purchase the club.
“I would categorize both meetings as very constructive and an opportunity to get better acquainted, and to make sure the lines of communication are open,” Bettman said.
He described the process for the sale of the franchise as “robust” and that the level of interest expressed has been “meaningful.” Bettman also said it should take about another six weeks to be finalized. He did add that midsummer is the likely time frame for final approval.
“Hopefully once the lawyers get their hands on doing what needs to be done with whoever the successful bidder is, then once we go through the league’s approval process, we’re looking at sometime in early or midsummer to complete the process,” he said.
“To make things crystal clear, and I’ve said this repeatedly, if the team is going to move, the only move that will be permitted is downtown. The Senators are not leaving Ottawa.”
There has been a lot of speculation as to the number of potential bidders and what their intentions may be, but Bettman has said on a couple of occasions that the number is around six, and that it will be up to the new ownership group as to where, in Ottawa, the team will play.
“I’m not running the process. We’re consulting with the process and we’re not on the clock. The goal is to get it right and if it takes a little longer, it takes a little longer. This isn’t a race,” Bettman said.
Sutcliffe stated publicly once again that he is not in favour of using taxpayers dollars to help fund a privately held arena, wherever and whenever that may be.
“It’s very early in terms of we still don’t know who is going to own the team and what their plans are. The team could stay here [in its current location] and build in the parking lot here and tear down this building as many sports franchises have done,” Sutcliffe said.
“There are other sites in Ottawa if the new owners decided that Lebreton Flats wasn’t for them or if they couldn’t work out an agreement with the NCC.
“There are lots of options and it’s healthy for us to look at it that way. I’ve said all along though, and my position has not changed, I do not support the City of Ottawa writing a cheque to contribute tens or hundreds of millions of dollars toward a privately owned arena. It’s not something I support, but at the same time I am one vote on city council and there are lots of different ways this could unfold.”