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Given the relentless flow of NHL expansion stories in recent days despite scant real evidence the league is ready to move, no one could blame commissioner Gary Bettman if he started pounding the walls when the topic came up yet again.

He clearly felt like it on Monday when he sat down at the PrimeTime Sports Management Conference in Toronto for an interview in front of an audience of sports industry professionals.

"Why is that? Why is that?" Bettman said, in a raised tone of exasperation that was only partly put on, when interviewer Gord Miller of TSN raised the question.

The most recent fuss erupted last week when a New York Post story implied a franchise for Las Vegas was practically signed, sealed and delivered. The Post said a group that included the Maloof brothers, who once owned the Sacramento Kings of the National Basketball Association before falling on hard times, and financier William Foley, chairman of Fidelity National, would be the owners. And the NHL was also said to have already decided on an expansion fee of $400-million (all currency U.S.).

Feeding into this were remarks by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly about details of the Las Vegas market, such as it being a unique market that has a lot of tourists and "also has pretty strong local demographics, too."

The only trouble, aside from vehement denials by Bettman and Daly that any sort of expansion is imminent, is that this scenario is 180 degrees away from how the NHL has always handled expansion. When the league expanded from 21 teams to 30 between 1993 and 2001, it followed the same process: Ownership groups and cities lobbied the league for years, the league studied each owner and each market and then, at the annual board of governors meeting in December in a carefully orchestrated presentation, the winning cities and owners were announced. The governors did not say, "hey, we've got someone building a rink in Vegas, let's get an owner in there."

"I know it's been widely reported there's a deal and there's going to be a vote," Bettman said, referring to Las Vegas and the December governors meeting. "There won't be any votes. All I will do is continue to report on the levels of interest being expressed."

At this point, NHL governors, who will not speak on the record because Bettman will fine them for discussing league business, will only say there are no concrete plans for expansion because of factors outside of the league's control. The biggest one is that while there are people who also want to put an expansion team into Seattle, the arena situation there is unsettled because efforts to land an NBA franchise have stalled.

Ideally, the NHL would like to solve the imbalance between the Western Conference, which has 14 teams, and the Eastern Conference, which has 16, by adding two teams in the West.

So the best hopes of hockey fans in Quebec City, where an arena is expected to be finished in 2015, lie in relocating an existing team, possibly the financially struggling Florida Panthers. But don't talk to Bettman about the Panthers or the Arizona Coyotes, another chronic money-loser, moving North.

"The Panthers have good ownership that's committed to South Florida, and any speculation that this team's future is anywhere other than South Florida is unfounded," Bettman said.

Seattle and Las Vegas may be the current expansion favourites, but some league insiders doubt that Las Vegas, which plans to have an arena ready by the 2017-18 season, is a good hockey market.

And Bettman says he and the league owners are not itching to get the conferences balanced just to get their hands on expansion money.

"You don't expand and make an important business judgment just for notions of symmetry," Bettman said. "What you look at is market, arena and ownership – ownership probably being the most important – then you decide. If it made sense at the appropriate time and we're comfortable it advances the growth of the game, we'll take a good, hard look at it."

This might mean expansion will come before sponsor logos appear on team sweaters, another topic that grew legs when John Collins, the NHL's chief operating officer and marketing boss, recently said they were coming. Maybe so, Bettman said Monday, but not any time soon.

"If everybody's doing it and it's a boatload of money, you have to at least consider it," Bettman said. "We'll have to be dragged; we won't be initiating it. It's not something that's a front-burner issue for us. We'll watch what's going on in other sports."

When it comes to NHL players participating in the 2018 Olympics, Bettman said he and league governors "really haven't thought about it. We're more focused right now with the [Players' Association] on the World Cup."

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