TORONTO – NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly gently deflated any hope former Hartford Whalers owner Howard Baldwin had of reviving his long-lost franchise, saying on Tuesday that he could not “foresee a situation where there will be another Hartford Whalers in Hartford.”
Baldwin has spoken openly of his desire to place another NHL franchise in the Connecticut city. It’s been 13 years since the Whalers moved to North Carolina, where they became the Hurricanes.
A news conference to outline plans for a new outdoor skating rink, with the goal of generating interest in another NHL team, is planned for Wednesday in Hartford.
“Howard remains a good friend of the league,” Daly said Tuesday. “We are in regular communication—not constant—so I wish him well in whatever he intends or hopes to do.”
Daly, speaking to reporters at a news conference held to help publicize this summer’s World Hockey Summit in Toronto, said a number of factors are still working against Hartford in any quest to land another team. The main one, he said, is its need for a state-of-the-art arena.
Some of the most recent conversations between Baldwin and the NHL have revolved around the Whalers’ logos and trademarks, which Daly said belong to the league.
“Am I optimistic?” Baldwin told The Hartford Courant in March. “I’m always optimistic. I just hope everybody sees the wisdom in what we’re trying to do and all work together.”
Daly said he would not be in attendance for any news briefing in Hartford, in no small part because he plans to be in Philadelphia for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final.
“I know Howard has an interest in bringing a minor-league team to Hartford,” Daly said. “That’s the extent of my knowledge.”
Franchise location has been a hot-button issue for the NHL for more that a year, since Research In Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie launched a renegade bid to buy the Phoenix Coyotes out of bankruptcy court last spring. He failed, but the future of the team remains a going concern.
“Look, it’s been true that, since we’ve come out of the work stoppage, that there’s been a lot of cities—and a lot of potential owners—interested in owning National Hockey League franchises,” Daly said. “That’s good. That’s gratifying and, given the appropriate circumstances, it could come to fruition.”
And he gave no hint whether the pursuits of any suitors would bear fruit any time soon. Winnipeg, Hamilton and the Greater Toronto Area were the Canadian markets mentioned most during the Balsillie-backed bankruptcy hearings last year.
The Coyotes finished fourth in the Western Conference this season, but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Detroit Red Wings.
“We remain committed to the markets we’re in,” Daly said. “We want to make every effort to have viable and stable franchises in those markets. We owe it to those fans and those communities who have invested a lot in those franchises.
“If, ultimately, it doesn’t work, then you have to move the franchise. But I don’t think we’re in any market in that situation right now.”