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Gary Bettman "intrigued" with idea of NHL returning to Winnipeg

Bettman, in his state-of-the union address to the media before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, referred to an editorial in a Canadian newspaper he read this week which suggested that if the NHL did add another Canadian team it should go back to Winnipeg first because they have a new building and the NHL owes it to them.

"I'm not opining on whether or not that's an opinion that I agree with, but it is an interesting and intriguing thought," Bettman said in a comment that raised eyebrows.

While he stressed that there really hadn't been that much thought put into it at this point and that he had no plans for any current NHL teams to re-locate or for the league to expand, he does see the chance for Winnipeg to get a team back one day.

"When we had the chance to go back to Minnesota, we did. Because it made sense, the right ownership, the right building situation," said Bettman. "The market was strong and vibrant. We haven't studied Quebec City or Winnipeg or anywhere else in Canada, but the notion that if it could work to put a franchise back in a place where one was lost, feels good - provided we don't wind up in a situation where we've created a prescription for another failing franchise.

"So am I intrigued? It's obviously something I've thought about in terms of trying to make right something that one point in our history went wrong."

The Jets left Winnipeg for Phoenix after the 1995-96 season. Bettman believes the salary cap and revenue sharing facets of the new collective bargaining agreement provides a chance for a market like Winnipeg to make a go of it.

But another team in Toronto? Bettman is not a fan of that idea, despite the fact there are three clubs in the New York/New Jersey area and two teams here in Southern California.

"It's not something I've given any thought to," Bettman said of having another team in Toronto. "... I frankly think, and I live in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, it's tough for all the clubs to get media attention, particularly when they're having tough years on the ice.

"There's some real downside to having multiple teams in one market."

The message seems clear from the commissioner: if Jim Balsillie wants to move the Nashville Predators, the NHL would rather have them move to Winnipeg than Waterloo, Ont., the home of the Research In Motion CEO.

But Bettman also said too many people are wrongly assuming the Predators will move.

"I met with Mr. Balsillie last week and I specifically asked him whether or not he had specific plans or intentions with respect to moving this franchise and he told me that he did not," said Bettman. "So I think there's been entirely too much speculation in terms of what comes next."

Balsillie's purchase of the Predators still needs owners' approval, a vote that could come later in June.

Bettman also addressed:

-Rick Tocchet, who last Friday in New Jersey pleaded guilty to promoting gambling and conspiracy to promote gambling in a plea deal. He has been suspended by the NHL from his job as Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach since the investigation opened in February 2006. The NHL is also still doing its own investigation.

"I'm not really in a position to say what's going to happen until there's a complete disposition of his case and until our independent investigator has had an opportunity to interview him, finish interviewing some other people, and then present his report," said Bettman. "At that point I'll be able to make a determination in terms of what his status should or should not be."

-Bettman said he expects league revenues to have increased between 6.5-7 per cent this season, which means the $44-million salary cap will likely rise to between $48 million or $49 million for next season;

-More games in Europe or an increased presence in Europe will also continue to be a focus for the NHL.



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