NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has brought us a lot of controversy in his tenure. He has presided over three lockouts, a cancelled season, and is reviled by a healthy majority of hockey fans. His plans have often run against the wishes of the fans, but have increased hockey’s profile in the world of professional sports.
When Bettman and the league chose to reconfigure the conferences last season, there was a noticeable difference in the realignment. The Western Conference had two teams less than the East. This fueled speculation that the NHL was likely to take on two more clubs in the next year or two. Bettman had gone to Seattle to take a look at plans of starting a franchise there. Old school hockey venues, like Hartford, Connecticut and Quebec City were on the map again for being cities that could once again have a NHL franchise.
At the beginning of the year, Bettman seemed happy to add more teams to the league. Five months later, he’s apparently changed his tune. When the commissioner was at the media day for the Stanley Cup Finals, he talked about issues that affected the league. While the topic started on the reduced rate of concussions, the topic soon m0ved to expansion. When asked if there would be more teams, Bettman flat out denied any immediate expansion in the NHL.
Bettman did offer some commentary on what was the leading contender for an expansion franchise at the start of the year. “Seattle, which seems to have the most number of people interested, the fact is there’s no building that’s on the horizon. The person who controls the rights to build a building in Seattle is intent upon having an NBA team before he builds a building. Based on what’s happened to date and the fact that his partner has now bought a different franchise, I don’t know that there’s any prospect of a building in Seattle.
It’s nice that there’s interest, but there’s really not a whole lot for us to do with it.”
While Seattle was now out of the running, members of the media asked if there would be a possibility of a Canadian franchise getting the nod. The example they chose to use was Quebec City, former home to the Quebec Nordiques. They even offered to Bettman that they had a building ready to go. (Not to mention a very active fan base who would love to see their team playing again.)
Bettman said no to that as well, but for slightly different reasons.
“That would cause us to have yet another team in the East. I’m not even sure how we deal with it. I think if, in fact, we get to a point where there’s enough interest in enough places that it warrants consideration, then the Board of Governors may well invoke a formal expansion process and we’ll look at everything. I don’t think this is something you do on a piecemeal basis.”
If that line of thinking had been imposed earlier in Bettman’s tenure, the whole Arizona Coyotes fiasco may never have occurred.