Who Is Gary Bettman Kidding With the Talk of Winnipeg?

Steve ThompsonAnalyst IIIMay 19, 2009

LAS VEGAS - APRIL 06:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during a news conference discussing the 2009 NHL Awards at the Ghostbar at the Palms Casino Resort April 6, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The 2009 NHL Awards will be held at the Palms on June 18, 2009.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

So Gary Bettman is now calling the good citizens of Winnipeg to come to his aid, saying that if the Phoenix Coyotes must move to Canada, he prefers Winnipeg to Hamilton.

This is nothing but a ploy to divide Canadian opposition and make himself seem less anti-Canadian.

He knows very well that Winnipeg doesn't have an NHL-size arena.  Their new arena only seats 15,000 which 1,500 less than the New York Islanders, which has been condemned by its owner, Charles Wang, as being too small.

Hamilton's arena, which Bettman claims is "too old" (an odd argument considering that Calgary and Edmonton's arenas are older) holds 17,000 seats and can be expanded to hold 200 luxury boxes against Winnipeg's 62. 

There is also $50 million pledged to upgrade it.  There is no comparison.

The only drawback to Hamilton as opposed to Winnipeg is that there is compensation to be owed to Toronto and Buffalo.  But there have been settlements arranged before.

Anaheim-Los Angeles and New York-New York-New Jersey all reached a settlement.  There is no reason to think that something can't be worked out now.

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Mentioning Winnipeg is a remarkable turn for a commissioner who allowed the Jets (and Quebec and Hartford) to move so easily.  I don't recall him putting up the roadblocks to relocation that he has done with Nashville and Phoenix.

If he really loved Winnipeg, the way he now says he does, why didn't he search for new investors, facilitate the building of an NHL-size arena, or use legal obstacles to prevent the Jets from relocating way back then?

There is also a precedent of moving to Canada.  The Atlanta Flames were moved to Calgary with all the quiet efficiency that characterized Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford's move.

John Ziegler was head of the NHL then and offered no opposition to another Canadian team.

Balsillie may be head-strong, but something can be worked out if Bettman and the owners want it.  He is actually doing them a favour by returning some of the principal of their lost investment.

The NHL is also losing additional money in the court costs for this legal battle.

If Bettman really wants to blunt Canadian opposition, expand the league to a symmetrical 32 teams like the NFL and realign the league into two conferences of four divisions of four.  Then Balsillie could apply for a new franchise and come in through the front door, which Bettman claims is the main reason for the dispute.

He could make the new franchises conditional that the city has or is committed to build a proper NHL-size arena.  Then you would see the true competitors who really want an NHL franchise.

Probably that would whittle the candidates down to four; Hamilton, Kansas City, Hartford, and Oklahoma City.

You wouldn't see Winnipeg on the horizon.