New arena or not, the National Hockey League isn't any closer to returning to Quebec City, says league commissioner Gary Bettman.
In an interview Wednesday on Hockey Night in Canada Radio, Bettman responded to the Tuesday announcement that media giant Quebecor had entered into a 25-year agreement as the official private sector partner in Quebec City's $400-million arena project.
He said Quebec City isn't currently being considered as a potential NHL destination, or any city for that matter.
"They haven't broken ground on a building. Plans are plans until they become a reality," Bettman told HNIC Radio host Jeff Marek and co-host Kelly Hrudey.
"At some point under the right circumstances, I would like to go back to places that we've been before that — at the time — we had no choice but to leave."
The commissioner had another message for Quebec City, which saw the Nordiques leave for Denver in 1995: Don't build a new facility on the NHL's account expecting to be granted a franchise down the line.
In February, Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume said the city and province would split the cost of building an 18,000-seat arena — to be located just outside the downtown area — that would replace the 62-year-old Colisee.
Construction is set to begin at end of 2012 and completed in the fall of 2015.
"I was very careful with the mayor and everybody to say, 'Listen, you're doing this but we're not promising you a team or anything close to that. There's no process in place and there's not likely, anytime soon, to be a process in place to getting a team there,'" said Bettman.
Quebecor, which acquires the naming rights for the new facility, would contribute $63 million if Quebec City were to get an NHL team, or $33 million should it be unsuccessful in achieving that goal. The company would also pay the city a yearly sum of $3.15 million for the right to manage the building's operations.
"I know there are great fans in Quebec City but people in Quebec City shouldn't take [Tuesday's] announcement as any indication that there's a team on the horizon," Bettman said. "I get concerned about expectations being raised."
Fans in Winnipeg, who watched the Jets leave for Phoenix in 1996, were disappointed in December when Glendale, Ariz., council approved a new lease for the Coyotes, clearing the way for sale of the team by the NHL to Chicago businessman Matt Hulsizer.
While Hulsizer said over the weekend he expects his purchase of the Coyotes to close soon, the sale is being held up by the City of Glendale's bond sale, which is being used to finance part of the reported $197-million US package the city promised Hulsizer to convince him to buy the team and keep it in Arizona.