NHL is holding its own economically: Bettman

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman touched on a number of economic themes at a news conference Saturday following a meeting with league governors.

Ontario not in line for another franchise, commissioner believes

The Phoenix Coyotes need money but aren't going anywhere.

The Nashville Predators are not involved in a ticket scam.

The National Hockey League is holding its own in turbulent economic times, and has not looked into having another team in southern Ontario.

Those were some of the themes NHL commissioner Gary Bettman touched on at a news conference Saturday following a meeting with league governors.

On the issue of Phoenix, it is no secret the team is being propped up by the NHL. But Bettman said there are no plans to relocate the Coyotes, or any other franchise for that matter.

"There are some issues out there," Bettman said. "They are not on life support and there are come cash flow issues.

"We are helping them out. But let us be perfectly candid: Phoenix needs an infusion of capital and I believe that will happen."

As for the Predators, Bettman talked about reports the team would consider buying their own tickets in order to meet the 14,000 average required to qualify for a full portion of the NHL revenue-sharing pool.

"They did not do it last year and they have not done it this year. We monitor very closely how clubs report [revenues],'' he said. "We are not going to encourage anyone to play games with the rules, in particular how it relates to revenue sharing."

As for a second team in southern Ontario, Bettman said that's not on the radar screen.

"My gut sense is when you look at that market there are a lot of people who like hockey in that vibrant, rich market. But it is not that simple," he said.

Hamilton would need new rink

Bettman didn't mention Hamilton's Copps Coliseum by name but said the NHL has no interest in having a team in an "antiquated building."

"So assuming we ever went down that road, we would be talking about building a new building," he said.

"Ownership is important and nobody has been identified as a potential owner and nobody has divine right [a slap at Jim Balsillie, perhaps — the owner of Research in Motion has been aggressive in trying to land a franchise] if we are going to go into that market."

Pressed about the possible sale and relocation of teams in Florida, Tampa Bay, Nashville and Phoenix, Bettman  said nothing is in the works.

"If we get to the point that we are moving a franchise or we plan to expand, neither of which we are doing right now, we will study it and look at all comers," he said.

If Balsillie, for example, were to finally buy a team and make plans to move into southern Ontario, he, as a new owner, would have to be approved by a 75 per cent vote of the board.

No club (i.e. the Toronto Maple Leafs) has a veto over a proposed move, the commissioner said.

'Real' growth

As for the NHL's current economic status, Bettman pegged "real" growth at one per cent this season. That figure plays an important role when it comes to determining how much of their salaries players will put into an escrow account.

For the first half of this season, each NHLer has had a 13.5 per cent deduction taken from every pay period as an escrow payment. But there are suggestions the bi-weekly deduction is expected to immediately jump to 25 per cent.

"I do not think that amount is necessary," Bettman said.  

As far as next season goes, Bettman said, one economic barometer is playoff ticket sales this season.

"We will keep an eye on playoff tickets," the commissioner said. "That is the first indication of what we expect in the future."