NHL 'not ignoring' Montreal as league celebrates centennial: Bettman
Commissioner says league wanted outdoor game but city lacks suitable venue
The NHL wanted to hold an outdoor game in Montreal to mark its 100th anniversary but couldn't find a suitable venue, commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday.
Holding an outdoor game indoors at the domed Olympic Stadium would be absurd, while Percival Molson Stadium, which is 102 years old, was too small and antiquated to stage a regular season hockey game in the cold.
"We're not ignoring the occasion," said Bettman. "Everyone seems to be focused on why didn't we have an outdoor game.
"We couldn't do it. We wanted to. We tried, but it just didn't work."
There was some grumbling this week that the league wasn't doing enough to celebrate the centennial of its founding on Nov. 26, 1917 at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal.
There was a general managers meeting in a ballroom at the former hotel, now an office and condo complex called Le Windsor, followed by the unveiling of a plaque marking it as the site of the league's birth. Bettman later spoke at a chamber of commerce luncheon.
There is also a display of portraits of the top 100 players of the last 100 years and other activities, with appearances of some star players from the past.
New stadium 'vital' to Ottawa's future
That was enough for Chuck Fletcher, the Montreal-born GM of the Minnesota Wild.
"I think it's pretty cool coming here to the Windsor Hotel," said Fletcher. "I'm a big historian, so I love this stuff."
Bettman said the league had already honoured the Montreal Canadiens 100th anniversary in 2009 by holding its entry draft and all-star game at Bell Centre.
The commissioner also addressed the status of Quebec City, which has a new rink and now wants to bring back NHL hockey, and Ottawa, which has a team but wants a new, downtown rink to replace Canadian Tire Centre, which is far from the city centre.
The Senators hope to convince various levels of government to help build a new arena at LeBreton Flats downtown.
"They know that the useful life of the Canadian Tire Centre is nearing its end," Bettman said. "And in terms of young people and the next generation of fans, I think a downtown arena is vital to the future of that franchise.
"[Senators owner] Eugene Melnyk is working very hard to make LeBreton Flats a reality and if it can be a reality, and we're hoping it can, I think it would be extraordinarily positive, not just for the Senators but for Ottawa."
No promises for Quebec City
He said he never promised a team for Quebec City and cautioned that it is difficult to get a franchise back once a it leaves a city, as the Nordiques did when they moved to Denver in 1995.
Of note was that Canadiens owner and president Geoff Molson confirmed that he would not ask for any payment for territorial rights should Quebec City get a new team.
"And I can confirm that Geoff has never raised that issue with me," said Bettman.
Bettman would neither confirm nor deny a report this week that he had met with the owner of the NBA's Houston Rockets, Tilman Fertitta, who hopes to attract an NHL team to the 17,800-seat Toyota Center.
That would provide an option for teams looking to move or give an outlet to clubs looking to pressure government to fund arenas.
The league is believed to be interested in adding a 32nd team, preferably in the west to balance its two conferences. Seattle has been mentioned as an expansion candidate, but Bettman said that while it is good to know there are cities interested in getting an NHL team, he is not looking to relocate any club.
"We believe in all the places we have franchises now," he said. "We think all are capable of supporting our clubs.
"We're not looking to threaten markets, but there is a certain inevitability if a club needs a new arena to stay competitive and viable that, if it can't for whatever reason get a new facility, then at some point ownership has to look at what options it may have."
The chamber of commerce event included a panel discussion featuring Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon and his Montreal counterpart Marc Bergevin. Tallon kidded Bergevin about the relative lack of pressure working in Florida rather than hockey-mad Montreal.
"Some nights you have more media here than we have fans," said Tallon. "And some don't know a puck from a football."
"Dale, who is extremely witty and can be very funny, was making a joke," said Bettman.