Gary Bettman said on Friday he didn't want to raise expectations, but made some of his strongest comments yet in favour of seeing NHL hockey in Canadian cities other than the current six.
The commissioner touched on a variety of issues while meeting for his annual address to the media on the eve of the first game of the Stanley Cup final on Saturday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7:30 p.m. ET).
He referred to the league's 30 franchises as stable and said that the "market is not flooded with teams" for sale, contrary to some media reports. He also expressed interest in seeing teams return to Winnipeg and Quebec City before another one ever comes to Southern Ontario.
Bettman still regrets allowing the Jets and Nordiques to move.
"I'd like to try and fix something that I wish might not have happened in the first place," he said. "Not unlike what we did in Minnesota."
The commissioner also confirmed that Canadian billionaire David Thomson and Mark Chipman recently made an offer to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and move them back to Winnipeg. The league had that as a backup plan in case the city of Glendale wasn't prepared to cover the team's losses next season.
Bettman believes Thomson and Chipman will wait for another opportunity.
"They are very comfortable with the process," he said. "They understood that the likelihood was that the team was going to be remaining in Phoenix. They wanted us to know of their interest and they have told us that they are prepared to be patient."
He's reluctant to say how long it will be before the NHL makes a return to Winnipeg.
"I'm not going to put a timeline on it because I do not want to raise expectations," said Bettman. "The interest is clear and bonafide. It's gratifying."
Bettman also questioned whether NHL players should continue participating in the IIHF World Hockey Championship.
The NHL commissioner is still steaming more than a week after the International Ice Hockey Federation published an article on its website that was critical of players who didn't participate in this year's tournament in Germany. The story, written by IIHF communications director Szymon Szemberg, named Sidney Crosby, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Backstrom and others directly.
Bettman responded with a veiled threat Friday during his annual state of the league address prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, suggesting that he'd like to speak with the NHL Players' Association about future involvement in the tournament.
"At some point when we're engaged on really substantive issues with the players' association I am certain that will be on the list of things we talk about," said Bettman.
The commissioner referred to the issue as one of his "hotspots" and got quite animated while discussing it. He feels it's the latest in a pattern of disrespectful behaviour by the IIHF.
"I'm not happy with the way the IIHF somehow feels it has an entitlement to these great athletes who risk their careers and put themselves out of their own time without anything but love of country," said Bettman.
Among the other items Bettman discussed:
- The salary cap will likely rise by roughly $2 million for next season.
- The annual New Year's Day outdoor game will be held in Washington in the next two or three years.
- Different proposals are being considered for a change to the format of the all-star game.
- Next season's schedule will be released on June 22, a couple weeks earlier than normal.
- The league plans to hold a research and development camp in Toronto on Aug. 18-19 to test equipment and potential rule changes.