Nenshi and Gary Bettman offer differing takes on March arena meeting

Naheed Nenshi has a different recollection of a meeting he had with Gary Bettman last March — different from the NHL commissioner's memory of that chat.

Incumbent mayoral candidate and NHL commissioner tell stories of tough talk over Flames future

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Naheed Nenshi have different recollections of a meeting the two had back in March over Calgary's need for a new arena. (Chris Young, Canadian Press/CBC)

Naheed Nenshi and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman are offering differing recollections of a meeting they had together last March.

Media reports on Thursday had Bettman saying when he told Nenshi in the meeting that the end result of failed arena talks might be the Calgary Flames leaving town — Nenshi said to him that they will have to move.

Bettman also reportedly said he knew at that moment there was no prospect of the Flames' owners getting a new building in Calgary.

At the time, Bettman said it was vitally important Calgary get a new arena to replace the 1983-vintage Saddledome and open up new revenues for the NHL team.

'End of my political career'

Nenshi, who is currently seeking re-election as Calgary's mayor, says his memory of that meeting is quite different. 

Nenshi says if there was any blunt talk in that meeting, it came from Bettman.

"He suggested that if the team were to move, if I screwed this up, then that would likely be the end of my political career and it would destroy Calgary," said Nenshi.

Nenshi said he responded with a little tough talk of his own.

"I responded: 'You know what? Nothing's going to destroy Calgary. Calgary is very resilient.' And yeah, it would be awful if we weren't to come to a deal and it would be awful if the team found greener pastures everywhere but it's not going to destroy the city."

However, the overall tone of the meeting was cordial.

"It was fine. He wasn't a jerk at all. Very, very professional laying out his point of view and I did just the same," said Nenshi, recalling the meeting ended with a handshake and Bettman handing him his phone number, saying "let's keep talking."

Bettman involved before

When Flames CEO Ken King announced earlier this month the team's ownership was no longer interested in pursuing a new arena, Bettman was on hand.

The NHL commissioner warned there would be "consequences" if the Flames couldn't get a new arena built in Calgary.

The city's position in arena negotiations has been that there must be public benefit for any public money put into the half-billion-dollar project.

The Calgary Saddledome was built in 1983. The Flames' ownership group and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman have said the team is in need of a new arena and speculated, and if that didn't happen, the team could potentially move to another city. (CBC)

King said the Flames' negotiating team walked out of a closed-door city council meeting on July 31, as there was no point in continuing the talks.

Both the city and the Flames have publicly released their offers

Time for mediation? 

Nenshi says the city is willing to return to the table at any time. 

He's even speculating about what might make that process go better should Calgarians return him as mayor in the Oct. 16 election.

"Maybe we need fresh faces at the table. Maybe we need some mediation," said Nenshi. 

"Certainly Mr. Bettman has tried to personalize it, making it about me, although I'm not the one doing the negotiations."

Top city managers are the ones involved in the talks with the Flames.

Flames no longer in NHL top 10

Earlier this week, King said the Flames are no longer among the NHL's top 10 revenue-earning teams.

Nenshi said Thursday that's true — the team is actually 11th in the 31-team league.

He said with additional revenues from a new arena, the Edmonton Oilers have traded places with the Flames.

The Oilers now sit in 10th spot.