Gary Bettman refutes relocation reports
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman refuted reports Thursday that an announcement was imminent on the sale and relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg.
"So people just make this stuff up, right?" said Bettman, who was attending Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals between the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks. "Where's the accountability from all the people who a month ago were saying that Phoenix was definitely going? Whatever is being written [about Atlanta] is being made up."
That's not to say the Thrashers won't move. One well-placed source told ESPN.com earlier Thursday that the Thrashers moving to Winnipeg is a distinct possibility.
But it appears Thursday's reports that a move was imminent were premature.
"The ownership is looking to sell and they have been and that process continues," Bettman said of the Thrashers. "Is there a deal today to sell the club and move it? No."
And Bettman could not guarantee the Thrashers would stay put.
"You know my position on franchise relocation," he said. "But you also know that in the instances where we've moved, it's resulted in instances where nobody wanted to own a club there anymore."
The Thrashers have been unable to find a local buyer, which may lead them to the True North group in Winnipeg. Asked whether the Thrashers and True North had begun talks, Bettman would not comment.
"That I wouldn't comment on one way or another because I don't do that," said the commissioner.
The Coyotes, still owned and operated by the NHL, had been rumored to move to Winnipeg but the City of Glendale voted Tuesday night to insure losses up to $25 million for the NHL while the city continues to try to finalize a sale.
"The city obviously thinks that they are in the position to ultimately get this done," Bettman said. "And when a city is prepared to commit in the way that they did, you stick around and you work with them. You have a municipal building and you have a city that's ready to commit to substantial sums to keep the team there. Despite whatever issues there may be in terms of finishing a deal with respective new ownership, the city has made a real commitment to get this done. On that basis, we thought it was appropriate to deal with this situation for another year in the hopes that the city can get the outcomes it wants."
In the meantime, the fans in Winnipeg can only wait.
"That's the other part of this whole thing that I've objected to. Why raise expectations?" Bettman said of media reports speculating on possible relocation to Winnipeg. "Why should people in Winnipeg on Tuesday night have been sorely disappointed. That wasn't fair and that wasn't right. Glendale had the right to do what it did. They want to hold on to this team. They're willing to pay to hold onto this team."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.