Maple Leafs fans outside the Air Canada Centre. (David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Gary Bettman was speaking in Toronto on Monday and when the topic of expansion/relocation came up, he shot down the idea the league was actively looking for new markets. And as for a second team in Toronto, the commissioner seemed to have some reservations.
On Monday, Gary Bettman was at the Canadian Club in Toronto where he was interviewed by new Hockey Night in Canada front man George Stroumboulopoulos and then took questions from the crowd. Some of the discussion focused on the new deal with Rogers and how the game would be presented, the health of the league and collective bargaining. Of course, expansion/relocation was also a point of discussion and Bettman, again, shot down the notion that the league is currently looking at new markets.
"The fact is this is the most stable our franchises have ever been, the healthiest we've been as a league, but we're not looking to expand right now," Bettman said. "No teams are relocating. I happen to take my two days on vacation this summer and see this article that came out of the West Coast saying we're in expansion mode and we're going to sell four teams. OK, so that disrupted one of the two days having to issue denials.
"The thing that offended me most about the article is it underpriced franchises too much.
"I'm not suggesting that at some point in the future we might not look at it, but we're not ready to do it now."
(Remember this "the league has never been healthier" talk when the current CBA ends and the NHL starts saying the sky is falling and franchises are in financial distress.)
Bettman went on to say that while there certainly are cities interested in talking to the NHL about acquiring a franchise, the league itself hasn't even begun the most basic research into starting an expansion/relocation process.
"I know people think I have this list tucked away in a vault with cities lined up," Bettman said. "We don't. At such point in time where we say 'you know what things are good, things are where we want them to be, we're growing nicely, no franchises have any issues, we're getting expressions of interest from theses four, six, eight places, which we are now, OK, let's have a formal expansion process.' It's at that point we'll study each opportunity and we'll look at who the potential owner is. We'll look at the market. We'll look at the arena. We'll look at the overall balance of the league.
"This is an important business decision if you're going to expand. In addition to being one involving a lot of money it's a fundamentally important decision if you're going to do that. And we haven't gone anywhere near the effort that I could try to answer your question because we just haven't done the work involved, which I guess is an indication to all of you that we haven't been in a formal expansion process."
And of course, being in Toronto, the conversation eventually turned specifically to a hypothetical second team in the Great Toronto Area. Bettman himself broached the subject and hit on the same kind of points Carolina owner Peter Karmanos did when he said he'd "feel sorry" for a second team in Toronto. It's like the league has its talking points figured out when it comes to shooting down the idea of putting a second team in hockey's biggest market.
"Where you see markets with two teams or three teams, you know, the first team can do pretty well and the second team not as much even if it has on-ice success and the third team about the same.
"Just a hypothetical so nobody gets too excited about what I'm going to say, in two respects. If we decided that we were putting a second team in Ontario and the year the team was supposed to start, the Leafs won the Cup, that second team wouldn't exist. That's part of the dynamic because the attention gets diluted either two ways or three ways and when you have historically established teams with great histories and traditions the second team, even if the first team isn't having tremendous success at the time, the second team will never quite get the premier coverage."
So there you have it - a rough day for anyone hoping a second Toronto team was on the way soon. Still, we've heard the league shoot down relocation before, only to move Atlanta to Winnipeg. And we've heard the league talk about how stable all its franchises were, when we know places like Arizona and Florida face significant struggles.
What do you think? Could a second team in Toronto work?
Here's the full Bettman interview: