Bettman says Coyotes, Panthers safe from relocation; NHL expansion possible

SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 4: Florida Panthers visiting mascot Claude marvels at his reflection in the glass prior to the start of the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the BB&T Center on April 4, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

TAMPA – The Arizona Coyotes and the Florida Panthers are safe.

That’s according to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who spoke about the plights of the NHL clubs scrutinized by those who believe the relocation of a struggling franchise is inevitable.

The Coyotes operating losses continue to mount, and there has been some political posturing locally in an attempt to void the arena deal the team struck with the city.

“There have been lots of stories written. Based on our ongoing dialogue, they have a lease that’s in full force of effect. They’re obligations are being met currently. The club is not going anywhere,” said Bettman of the Coyotes.

He also lamented the fact that there’s still coverage of the team’s financial plight.

“It’s unfortunate there still seems to be some level of distraction in covering the club,” he said.

As for Florida, where the NHL will hold its entry draft later this month, Bettman said owner Vincent Viola has the commitment and the resources to commit to make the Panthers a success.

“They’re on the absolute right track,” he said.

Bettman also addressed the single-tweet rumor covered by Sports Illustrated that an NHL team would relocate by the end of June.

“There were some rumors we were made aware of in the last few hours that a club was going to relocate by the end of June. That is not going to happen. The Panthers are not filing of bankruptcy. I don’t know where these stories come from, but they’re not true,” he said.

As for NHL expansion, the potential ownership group in Las Vegas led by Bill Foley announced they have over 11,500 season ticket deposits.

“It’s his process. He was the one testing the marketplace,” said Bettman. “Assuming that number is accurate, and I have no reason to doubt that, it seems that his effort has had some degree of success.”

Seattle, another potential expansion site, is a little more cloudy. The potential arena site was cleared in a Final Environmental Impact Statement, and arena rights holder Chris Hansen said he would support allowing an NHL team in the arena before an NBA occupant.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Seattle remains up in the air as an expansion option. “I think the real hitch there is who has the rights to the arena, and who wants to get it built. It continues to be a very uncertain situation,” he said.  “The building has to happen if there’s going to be a team there.”

Making that building happen would be easier if the person funding it also wanted to own an NHL team.

“To this point, [Hansen] has expressed zero interest in owning a professional hockey team,” said Daly.

So what’s next? Well, Bettman will present the latest info on potential expansion to the Board of Governors later this month.

“If the Board has any interest in pursuing it, then my recommendation to the board will be to begin a formal expansion process,” he said.

But even if the Board of Governors is down with that, it might not mean NHL expansion is here.

“Even if they green light a formal expansion process, that doesn’t mean we’re going to expand,” said Bettman.