Gary Bettman on Coyotes sale: more interest than ever before

DETROIT – NHL commissioner Gary Bettman continues to insist that the league is not exploring the relocation of the Phoenix Coyotes and there are multiple parties that could buy the team. In fact, he said Sunday that action is hotter than ever before.

“There seems to be more interest at this particular point in time than we’ve seen throughout the process,” Bettman said Sunday.

Of course, this is the same commissioner who scorned speculation that the Atlanta Thrashers would relocate – right up until the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets. Of course, this is the same NHL that has owned the Coyotes, covered their losses and failed to sell them for years. And of course, just because the action is hotter than before doesn’t mean it will be hot enough for a deal.

But give Bettman a few things: As a lawyer, he is precise with his language. He is difficult to pin down, and he is persistent.

“We’re not planning on moving Phoenix as we stand here today,” Bettman said.

As we stand here today …

Is any decision imminent?

“No,” Bettman said. “When it becomes imminent, we’ll tell you. We apparently aren’t operating on the same time frame that a lot of [reporters] are.”

What is your time frame?

“One that works on getting this project completed in a successful way,” Bettman said. “This is a work in progress, and it remains such. We’re continuing to work on it, and there are a number of things that are in play.”

In a successful way …

Bettman said that means keeping the Coyotes in Glendale, Ariz.

“We haven’t been exploring the alternatives,” Bettman said. “We are exploring everything we can do to work this out, and there seems to be considerable interest. If you go through the history of this, there have been lots of reasons – not excuses, but lots of reasons – this has taken a lot of time. There seems to be now, in the calm of the moment, a lot more interest than we’ve ever seen.”

Bettman declined to give details about the suitors. Asked about Glendale and negotiations toward a new lease agreement for city-owned Arena, he said: “I’ve been in regular touch with the mayor, and we agreed that when we get a framework lined up, then we would come see the city. We don’t want the city to have to expend resources and time getting involved until there’s something concrete to present to them.”

Has Bettman been following the NBA’s board of governors and the decision whether to move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle?

“Just from afar,” Bettman said.

Would that affect Phoenix, because an NBA and NHL team could play in a new Seattle area?

“Not really,” Bettman said. “Phoenix is Phoenix. I assume the NBA board of governors will make whatever decision they think is in the best interest of the league and the franchise involved.”

Asked about Seattle as a potential NHL market in general, Bettman spoke highly.

“The research I’ve seen tells me that it would be a very strong hockey market,” Bettman said. “I haven’t looked at it in detail, but it’s all anecdotal and third hand. Obviously if there were a team in Seattle, it might foster a pretty decent rivalry with the northern neighbor, namely Vancouver.”

There was a pause and awkward silence after that. Bettman seemed to realize how that might come across, not only because of the Coyotes, but because of a new realignment of the league that seems destined for 32 teams.

“But that doesn’t mean that anybody should take from that comment that we’re necessarily focused on Seattle or we’re planning on expanding there,” Bettman added quickly. “You asked the question about Seattle. I wouldn’t have raised it. But it’s obviously an interesting market.