NHL expansion update from Gary Bettman: We’re listening

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There’s no ranking. No list. No line. No formal order of National Hockey League expansion destinations.

That’s according to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday, speaking after the Board of Governors meeting in Pebble Beach.

Has there been expansion discussion? He won’t say. Will the NHL listen to pitches from potential expansion cities?

“We listen when somebody wants us to listen. That's all [I’m saying],” said Bettman.

Seattle, Quebec City and Toronto are at the forefront of the NHL expansion chatter, which wasn’t exactly tempered when the League realigned into conferences of 16 and 14 teams. Because we’re not math majors, but to balance those conferences …

What Bettman would confirm is that expansion won’t happen for the 2014-15 season – despite reports to the contrary – and that the League has talked with potential expansion cities.

But here’s the thing with the NHL: Just like they have criteria for relocation, they have criteria for expansion. The NHL reiterated today that any market seeking a team needs to have financially stable ownership and a building in place.

To that end: Toronto has a building teams could share, but the challenges in building the Markham arena have slowed that project. Seattle’s challenge is getting the same public funding committed to an arena for a primary NBA tenant for an NHL one. Quebec is building a new arena, although they also violated the golden rule of Gary Bettman, which is “don’t build it on the assumption you're getting a team."

Is expansion going to happen? Of course. The League feels it’s stronger than it’s been at any point in Bettman’s tenure. There isn’t a revenue vein the owners aren’t going to tap, from outdoor games to the World Cup to the revenue windfall of Canadian expansion. As for Seattle, the League loves it from a demographic and geographic standpoint.

It’s just a question of when. And Bettman was quick to note the passage of time in his comments.

"We've gone from people saying we should relocate to talk now of expansion,” he said, before ripping off his suit and taking a victory lap.

(We assume … it was an audio feed.)

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