Sports

NHL not ready to expand: Gary Bettman

By Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun

Don Cherry and Gary Bettman at the Canadian Club of Canada at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto on Monday, September 22, 2014. (Dave Thomas/Toronto Sun)

Don Cherry and Gary Bettman at the Canadian Club of Canada at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto on Monday, September 22, 2014. (Dave Thomas/Toronto Sun)

TORONTO - 

There are those of us who feel Southern Ontario already has a second National Hockey League team — the Buffalo Sabres.

Admittedly, there’s that whole “going through customs” deal. Yes, it can be a pain.

But does it count that you can see the First Niagara Center from the shores of Fort Erie? Is that close enough?

For many fans and business types on this side of the Golden Horseshoe border, the answer is ‘no.’ In their minds, nothing short of adding another NHL franchise to the GTA will suffice.

Fair enough. They are entitled to their opinions.

But it’s a good bet they will not be encouraged by the comments from commissioner Gary Bettman, who seemed to pour cold water over the concept of the Maple Leafs sharing the Toronto area with an incoming NHL team.

Speaking at the Canadian Club of Canada luncheon on Monday, Bettman once again reiterated his comments from a couple of weeks ago that the NHL “is not looking to expand anywhere right now.” There are no plans for any franchise relocations either, added The Commish.

But it didn’t end there.

Indeed, Bettman then brought up his concerns about having two teams in the same general market.

“If we decided that we were putting a second team in (Toronto), and the year the team was supposed to start, (what if) the Leafs won the Cup?,” Bettman asked. “If the Leafs won the Cup, it would be like the second team didn’t exist.”

Bettman was quick to point out that this was a “hypothetical” scenario. As it related to a second GTA team? Or the Leafs winning the Cup? Maybe both? You be the judge.

“There have been Leafs families that go generation to generation to generation,” Bettman explained. “When a market gets divided there’s not as much attention on the second team, no matter how well it performs. Even if the first team isn’t having tremendous success, the second team won’t get premiere coverage.”

Bettman’s point is clear: The additional attention the Rangers get over the Islanders and Devils or, for that matter, the Yankees over the Mets, are two examples, in the New York area alone, of the imbalances that take place in multi-team markets.

“The second team will never quite get the premium coverage,” Bettman said. “It would be like the new team didn’t exist.”

Interestingly, Bettman’s comments came on the same day that a report on TSN.ca featured Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos saying a second GTA team would encounter significant obstacles.

In the story, Karmamos used the baseball example of how both the Giants and Dodgers eventually moved out of the New York area to California after always playing second fiddle to the Yankees.

“You can’t guarantee that you’d be a revenue contributor in Toronto,” Karmanos said. “History has always shown other teams haven’t been able to match up even in the biggest media market in North America.

“No matter what (the Giants and Dodgers) did they were second fiddle to the Yankees,” Karmanos added. “Then you have the New York Islanders and Rangers. No matter what the Islanders do they are second fiddle to the Rangers. It’s why another team wouldn’t move to Detroit. Because short of winning the Stanley Cup you would never replace the Detroit Red Wings.

“I don’t care where a second team in Toronto might play, the Maple Leafs are in the hearts and minds of all those people... I would feel sorry for a second franchise there.”

In summation:

Peter Karmanos would feel “sorry” for a second franchise in Toronto.

And Gary Bettman has issues with multi-team markets.

Doesn’t sound like the NHL is ready to print tickets for the Markham Make-Me-Laffs, does it?

“We’re not looking to expand right now. No teams will be relocating,” Bettman said.

“I know people think I have this list (of expansion teams) tucked away in a vault. I don’t.”

And even if he did, would “GTA” be scribbled on that piece of paper as a potential landing spot?

Likely not. At least that’s the impression you get after listening to The Commish’s words on Monday.

Road trip to Buffalo, anyone?

SO YOU’RE SAYING THERE’S A CHANCE?

Could a second franchise one day come to the GTA without the approval of the Maple Leafs?

It certainly seems that way.

According to commissioner Gary Bettman, an expansion franchise requires a three-quarters vote from the owners.

“Nobody has a veto,” Bettman said.

Under that logic, the Leafs could cast a ‘no’ ballot and still could be overruled if enough ‘yes’ votes are accrued.

In other words, the second franchise apparently would not necessarily need the Leafs approval.

Interestingly, during Jim Balsillie’s pursuit of putting a team in Hamilton, the Leafs maintained a unanimous vote would be required in order for a second franchise to be approved in their territory.

Of course, given that Bettman took a “glass-half-empty” approach to the possibility of a second franchise coming to the GTA during his appearance at the Canadian Club of Canada on Monday, the Leafs don’t appear to have to worry about that possibility for a while — if at all.

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