Gary Bettman said that the Islanders need a new arena and was lukewarm on the idea of relocating franchises to Winnipeg and Quebec City in an impromptu state-of –league press conference between periods of Monday afternoon at the Nassau Coliseum, .
Bettman also touched on the quality of play in the season’s opening week, stating that “the game’s good. The games are exciting.”
The commissioner said he wasn’t bothered by the announced crowd of 11,748 at the Coliseum for the renewal of New York’s urban and suburban hockey rivalry because “when you schedule a weekday afternoon game when a lot of people are working, you are going to have a disruption of some schedules. I’m sure there are some season ticket holders that may not be here but it’s a decent crowd,” before reiterating the Islanders need for a new arena.
“There’s nothing new, obviously. This team desperately needs a new building. The lease will expire at some point. The team will not stay in this building. Charles Wang has spent eight years and close to $20 million in the pursuit of a new building without success. It is up to Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead to take the lead on this,” Bettman said pointedly. “At some point the club is going to have to explore its options.”
During training camp, Wang told reporters that he had not spoken with Town of Hempstead supervisor Kate Murray regarding the long-proposed Lighthouse Project but that a recent proposal put forth by Murray was “not economically viable.” Wang later added that Bettman had told the Islanders owner ‘the biggest asset you have is an expiring lease.’ The Islanders lease at the Coliseum expires in 2015.
One of the options that the franchise and league could face is one of relocation, and there are cities that have publicly stated their interest in housing a NHL franchise. Among those municipalities are Quebec City and Winnipeg, which lost the Nordiques and Jets, respectively, to Denver and Phoenix in the NHL’s Great Sun Belt Expansion of the 1990s.
When asked by Metro about what the league and the Board of Governors would need to see from Quebec City and Winnipeg in order to place franchises in those cities, Bettman said, “First of all, we’re not going to expand in the foreseeable future and we’re not looking to relocate any teams soon. If a franchise were to come available, there are people who are interested in behalf of Quebec City. But they need a new arena, also. Winnipeg (is) a little bit different. They have a building (and) ownership.
“But we don’t expect to move (franchises).”
Bettman was asked about the obscene gesture Islanders defenseman James Wisniewski made towards Sean Avery in the first period of the Islanders 6-4 win. Bettman said he “didn’t see it—I heard about it — and my guess is hockey operations will do what they think needs to be done.” Wisniewski was suspended for two games on Tuesday afternoon.
Bettman also said that the league is “not getting involved in (the) process” as it pertains to the NHLPA’s expected vote of Don Fehr as its new head.