Over the years, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has made it clear he wants a hockey franchise in Arizona. On Friday, Bettman double down on his position.
“It’s a good market, and if we can make it work, we’ll make it work,” Bettman said during his annual state of the league news conference ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Bettman’s reaffirmation of the NHL and the Arizona Coyotes’ commitment to the Phoenix area comes more than two weeks after voters in Tempe made it clear they were not in favor of building a new arena and entertainment district.
With the setback, the Coyotes plan to play at the 5,000-seat Mullett Arena on the campus of Arizona State University for the 2023-24 season.
Bettman did acknowledge there will likely be some bumps along the road in the process of finding a long-term home for the Coyotes.
“We’ve had our challenges,” he said.
The commissioner added that the results of last month’s vote surprised him and left him feeling disappointed, but he was not caught off guard by the voters’ decision.
“Team-related referendums in all sports don’t do well,” Bettman said. “The Islanders did one (in 2011), and it lost. They got their building. When we were looking at Columbus for an expansion, that building referendum went down.”
At the opposite end of the NHL spectrum are the Ottawa Senators, who are close to being sold for what Bettman expects will be around $1 billion — “give or take.”
“I’ve always felt that we’ve been undervalued, so this, to me, is just an affirmation that our franchises are more valuable than Forbes or Sportico or many investment bankers have said,” Bettman said. “Our competitive balance is extraordinary, and that should somehow be equating to higher values, and I think you’re beginning to see that.”
When the Stanley Cup Final between the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights concludes, Bettman may meet with executive Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville, whom he must reinstate for either to take another job with a team.
Bowman resigned as Blackhawks GM, and Quenneville as Panthers coach in October 2021 after an investigation into Chicago’s 2010 sexual assault scandal revealed their roles in the team mishandling the situation.
Bettman said Bowman and Quenneville each requested a meeting and that his office told them he’d deal with them after the playoffs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.