According to an article at Montrealgazette.com, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has once again denied that the league is considering expansion, and went so far as to call the recent report of a four-city expansion a "complete fabrication." Bettman also said that there are no teams looking to relocate, saying "our franchises have never been healthier."
Do I believe him? Yes. Yes, I do -- and no. No, I don't.
I believe that the NHL's franchises have never been healthier. However, were I to say that every NHL franchise is too healthy to move to a better market some day, I would not be able to do so with a straight face.
I also believe the league is not officially considering expansion right now, especially to four cities, but there is too much smoke in the air to not have a fire burning somewhere out of sight.
Too many reporters, including Chris Daniels, have reported that the league is salivating over Seattle and would love to place a new team there some day. Did Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly personally accompany an ownership group to meet with officials in Seattle because they didn't have enough to do during the Stanley Cup playoffs?
This discussion led to what is, in my opinion, the main reason why expansion isn't formally being considered yet. The SoDo arena MOU, which has no "NHL first" scenario, is still under review with no firm end date.
What really struck me in this article was Bettman's primary irritation: the rumored expansion fees.
On Wednesday, Bettman called the report a "complete fabrication," and took issue with the franchise fees cited in the story - US$1.4 billion, or $350 million per team.
"The part of the story that I found particularly difficult is: suggesting that we would sell four franchises for $1.4 billion is way too low," Bettman said. "It undervalues our franchises."
All this tells me is that expansion won't be considered unless the price is significantly higher than most have been thinking about. If an expansion fee of $350 million makes Bettman scoff, how much higher would it have to be? I'm guessing that potential Seattle investor Victor Coleman has been given a ballpark figure in private.
Just as with the NBA, I continue to believe that expansion is a serious discussion behind closed doors at the NHL league office. There I go again, being the blind optimist.