Bettman: NHL still committed to keeping Coyotes in Arizona after arena referendum failed

Commissioner Gary Bettman says the NHL is still committed to Arizona after Tempe voters rejected a referendum for a Coyotes arena
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks prior to Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals...
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks prior to Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals between the Florida Panthers and the Vegas Golden Knights, Saturday, June 3, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)(AP)
Published: Jun. 4, 2023 at 10:36 AM MST
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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Commissioner Gary Bettman says the NHL is still committed to Arizona after Tempe voters rejected a referendum for a Coyotes arena.

Bettman said the team is looking at other areas around Phoenix for a long-term home.

“It’s a good market, and if we can make it work, we’ll make it work,” Bettman said. “We've had our challenges."

Bettman, who held his annual state of the league news conference Saturday before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers, said he was surprised and disappointed but not shocked by the result of the vote last month.

“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.”

The future of the Coyotes is now a major question as they go into a second season playing at a 5,000-seat college rink on Arizona State’s campus.

Marty Walsh, who took over as executive director of the NHL Players' Association, said members of the Coyotes have expressed concerns about the current arena setup and wants answers about a more permanent solution.

The Coyotes thanked those who voted yes and said the future of the team is to be determined.

“If we don’t have, in the near future a new location, we have to have a serious conversation,” Walsh said after Bettman's news conference. “These players can’t continue to play in a college hockey rink as National Hockey League players. You just can’t do it. It doesn’t look right. It doesn’t feel right.”

Asked Saturday why the league has been so patient about keeping the Coyotes in Arizona amid turmoil over the years from ownership changes to arena uncertainty, Bettman pointed to the size of the market and the team being a bit of a “victim of circumstance.” While there were questions raised about interest for a team in Quebec City or Salt Lake City — or a second in Toronto — relocation is not currently being considered.

“We’re in a better position to resist moving than maybe we were 20 or 30 years ago," Bettman said. “We want to make sure we explore all options at this stage of where we are before we would consider having to relocate a club, and I’m hopeful we won’t have to.”

At the other end of the spectrum are the Ottawa Senators, who are close to being sold for what Bettman expects will be around a billion dollars — “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 final ends, 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 are over.

HOCKEY CANADA INVESTIGATION

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league's independent investigator has wrapped up work looking into Hockey Canada's sexual assault scandal and expects the NHL will have a report to review in early summer.

The league began the process of holding its own review after news surfaced that Hockey Canada settled a lawsuit with a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by eight members of the country’s world junior team at a gala in 2018 in London, Ontario. Several players from that gold medal-winning team are currently in the NHL.

“We have been in contact with the London police and continue to want to be in contact with them, make sure that there’s visibility with respect to what our process is and to the extent we can understand theirs is, that would be the goal,” Daly said. "And then I can’t prejudge what happens from there.”

OUTDOOR GAMES IN NEW JERSEY

The league announced two outdoor Stadium Series games next season in East Rutherford, New Jersey, at MetLife Stadium — home of the NFL's New York Jets and Giants. The Philadelphia Flyers are set to play the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 17 followed by the New York Rangers against the Islanders on Feb. 18.

This is the first time the NHL is playing outside in the state of New Jersey. It comes 10 years after the Rangers played a pair of games, one each against the Islanders and Devils, at Yankee Stadium.

The Rangers played the Buffalo Sabres at Citi Field in the Winter Classic in 2018. This is the Devils' first outdoor game since 2014, and it comes on the heels of their second playoff appearance over the past 11 years.

“When a team is on the rise, we want to showcase them,” NHL senior executive VP and chief content officer Steve Mayer said. “The time is right.”

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Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks prior to Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals...
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks prior to Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals between the Florida Panthers and the Vegas Golden Knights, Saturday, June 3, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)(AP)
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks prior to Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals...
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks prior to Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals between the Florida Panthers and the Vegas Golden Knights, Saturday, June 3, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)(AP)
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks prior to Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals...
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks prior to Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals between the Florida Panthers and the Vegas Golden Knights, Saturday, June 3, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)(AP)