ARIZONA COYOTES

NHL committed to keeping Coyotes in Arizona, Bettman says

Jun 3, 2023, 5:30 PM | Updated: 5:50 pm

Arizona Coyotes right wing Clayton Keller, center, celebrates after his goal against the Vegas Gold...

Arizona Coyotes right wing Clayton Keller, center, celebrates after his goal against the Vegas Golden Knights with Coyotes center Barrett Hayton (29) and defenseman Juuso Valimaki (4) during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Tempe, Ariz., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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.

“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.

“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.”

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