Gary Bettman, Naheed Nenshi comment on arena deal, relocation potential

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

The ongoing Calgary Flames/NHL/City of Calgary Arena saga is a war of words that keeps getting uglier and uglier.

A couple of weeks ago, Flames president Ken King announced that the team was no longer pursuing a new arena deal with the city because they believed negotiations were so unproductive there was no deal to be made.

This week King went a step further in a statement echoed by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, that the Flames were no longer a top-10 revenue generator in the league. King added that the Flames will not contribute to the NHL’s pool of revenue sharing, but will instead receive money.

On Wednesday, Bettman spoke to the Calgary Sun about a meeting he had with Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi back in March, during which Bettman brought up the potential of relocation.

“We were talking about the type of deal that was and wasn’t doable,” Bettman told the Sun. “At one point I said: Let me ask you a question. I wasn’t being threatening. I wanted to understand. What happens if the end result of this is the Flames have to move?”

“And you know what the mayor said to me? So they’ll move.”

Nenshi had a somewhat different recollection of that meeting and exchange.

“It is fair to say he wasn’t making any overt threats. But he certainly did say: You know, if you screw this up the Flames are going to leave and that is going to be miserable and it’ll destroy your city,” Nenshi said. “I remember very well saying to him: That would be an awful outcome, but it’s not going to destroy my city.

“He intimated it is the end of a political career if you lose a hockey team. I said: Be that as it may, we’ve got a lot of work to do and we’ve got to make the right and the fair deal for taxpayers.”

Despite both King and Bettman saying they are not trying to influence an election, nor are they weighing into politics, the Oct. 12 Calgary municipal election is the backdrop behind all of this. Nenshi is seeking a third term and stands as the early favourite, but the arena deal figures to be an issue of discussion.

“Calgary has great fans and is a great hockey market, but the people in Calgary aren’t going to stand for a team that can’t be competitive,” Bettman told the Sun’s Eric Francis. “The fact that the city is not focusing on how to provide for essential infrastructure is something beyond their control or ours.”

Said Nenshi: “Everyone has a right to try to influence an election. I would suggest to make a deal you’ve got to come to the table and you’ve got to de-personalize the issue.”

The NHL already has a conference imbalance, with 16 teams populating the East and 15 teams in the West. Since Seattle is still without an arena, there is no clear prospect for a relocation city should Calgary’s owners decide that is the route to go.

Bettman re-iterated that any talk of relocation is premature, although he wouldn’t completely rule it out some time in the future if an arena deal can’t be struck.

“They’re not issuing any threats, and what they’ve said is they’re going to hang on as long as they can. I don’t know how long that is, and I don’t think they do either,” he said.

“Some Hollywood scripts end with love stories and some end with tragedies.”