More questions than answers in NHL expansion saga

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman provides an update on the latest expansion developments between the NHL, Quebec and Las Vegas.

NEW YORK — After a day of meetings in Manhattan, we’ve got more questions about expansion than answers.

Commissioner Gary Bettman accentuated the word “if,” at one point saying it three times in a row, whenever “expansion” was uttered. He even threw cold water on the possibility a new team would begin play in 2017-18 — the previously expected target — by saying to one reporter, “your question presumes a 2017 start.”

When this process began in June, there was certainly a belief an announcement could come at this board of governors meeting. Weeks ago, that changed to the next scheduled get-together, in December. Tuesday, Bettman repeatedly said, “There is no timetable.”

When another reporter asked what phase of the expansion process we’re in, Bettman replied there are “as many as we need.”

It’s difficult to see the league passing on US$1 billion in cash (particularly money it doesn’t share with the players) but the NHL is trying its best to do this cautiously.

Hours before the board of governors met at a Manhattan hotel, the league’s two expansion hopefuls met face to face with the NHL’s executive committee. Apparently, the bid groups were peppered with financial questions on everything from corporate support to expansion fee payments to ownership structure. The league wants teams that will contribute to the revenue pot, not share from it.

And not much was said about those tête-à-têtes with the rest of the governors. From what I understand, it was basically: we’re going to take our time and nothing is guaranteed.

The Quebec City delegation was led by Quebecor president & CEO Pierre Dion and vice-chairman Brian Mulroney, the Canadian prime minister from 1984-93. They brought a copy of last night’s exhibition game at Centre Videotron between Montreal and Pittsburgh.

“They saw the excitement and the beauty of the new (arena),” Mulroney said after Quebecor’s presentation. “They saw the enthusiasm in the room, but, as Pierre says, the owners will make the decision … It is their process. We will be advised of their decision at the appropriate time.”

Dion said his group is now “in a waiting mode.”

The biggest question surrounding this bid is the Titanic-esque Canadian dollar. At current rates, the expansion fee of US$500 million would come in around $670 million Canadian.

“Even with the exchange rate, we can handle the team,” Mulroney said.

Bettman parried a similar question with, “I’ve seen the Canadian dollar lower and I’ve seen it over par. It’s something we deal with.”

After the Quebec City group was done, Las Vegas did its presentation, led by lead investor Bill Foley.

“We got asked a lot of really good questions,” he said. “We had the answers to all the questions. Pretty animated. It was interesting.”

So was the NHL’s caution.

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