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NBA, NHL commissioners rule out expansion

By JEFF ROSEN
The Kansas City Star

Just as the Stanley Cup playoffs are reaching full speed and the NBA’s postseason is about to tip off, prospects for an anchor sports tenant in the Sprint Center couldn’t be worse.

One day after NBA commissioner David Stern placed the chances of expansion into new domestic markets such as Kansas City between slim and none, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did the same. With an exclamation point.

“We’re not looking at expanding,” Bettman said Friday at the NHL’s office along Sixth Avenue.

While the NBA’s stance isn’t likely to encourage Kansas City sports fans, Bettman’s might be even more sobering. That’s because as recently as last year, it appeared as many as three NHL teams could be looking for new homes.

One by one, however, those situations worked themselves out. The Atlanta Thrashers were sold last year and moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba; the league-owned Phoenix Coyotes have inched toward a sale to an ownership group committed to keeping them in the Southwest; and Bettman on Friday reaffirmed the NHL’s desire to keep the Islanders in the New York area even if a new arena deal on Long Island currently appears just shy of impossible.

All that said, Bettman acknowledged he still receives regular inquiries from cities interested in acquiring a team — Kansas City among them.

“There’s interest,” he said. “I hear from a half a dozen cities on a regular basis that would like to have a team, but that’s not anything we’re focused on.”

While he stopped short of identifying those parties in Kansas City, Bettman was quick to trumpet the virtues of the Sprint Center as a venue amply capable of harboring a franchise.

“Without being specific,” he said, “because I’m not sure they want to be identified, we hear on a regular basis that there’s this wonderful arena there just waiting for a tenant.”

But the stark truth remains that it will take more than high hopes and a sparkly glass building to deliver a NHL team to Kansas City — not only is a local ownership group needed but a paradigm shift on the part of the league, in terms of a willingness to expand, or the emergence of an existing franchise whose arena issues become so untenable that the league has no choice but to green-light another market relocation.

Bettman’s advice to Kansas Citians in the near term?

“Get the outer market (premium broadcasting) package or watch NBC for the time being,” he said. “Look, I don’t like raising expectations. I don’t really think that’s fair.”

He’d say the same thing to fans in hopeful but hockey-less Canadian towns such as Quebec City, where potential investors have talked of building an arena in pursuit of landing a team, much as Kansas City ostensibly did with the Sprint Center.

“I know what happens,” Bettman said, “and I don’t think it’s fair to get fans revved up about the possibility (of landing a team when hopes are so slim).

“If in fact there’s an opportunity, at that point we’ll talk about it. But not until then.”

To reach Jeff Rosen, The Star’s assistant managing editor/sports, call 816-234-4706 or send email to jrosen@kcstar.com.

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