TAMPA — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman insisted today that the Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers are headed in the right direction.
Which is to say, they’re not going anywhere.
“There have been lots of stories written, and based on our ongoing dialogue with the club, they are inaccurate,” Bettman said of the Coyotes. “They have a lease that’s in full force and effect. Their obligations are being met currently. The club is not going anywhere.
“I don’t know where or why these reports are coming from, but I refer you to Anthony LeBlanc, who’s running the club on a day-to-day basis, and he will confirm what I just told you.
“It’s unfortunate that there still seems to be some degree of distraction in terms of the coverage of the club, but they’ll deal with it and time will tell over time that, in fact, they’re doing a good job of building that club in Arizona.”
LeBlanc — the Coyotes’ president, CEO and a co-owner — recently told Sportsnet that the financial picture was improving for the club. However, LeBlanc conceded that the “elephant in the room is always going to be the five-year out clause, until we get past that five-year out clause and it’s dead and done.”
As for the Florida Panthers, who finished 2014-15 with the lowest average attendance in the league (11,265), Bettman said, “They’re on the absolute right track.”
“As you’ve heard me say repeatedly, ownership is the key difference,” the commissioner continued. “Vinnie Viola has got the resources and the commitment to make it work. He’s had to retool and revamp the operation down there, and I believe the club is headed in the right direction.”
And just for good measure, Bettman addressed today’s rumor that a club would relocate by the end of June.
“That is not going to happen,” he insisted. “I don’t know why publications make those things up, even under the guise of a rumor. The Panthers are not filing for bankruptcy. I don’t know where these stories come from, but they’re not true.”