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NHL commissioner Bettman dismisses report that league will expand by four teams

Former Canadian prime minister and Quebecor vice-chairman Brian Mulroney (right) talks to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at a news conference outlining TVA's NHL coverage plans this season in Boucherville, Que., Wednesday, Sept.3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

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Former Canadian prime minister and Quebecor vice-chairman Brian Mulroney (right) talks to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at a news conference outlining TVA's NHL coverage plans this season in Boucherville, Que., Wednesday, Sept.3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

BOUCHERVILLE, Que. - Gary Bettman has vehemently denied the NHL is considering expansion.

But the commissioner said if it ever does, prospective owners may have to pay up big time.

Sports Business News reported via Twitter last week the NHL will expand into Las Vegas, Seattle, and Quebec City while adding a second franchise in Toronto by 2017.

On Wednesday, Bettman called the report a "complete fabrication," and took issue with the franchise fees cited in the story — US$1.4 billion, or $350 million per team.

"The part of the story that I found particularly difficult is: suggesting that we would sell four franchises for $1.4 billion is way too low," Bettman said. "It undervalues our franchises."

The last two expansion teams, the Minnesota Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets, paid $80 million each in expansion fees in 2000, but league revenues have soared since then.

Bettman said the league is not looking to expand or relocate any franchises. He added that no teams were looking to move, including the struggling Florida Panthers — even if their new owner has concerns about the club's arena lease.

"Nobody's moving," said Bettman. "And speculation to the contrary not only is wrong, it's unfair to the team and their fans who are being speculated about.

"Our franchises have never been healthier. Our league, in terms of its economic footing, has never been healthier."

He made the remarks at an event put on by a media company, Quebecor, that hopes to bring NHL hockey back to Quebec City.

NHL coffers were fattened by a 12-year deal worth $5.2 billion with Rogers, which will begin broadcasting games this season on Sportsnet. Quebecor reportedly will pay Rogers a total of $1.5 billion over 12 years for the French-language portion of the broadcast rights, with games aired mainly on TVA Sports.

Quebecor bought naming rights on a $400 million arena due to be completed by fall 2015 in Quebec City, which hopes to land an NHL club.

Bettman attended TVA Sports' hockey launch at a suburban restaurant along with former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who is chairman of Quebecor, Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League president Gilles Courteau and other league and company officials.

However, Bettman had no encouraging words for those looking to revive the Quebec Nordiques, who left in 1994 to become the Colorado Avalanche.

"We don't want to build up anybody's expectations," he said. "We're not in a position to expand.

"We're certainly not in position to expand into the East. We've been very candid and up front that if in fact we go through an expansion process, the world will know about it. But we're not looking to relocate any franchises, and we're not looking to expand. We've been very clear about that since Day One when we were told about the building of the new arena."

Still, rumours that the league is at least considering adding teams have been circulating. A report from Vancouver last week said a team in Las Vegas was a "done deal."

Bettman said there's plenty of interest from people wanting NHL expansion teams but added the league hasn't even begun to research the issue.

In June, Bettman said that if there were enough expansion candidates the league's board of governors "may well invoke a formal expansion process and we will look at everything."

Mulroney had no comment on Quebec City's expansion prospects.

During the news conference, the former Conservative prime minister joked that he was a "right winger" when he played as a boy in Baie-Comeau, Que., and told a story about how his father discouraged him from trying to become a pro player because there was no money in hockey.

"If he was alive today, I'd take him by the hand and say: 'Let me introduce you to P.K. Subban,'" he said.

The Montreal Canadiens defenceman signed a $72 million, eight-year contract on Aug. 2.

Bettman said the league is close to naming a successor to Brendan Shanahan as disciplinarian and head of player safety. Shanahan stepped down in April and was replaced on an interim basis by Stephane Quintal.

"We're getting to the short strokes of that process," said Bettman. "We've interviewed a lot of candidates, including somebody who's been doing it on an interim basis, and we will be making a decision shortly.

"We wanted to finish the process. By the start of the season, we'll have an announcement."

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