TORONTO (AP) – NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says the league has no immediate plans to expand and adjust its unbalanced conference alignment.
"What most people say to me is, well, there's 16 teams in the East, 14 in the West. What's wrong with you? Can't you count?" Bettman said at a Canadian Club luncheon. "And I say, `Yes, I can count, but I also can tell time and we finally have all 16 teams in the Eastern Time Zone in the right place.'
"But you don't expand just to fulfill somebody's notion of symmetry. It's a very important business decision to make, and you do it for the right reasons at the right time."
The league listens to expressions of interest from markets, but Bettman reiterates there no plans in the works to take on more clubs. A recent Twitter report by Howard Bloom of Sports Business News said the NHL would expand by four teams - Quebec City, Seattle, Las Vegas and Toronto - by 2017.
"I know people think I have this list tucked away in a vault with cities lined up," Bettman said. "We don't."
"This is an important business decision if you're going to expand," he added. "In addition to being one involving a lot of money, it's a fundamentally important decision if you're going to do that."
The issue of expansion has particular resonance in Ontario. A second team in Toronto, even in the Eastern Time Zone, could theoretically play in the Western Conference for the sake of balance. The Leafs played in the West until the 1998-99 season.
Speaking in a hypothetical sense of such an addition, Bettman said: "If we decided that we were putting a second team in Ontario, and the year the team was supposed to start, the Leafs won the Cup, that second team wouldn't exist."
Expansion teams face challenges even when they have the market to themselves. Joining a market that already has a team poses an even bigger hurdle.
"That's part of the dynamic because the attention gets diluted, either two ways or three ways," Bettman said. "And when you have historically established teams with great histories and traditions, the second team - even if the first team isn't having tremendous success at the time - will never quite get the premier coverage."
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