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Connecticut governor: Two groups looking at NHL franchise in Hartford

Hartford Whalers fans still hope for the return of an NHL team to their city. Long time, no Whalers: Fans in Hartford have been pining for their NHL team since 1997. (AP Photos)

By Allan Muir

It's not time to strike up Brass Bonanza or scrape the barnacles off Pucky the Whale just yet, but hockey fans in the Nutmeg State got an injection of hope that the NHL might yet return to Hartford.

Connecticut Governor Dannell Malloy told reporters today that he's spoken with "at least two groups" that are interested in acquiring an NHL team about the possibility of relocating or expanding to Hartford.

"In the last six months, I have been contacted by several groups who are interested in knowing, should they acquire a team and win the rights to move that team, would we be interested in competing for that team," Malloy said. "I have indicated time and time again that we would be interested, though probably not at our sole expense."

That expense would be associated with the construction of a new arena in downtown Hartford. In the meantime, the state is investing $35 million to extend the life of the XL Center, current home of the AHL Connecticut Whale, for an eight-10 year period of time. The 16,000 seat facility is expected to get new locker rooms, loge seating and more restrooms as part of a renovation that would allow it to be NHL-viable for a short period of time.

"We go forward--no promises made--but I have encouraged at least two groups who have expressed interest in acquiring a team to do so and we would be active participants," Malloy said.

The original Whalers migrated south to North Carolina in 1997 after 25 years in the World Hockey Association and the NHL. The effort to bring another team to the area has chugged along ever since.

So, why no blue-and-green balloons and streamers? Well, this isn't the first time that Malloy has made enthusiastic but vague pronouncements about bringing high-level hockey back to Hartford. Nor do there appear to be any viable options for an existing franchise relocating (despite obvious attendance problems in a few markets). And by most estimates, Hartford would be well down the list of possible expansion sites, behind Quebec City, Seattle and Toronto, at the very least.

But whenever a team becomes available, it'll take an engaged political leadership to secure it for a new market. And if nothing else, Hartford fans were reminded today that they have that in Malloy.
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