NHL hockey commissioner Gary Bettman smiles as he speaks to the media, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, after attending an NHL owners meeting in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
Wilfredo Lee, File
December 09, 2014

BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is playing down the possibility of relocating struggling franchises in Arizona and Florida.

One day after putting the brakes on the prospect of expansion, Bettman reaffirmed Panthers owner Vinny Viola's commitment to South Florida. There had been reports that Panthers ownership was trying to position the franchise for a move either to Quebec City or Las Vegas, two locales actively pursuing a hockey team.

''There's nothing imminent that's happening,'' Bettman said Tuesday at the owners' meetings at a posh resort just north of where the Panthers have played to record low crowds this season. ''In fact to the contrary, Vinny Viola, both as a matter of his resources and his personal commitment, has consistently told me that he's committed to South Florida.

''Nobody should be focusing on the Panthers as a relocation candidate, period. It's inconsistent with everything we believe and it's inconsistent with everything Vinny Viola has been telling me and he has no intention of moving the club.''

The Panthers and Broward County are talking about the terms of the existing 30-year lease for BB&T Center in Sunrise that expires in 2028. The Panthers have asked the county to vote on giving them a $78.4 million buyout, which would offset what they claim to be substantial losses. The county has disputed the figures being cited by the team, but both sides continue to look for common ground.

Arizona came within one vote by the Glendale City Council in July 2013 from possibly moving to Las Vegas.

The city narrowly approved a 15-year lease agreement, and a little more than a year later, Andrew Barroway reached a deal to purchase a controlling interest in the franchise. The league is still in the process of approving that ownership transfer, but like with Florida, the league doesn't envision the Coyotes relocating in the immediate future.

''Arizona and Florida aren't moving,'' said deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who categorized both franchises as being stable. ''I'm not sure (a franchise) is unstable if you have local deep ownership and they're satisfied with their investment. Teams go through cycles. Teams go through phases. It's not something that we like to see happen. It's not something that's great for that team but we get through it and this team (Florida) is going through a cycle.''

One of the other items that was on the agenda over the two-day meeting that Bettman addressed was an update on the eight concussion lawsuits filed by former players in Minnesota, which he said have motions pending.

Bettman also touched on the progress of plans for another World Cup of hockey, with talks still ongoing with the players' association regarding the format, and he hopes to have more information in the next couple of months. There have not been any discussions regarding future Olympic participation.

As far as how many outdoor games will be played next season, Bettman acknowledged there is plenty of interest from a number of cities and that the number won't be as high as the six that were played last season. He cited a number closer to three or four as being more manageable.

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