Despite having not yet announced where they'll play next season, and after some embarrassing lapses in payments to the city of Glendale and the state of Arizona, Bettman said "there's no issue" with the Arizona Coyotes and that the team is not a threat to relocate.
"[Owner] Alex Meruelo is committed to Arizona and is working on a plan for a new arena, which is probably what's agitating the city of Glendale," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday after the second day of the NHL's board of governors meetings.
The city of Glendale broke off negotiations on a multiyear lease extension at the Gila River Arena in August and declared that the 2021-22 season will be the team's last in the building.
The relationship has only grown more contentious. The city informed the Coyotes that it would ban team employees and vendors from their venue if the Coyotes didn't settle $250,000 in outstanding city taxes by Dec. 20. The Arizona Department of Revenue had also filed a tax lien against IceArizona Hockey, which owns the Coyotes. The Coyotes said on Thursday that they wired the state $1.4 million and settled up with Glendale, citing "human error" for the lapses in payment.
"It's clear that the city of Glendale has either an agenda or an edge with how they're dealing with the Coyotes," said Bettman.
In September, Coyotes CEO Xavier Gutierrez told ESPN that he was hopeful the city would reconsider. "We don't think it's the correct decision, and we remain very open to having that conversation," he said.
Glendale city manager Kevin Phelps told ESPN that the split came after years of the Coyotes and the NHL saying the city wasn't a sufficient home for the team.
"I don't want to say that necessarily we had a bad relationship. I think at some point, both starting at the League level with the commissioner Gary Bettman and then with the ownership teams, they have been continually saying that the city of Glendale is not in their future for the Coyotes. When I came in as city manager back in 2016, that continual statement, that it does not work here in our community, really forced us to sit back and to say, all right, 'What if they aren't part of our community? What does that mean?'" he said.
"As we studied that future, what we learned very quickly was it was a brighter future for us without the Coyotes than with the Coyotes. So that really kind of accelerated our decision because they really forced us to take a look at that going ahead."
Bettman said that a new arena would take a couple of years to build. The team is targeting Tempe, Arizona. Bettman said there are "plenty of options" to bridge the gap from Glendale to the new building.
"Alex is committed, Alex has the resources and the Coyotes aren't going anywhere," said Bettman, before quickly clarifying, "Well, they're going somewhere else [in Arizona] other than Glendale."
Though the Coyotes are not on the move, Bettman said he has a meeting in January with an official from Quebec. However, he added that the league, which welcomed the first-year Seattle Kraken this season, has no plans to expand at this time.
Private equity allowed
Bettman said that the NHL board of governors has amended its ownership rules to allow private equity firms to buy limited partnership ownership interests in clubs "with strict limitations." That amendment was made because of minority ownership transactions for the Minnesota Wild and Tampa Bay Lightning.
"It's a very passive investment," said Bettman, citing similar rules in MLB, the NBA and MLS. He said that private equity firms can have investments in multiple teams, as in other sports.
Arctos Sports Partners Fund has purchased a stake in both the Wild and the Lightning. It has had ownership stakes in Fenway Sports Group, which just purchased the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as the NBA's Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings.
"Their participating is extraordinarily passive, but the good news is that they're showing great confidence in our game," said Bettman.