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NHL chief talks up chances of Seattle expansion franchise

Gary Bettman, commissioner of the National Hockey League (NHL), has said the US city of Seattle could secure an expansion franchise before the end of the year, but played down reports that a deal is imminent.

In February, Oak View Group (OVG) filed an application for an expansion team in the ice hockey league, with plans to base the franchise at a refurbished KeyArena in Seattle.

Billionaire David Bonderman and film producer Jerry Bruckheimer are heading up the OVG bid and have pledged to spend approximately $600m (€518.3m) on the 56-year-old KeyArena in time for a potential debut season in 2020-21.

Speaking in December last year, Bettman (pictured) said the league would consider Seattle as a possible location for an expansion franchise. At the time, Bettman also said that no other cities were being considered.

Bettman has again spoken out over the process, moving to deny suggestions that the NHL could stage a vote on an expansion franchise as early as next month. According to USA Today, Bettman said such reports are “absolutely untrue”.

However, Bettman also said that the NHL board of governors could address the application “in the fall, or early winter at the latest” with further NHL meetings scheduled for September and December.  “We are not there yet,” Bettman said. “There are a number of bases that we have to touch, a lot of due diligence to do and a lot of interaction with prospective ownership (to be concluded).

“There is no delay. We just haven’t gotten the train to the station yet.”

Meanwhile, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has played down suggestions of a possible expansion bid from the city of Houston in Texas. Houston is the largest metropolitan area in the US or Canada without an NHL team.

Tilman Fertitta, owner of the Houston Rockets NBA basketball team, has spoken of his interest in securing an NHL franchise in the city, but Daly said that a bid is likely years away.

According to the Associated Press, Daly said: “I don’t think at this point in time there’s interest in filing for an expansion franchise. I think they’re relatively new NBA owners.

“They’re getting their feet under them in terms of operating that franchise, knowing that that means. At some point in time, we’ll have a discussion with them about whether there’s an NHL team to pursue.”

The Las Vegas Golden Knights is the NHL’s newest franchise, having entered the league at the start of the current 2017-18 season. Golden Knights owner Bill Foley paid an expansion fee of $500m to form a franchise in Las Vegas, which has enjoyed a successful debut campaign by reaching the Stanley Cup end-of-season showpiece event.