Jacobs: No Chance For NHL In Hartford Without UConn In Plan

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DELUSIONTOWN — After Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday that the state had been in touch with groups interested in bringing the NHL back to Connecticut, commissioner Gary Bettman is expected to announce Christmas Eve an expansion franchise will be awarded to Hartford.

CYNICALVILLE — After Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday the state had been in touch with groups interested in bringing the NHL back to Connecticut, the NHL officially changed its stance from "never" to "never, ever, ever, ever."

REALITY CITY — "We move forward," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said. "No promises made."

I know. I swore all this off 18 months ago along with Wendy's Triple Baconator and thinking that I'm smarter than my wife. We've been down this road so many times since the Whalers left in 1997 that I have taken the stance, "Let me know what time the official press conference for the return of the NHL is and I'll be there. Otherwise …"

But here.

We go.


So let's make a pact right here, OK? Let's try to stay out of Delusiontown and Cynicalville. Look, we can play "Imagine" on our old eight-track player and play "Brass Bonanza" at our weddings, but Gordie Howe, Ron Francis and Kevin Dineen aren't skating through that door. They're retired. Conversely, to go all dismissive and insist the NHL never will never, ever happen, and not one dime of state tax money for a new arena, is to invite great damage to our existing state sports landscape.

So with that, we wake up the echoes and we're not talking about getting Bob Diaco from Notre Dame to coach the UConn football team.

Malloy said Friday, yes, he is interested, "although probably not at our sole expense." He said there had been at least two groups that have expressed interest to him in acquiring an NHL team, existing or expansion, and the possibility of moving to the state and that, yes, the state would be participants. So I forwarded questions to Malloy's spokesperson Andrew Doba. He was kind enough to go one better. He put Malloy on the line. Good. I so much want this to be reality-driven and not emotion-driven.

At the NHL board of governors meetings this past week, Bettman said there had been no decisions made on expansion and bragged about how the existing franchises in trouble had righted their ships, but he certainly didn't talk down the idea of adding a couple of teams with their lucrative expansion fees to be divvied up.

"When there's an expression of interest, you look at three factors predominantly, show-stoppers so to speak," Bettman said. "You want to understand the market and can it support NHL hockey. Two, you've got to have an arena; and three, and perhaps most important, it comes down to ownership."

A new arena would be needed for any prayer of an NHL franchise.

"I think that would be accurate," Malloy said. "I acknowledge the XL Center could only be used on a transitional basis. In part what I'm trying to do is to position us, if something can happen, is to have a facility that could be used as we addressed what the replacement of that facility would be. That's why spending $35 million to modernize one of the oldest facilities in the country makes sense at this point, since nobody has done any work at this point to figure out what a replacement facility would look like.

"People are wondering why I was so anxious for UConn to be in the right hockey rink it should have been 20 years ago. I also want to demonstrate we're a better hockey community than would otherwise appear from minor-league participation. BC, Notre Dame, BU in Hartford to play is a way to demonstrate that strength."

Make no mistake. Malloy is a big hockey fan. He considers the loss of the Whalers an entirely unnecessary one and left me with the distinct impression that if he were governor in 1997 the team would still be here.

"I believe the Whalers' leaving was a terrible mistake," Malloy said. "I can assure I would have done everything in my power to have kept them."

His comment about getting UConn into Hockey East, where it should have been 20 years ago, is an interesting one. Lew Perkins and Jeff Hathaway had made it sound 20 ways of impossible. Susan Herbst, Warde Manuel and Malloy step in and voilà.

Yet back to Reality City. Is there a timeline?

"I have been approached by reputable groups with membership of substantial individuals that are interesting in acquiring an NHL team and interested in knowing if we would compete as a relocation site and in general terms what circumstances," Malloy answered. "I have assured those groups over the last year we are a great hockey town with rivals in nearby cities.

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