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'Nobody is looking for a handout' for new Senators arena: Bettman

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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says it will be up to the new owners of the Senators to decide whether to build a new arena at LeBreton Flats or at another location in Ottawa.

And the commissioner says he did not ask for any public dollars to help build a new arena during a meeting with Mayor Mark Sutcliffe.

"Nobody is looking for a handout," Bettman said.

Bettman held meetings with Sutcliffe, officials with the National Capital Commission and Senators staff during his visit to Ottawa on Monday, and attended the Senators game against Florida at Canadian Tire Centre. The visit comes as the process to sell the Senators enters the next phase, winnowing down the prospective buyers in the running for the club to approximately six.

During his day-long visit to Ottawa, the commissioner said it could be early to mid summer before a new owner is in place for the Senators. 

"This isn't a race. This about getting it right," Bettman said.

"We're not on the clock; the goal is to get it right. If it takes a little longer, it takes a little longer," Bettman said, adding the remaining groups aiming to buy the Senators will visit Ottawa during the second phase of the sale process

In an exclusive interview with CTV News Ottawa, Bettman was asked about the possibility of building a new arena at LeBreton Flats, or at another location in Ottawa.

"Ultimately, it's going to be up to a new owner," Bettman said Monday afternoon. "LeBreton may be great, but there may or not be issues and there may be alternatives. We're not putting any building preconditions on a prospective new owner, that will be something that whoever the ultimate victor is in the process will have an opportunity to decide."

The Senators reached a memorandum of understanding with the NCC last year aimed at putting an arena at LeBreton Flats, just west of downtown Ottawa.

"Maybe it's LeBreton, which has a lot going for it, and maybe there will be other sites they'll want to look at. But that's something that will come after there's new ownership and they'll have a chance to really dig in and move forward on what they think makes sense," Bettman said, adding the NHL has not discussed the process to build a new arena with prospective owners.

Bettman also held a "social call" with Mayor Sutcliffe at city hall shortly after his arrival in Ottawa. Last week, Sutcliffe did not rule out public funding for a new Senators arena, but said he is "not a fan of putting city money into an arena."

The NHL commissioner told CTV News Ottawa he didn't "make any demands" during the meeting, and the NHL isn't asking for "any public dollars" for a new arena.

"There are things that municipalities do in terms of infrastructure … but whether it's using tax money that wouldn’t otherwise exist or whether or not it's infrastructure, those are things that will be talked about. But I don't expect the city to do anything that doesn't make sense for the city and for the people of Ottawa," Bettman said. "Again, I don't think that anybody expects that the city is going to write a cheque to the team."

The NCC says CEO Tobi Nussbaum and other officials met with Bettman to "exchange updates" on the sale of the Senators and advancing the memorandum of understanding between the NCC and Capital Sports Development for a major events centre at LeBreton Flats.

"The meeting was very positive, with both parties recognizing the value and opportunity for the Ottawa Senators and the National Hockey League to build a downtown arena at LeBreton Flats," the NCC said in a statement to CTV News Ottawa.

The NCC says the discussions also looked at "provisions which offer flexibility" for land west of downtown Ottawa.

Bettman told reporters the 6.9 acres set aside for a new arena at LeBreton Flats seems "a little small" for an arena, parking and other amenities around the area. 

"Two to three months" of work remain for new ownership, commissioner says 

Bettman says he's "pleased" with the significant interest in buying the Ottawa Senators.

Sports business news publication Sportico reported earlier this month that nine different groups submitted bids to buy the franchise, with some valuing the team north of $900 million U.S.

"We're talking about a very meaningful level of interest and I think that's great for the future of this franchise and it's great for the future of Ottawa," Bettman said.

"Whether it's this building or one downtown, there's somebody who's going to make a very meaningful commitment to this community, to this team, and that bodes very, very well."

Bettman tells CTV News Ottawa there's been a "first cut in terms of bidding interest", and six or more groups are still in the running to purchase the club. 

"We, meaning the league, doesn't make the decision in the first instance. There's an investment banker who's running the process, we're being frequently consulted as to what's going on, occasionally weighing in, but ultimately it's up to the estate to decide what level of interest will satisfy them," Bettman said, adding the NHL Board of Governors will have to approve the purchase.

Bettman says the second phase of the sale process is more "in-person due diligence", with bidders visiting Ottawa to tour Canadian Tire Centre and meet with Senators management.

There have been several media reports about the interested groups bidding to purchase the Ottawa Senators, including celebrities.  The prospective owners include Montreal Canadiens minority owner Michael Andlauer and a consortium including actor Ryan Reynolds and Toronto-based real estate company The Remington Group, Sportico reported.

"I think it would be wisest for people to sit back, take a deep breath and let the process play out without all the speculation," Bettman said.

"The most important thing is there will be new ownership; there will be solid, strong ownership committed to Ottawa. As I've said previously, if this team moves anywhere its downtown – it's not leaving Ottawa."

Bettman told TSN 1200 there's about "two or three months" of work remaining in finalize a new owner for the Senators. 

Speaking with reporters, Bettman said it could be early summer, at the earliest, before a new owner is in place.

"We believe that this phase of the process, which is being run by an investment banker (Galatioto Sports Partners), should take another six weeks," Bettman said at Canadian Tire Centre about the winnowing down of the bids.

"Hopefully, once the lawyers get their hands on doing what has to be done with whoever the successful bidder is and then we go through the league's formal approval process – I think we're some time early/mid summer to complete the process."

Sutcliffe meets with Bettman

Sutcliffe and Bettman met at the mayor's office early Monday afternoon. The two held a brief photo-op ahead of the meeting.

"I have one main request of you, which is no matter what happens, just please don't give the Stanley Cup to the Toronto Maple Leafs," Sutcliffe joked during the photo op.

"As much as I like and respect you, that doesn't work," Bettman responded. "Whoever earns it gets it."

Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and Sutcliffe sat together at the Senators game Monday night.

With files from CTV News Ottawa's Michael Woods

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