Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Monday he is talking to investors seeking to bring an NHL franchise to Hartford, but he emphasized the return of hockey remains a remote possibility.
"I have spoken to individuals who have expressed a desire to bring a team to Hartford,'' Malloy said during an afternoon press conference.
Malloy said that The New York Post incorrectly reported Sunday that he had formed a group to work on bringing big-time hockey to Connecticut.
"I have not put a committee together,'' Malloy said. ''If you are sincere and you want to meet with us, we will meet with you. But to date, I have had no meetings with anyone about their specific interest.''
After 14 years as mayor of Stamford and two years as governor, Malloy said, "There's not a year that I haven't been approached by somebody who wants to bring a professional team to somewhere.''
Malloy's spokesman, Andrew Doba, said the governor had only agreed to talk to a group that had approached the state with a proposal.
"They were able to get his ear on it. People have an idea. They see an opportunity with the lockout ending,'' said Doba, referring to the 113-day NHL labor dispute that ended Sunday.
"Right now, there are no specific proposals" for Connecticut, said Doba, who would not identify the group that talked recently with Malloy. The NHL's Hartford Whalers left for North Carolina after the 1996-97 season. Almost annually since then, proposals for bringing a team back have surfaced.
NHL spokesman Frank Brown said Monday there are no plans for expansion or relocation.
Frank E. Russo Jr., who heads business development for Global Spectrum, one of three bidders vying for the management contract for the XL Center, said Monday the company had not heard about a fresh effort to bring the NHL back to Connecticut.
That was surprising, Russo said, because Global Spectrum's parent company, Comcast Spectacor, owns the NHL Philadelphia Flyers franchise.
"We would love to see the NHL come back here, but there's a lot of competition," Russo said. "There are several cities that want an NHL franchise."
In 2008, Hartford leaders met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman about attracting a team to the city, but found the lack of a new arena was a substantial obstacle.
Bettman "showed that the NHL has been watching the Connecticut market. He had a lot of data. He knew our television market is larger than some of the markets they're in,'' said Matthew J. Hennessy, who served as former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez's chief of staff and who attended the meeting.
"It was clear the NHL was keeping its eye on the Hartford market, but the story was you need a new facility. Bettman said you need a new facility, and you need an owner who will foot the bill," Hennessy said.
Asked if he had any interest in a new arena in Hartford, Malloy said: "You never say never. If somebody comes in and says they want to build something and they're going to do it on their own dollar, that's a very different proposition. But the cost of these things coming out of the ground is pretty great. Let me be very clear. I have not spent any amount of time considering that.''
In the past, Malloy has downplayed the possibility of the NHL returning to Hartford. Malloy said a year ago that while he had talked to Bettman, the NHL was not close to returning to Connecticut. More recently, former Whalers' owner Howard Baldwin failed in a nearly three-year effort to bring an NHL team back to the XL Center.
When the league does expand or shift an existing franchise, Quebec City is expected to top the list of destinations. The city broke ground in September on an NHL-ready arena that will seat 18,000 for hockey. The city was home to the Quebec Nordiques from 1972 to 1995 before the franchise moved to Denver.
Hamilton, Ontario, and Toronto are also considered as possible sites for an NHL franchise. Kansas City's Sprint Center, which opened in 2007, is also a potential location. Seattle also has won approval to build a $490 million hockey and basketball arena.
Hartford has been home to the Connecticut Whale, the New York Rangers' American Hockey League franchise since 1997. The Rangers lease at the XL Center expires this summer. Madison Square Garden officials have said the company would not stand in the way of an effort to bring an NHL team to Connecticut.
Malloy is a hockey fan and was the force behind the decision to upgrade UConn's program to Hockey East. UConn will play games at the XL Center after joining Hockey East in 2014.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun