DETROIT -- For several years, whenever NHL commissioner Gary Bettman entertained questions, the plight of the Penguins was a simmering topic.
Yesterday, a couple hours before the Penguins faced off against Detroit in the Stanley Cup final, Bettman was able to talk about something other than whether the Eastern Conference team would be getting a new arena and staying in Pittsburgh, or staying afloat at all.
"The Penguins' journey over the last four years has been well-chronicled, and it's nice to see the Penguins here," Bettman said in his pregame news conference at Joe Louis Arena.
Before the team, the city, the county and the state worked out a deal for a new building and lease 14 months ago, the Penguins were nearly sold to Ontario billionaire Jim Balsillie. It is believed the NHL ran strong interference to tie Balsillie's hands in terms of moving the team, and he eventually backed out of the deal, but Bettman continued to decline to confirm that.
"I cannot speculate, and it would be presumptuous of me to speculate on what Mr. Balsillie's motives were, but, as I think everybody knows, we were intent on keeping the Penguins in Pittsburgh and doing everything possible to get a new building because we knew they were not viable long term in Mellon [Arena], or as I continue to affectionately still call [it], the Igloo," Bettman said.
The Penguins have gone from bankruptcy in the 1990s and the near-sale and possible move to selling out every home game this season and playing for the Stanley Cup with stars such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal.
They have been chosen as one of four teams to open next season in Europe -- where they will play Ottawa in Stockholm -- and played in Buffalo on New Year's Day in the first outdoor Winter Classic.
Their popularity has grown to the point where they likely will get consideration for most unique events, although Bettman pretty well shut down the notion that there could be a regular outdoor game between the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers at Penn State's Beaver Stadium.
"I can't envision a game where we have two teams play annually outdoors," he said. "The possibility of having the Penguins play the Flyers at Happy Valley at some point is intriguing, and it's on the list of possibilities that we are willing to explore."
Bettman also said:
• He has met with Russian hockey executive Dmitri Medvedev and predicted a solution to the lack of a transfer agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation will be resolved in "a year or so."
• Attendance in 2007-08 topped 21 million, with a per-game average of more than 17,000, and revenue is more than $2.5 billion, all high-water marks for the NHL.
• The NHL, being in its final, would have had precedence over the NBA conference final for scheduling if the Red Wings and the NBA Detroit Pistons played in the same building. Because they don't, there was nothing that could be done to avoid the two Detroit teams playing on the same night last night and tomorrow night.