- Associated Press - Saturday, January 28, 2012

OTTAWA (AP) - Price is not holding up the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes, and it’s premature to discuss a Plan B for the franchise’s future, according to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

Speaking after the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting on Saturday during the All-Star weekend in Ottawa, Bettman remained hopeful a deal can be reached with one of three prospective buyers to keep the league-controlled Coyotes in Glendale, Ariz.

“We hope, based on the things that are ongoing, to have a sale in place before the end of the season that would keep the team in Glendale,” Bettman said. “I don’t see any reason to discuss a Plan B at this point.”

He disputed concerns raised by Glendale officials that the NHL’s asking price _ believed to be around $170 million _ might be holding up the sale. Bettman said the price hasn’t been an issue with any of the three groups interested in purchasing the team.

On other topics, Bettman acknowledged a longstanding rift between New Jersey Devils owners Jeff Vanderbeek and Ray Chambers. Describing the franchise as stable, Bettman said the NHL is attempting to resolve the dispute by having one or the other assume control.

As for labor talks, Bettman said he intends to open informal discussions with the NHL Players’ Association soon, but adds no timetable has been set for formal talks. The current deal expires in September.

The Coyotes remain the NHL’s most pressing concern. The league has been operating the club for the past two seasons, with Glendale kicking in $25 million in each of the past two years to help keep the team afloat.

Two groups known to have expressed interest in the Coyotes are one led by former San Jose Sharks president and CEO Greg Jamison, and another by Chicago sports mogul Jerry Reinsdorf. Without providing names, Bettman on Thursday revealed there is also a third group that’s shown “serious” interest in the team.

Bettman on Saturday declined to shed any new light on the third group and who might be involved.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly described the third group as “legitimate.”

“They’ve been working at it for a while,” Daly said. “They’ve been spending money, they’ve been doing due diligence. So those are all positive signs. It doesn’t mean they’re going to buy the franchise so we’ll see how it plays out.”

Bettman said there’s no timetable for completing a sale, and the commissioner also sent a message to any North American market interested in luring the Coyotes by saying the league’s not making any assurances.

“We’ve told anybody in any market who’s asked, who doesn’t have a team, `Don’t do anything on planning on having a team because we’re not making anybody any promises of anything,’” Bettman said.

Bettman didn’t mention what communities he was referring to, but his statement came before a large contingent of French-Canadian media and amid speculation that Quebec City might be the latest Canadian city in line to regain a franchise after the Nordiques relocated to Denver in 1995.

The Jets returned to Winnipeg last summer after relocating from Atlanta.

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