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Return of the Whalers not on horizon, NHL says

It's not every day that a big Hartford Whalers logo lands in your inbox, but there it was for many members of the hockey media yesterday from former owner Howard Baldwin.

Baldwin's using the brand as part of his new Whalers Sports & Entertainment company to promote a new outdoor rink in Hartford, something that will be officially unveiled as part of an 11 a.m. press conference tomorrow. The presser is believed to be aimed, in part, at drumming up interest in hockey and the city as an NHL destination 13 years after the Whalers left for Carolina to become the Hurricanes.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, in Toronto to help promote the World Hockey Summit, offered a few comments today on Baldwin's push for the return of the Whalers.

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He sounded a little skeptical.

"I'm hesitant to comment on the question," Daly said. "I know Howard has an interest in bringing a minor-league team to Hartford, that's the extent of my knowledge. I believe we've had a conversation with him with respect to the Whalers logos and trademarks - that's something that's owned by the league. I don't foresee a situation where there would be another Hartford Whalers in Hartford.

"But Howard remains a good friend of the league. We are in regular communication, not constant, so I wish him well whatever he intends or hopes to do."

Daly said he wouldn't be at the press conference tomorrow in Hartford - "I'll be in Philly," he said, referencing Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final - but added that the league saw recent interest in NHL teams from its former homes in places like Winnipeg and Quebec City as a positive.

"I think it's been true since the work stoppage: There's been a lot of cities and a lot of potential owners interesting in owning NHL franchises," Daly said. "That's good, that's gratifying, and I think given the appropriate circumstances, it could come to fruition.

"But that having been said, we remain committed to the markets we're in, we want to make every effort to have viable and stable markets with those franchises, we owe it to those fans and those communities... If ultimately it doesn't work, then you have to move the franchise, but I don't think we have any market in that situation right now.

"I haven't given a lot of thought on the Hartford front, but I guess what I would say is I'm not sure we're aware of any potential ownership groups that want to own a team in Hartford. I know there continues to be a passionate fan base in Hartford -- I do hear from them on occasion. Ultimately, some of the reasons we left Hartford still exist: They don't have a state of the art building and you need to have an owner who's willing to own a club in the market.

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"The club did well in Hartford given the circumstances and ultimately those circumstances conspired to make it not viable there and I don't know if that's changed."

(As an aside: I see there's a bit of a debate over who owns the Whalers logo given the team's been defunct for over a decade, but Baldwin's certainly getting some good use out of it on his website. Why the NHL wouldn't grant a potential minor-league team to use the logo and name, however, I'm not sure. There remain quite a few Whalers diehards hoping the team, in some form, comes back.)

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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