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Winnipeg, Quebec first in expansion queue

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman expressed interest in seeing teams return to Winnipeg and Quebec City before another one ever comes to Southern Ontario. And he regrets allowing the Jets and Nordiques to move.

"I'd like to try and fix something that I wish might not have happened in the first place," he said Friday during his annual state-of-the-league address prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final. "Not unlike what we did in Minnesota."

The commissioner also confirmed that David Thomson and Mark Chipman recently made an offer to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and move them back to Winnipeg. The league had that as a backup plan in case the city of Glendale, Ariz., wasn't prepared to cover the team's losses next season.

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Bettman believes Thomson and Chipman will wait for another opportunity.

"They are very comfortable with the process," he said. "They understood that the likelihood was that the team was going to be remaining in Phoenix. They wanted us to know of their interest and they have told us that they are prepared to be patient."

He's reluctant to say how long it will be before the NHL returns to Winnipeg.

"I'm not going to put a timeline on it because I do not want to raise expectations," Bettman said. "The interest is clear and bona fide. It's gratifying."

He referred to the league's 30 franchises as stable and said the "market is not flooded with teams" for sale, contrary to some media reports.

Bettman also questioned whether NHL players should continue participating in the International Ice Hockey Federation world championship. He is still steaming more than a week after the IIHF published an article on its website that was critical of players who didn't participate in this year's tournament in Germany. The story, written by IIHF communications director Szymon Szemberg, named Sidney Crosby, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Backstrom and others directly.

Bettman responded with a veiled threat, suggesting that he'd like to speak with the NHL Players' Association about future involvement in the tournament.

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"At some point when we're engaged on really substantive issues with the players' association I am certain that will be on the list of things we talk about," Bettman said.

The commissioner referred to the issue as one of his "hot spots" and was animated while discussing it. He feels it's the latest in a pattern of disrespectful behaviour by the IIHF.

"I'm not happy with the way the IIHF somehow feels it has an entitlement to these great athletes who risk their careers and put themselves out of their own time without anything but love of country," Bettman said.

Among the other items Bettman discussed:

Calgary will host Montreal in an outdoor game in February while Pittsburgh will host Washington in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1.

The salary cap will likely rise by roughly $2-million (U.S.) for next season.

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The annual New Year's Day outdoor game will be held in Washington in the next two or three years.

Different proposals are being considered for a change to the format of the all-star game.

Next season's schedule will be released on June 22, a couple weeks earlier than normal.

The league plans to hold a research and development camp in Toronto on Aug. 18-19 to test equipment and potential rule changes.

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