CHICAGO (Reuters) - The long-running Phoenix Coyotes saga could be coming to an end with National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman telling reporters "time is getting short".
Since taking ownership of the franchise almost four years ago, the league has repeatedly been frustrated in its efforts to find an owner willing to keep the club in Arizona.
The league has rejected all attempts to relocate the team but if a new ownership group is unable to negotiate a lease with the city of Glendale, moving the franchise may be the only solution.
Quebec City and Seattle have both been suggested as possible.
"It's our hope that they are going to stay where they are but should the team be forced to relocate we will have to take a look at it and make a decision," admitted Bettman.
"There are a number of markets that have been expressing interest to us over the years and the phone keeps ringing the longer the Coyotes situation stays unresolved."
Despite sitting at the bottom of the league in attendance, Bettman said he is convinced the Coyotes could be a success in the desert.
"We try to avoid franchise relocation, we try to do everything possible, we don't think it is fair to fans and we don't think it's fair unless you have to move to do it to communities that build you buildings," explained Bettman.
"We have now operated this club for about three years, we've had ownership of it, we've had great support from the people on the ground and we actually believe that if you gave the community an owner, who said I'm committed to being here this franchise could be successful from a business standpoint."
Bettman said the league recovered nicely from a bitter labor dispute that almost ended in the cancellation of the entire season.
Playing a shortened 48-game regular season revenues were better than projected bragged, the lockout doing no permanent damage to the NHL brand or seriously eroding its fan base.
"We've had a very, very strong season in terms of attendance, buildings 97 percent full during the regular season, 100 percent full in playoffs, ratings increases and records in some cases, locally, nationally Canada and the U.S. and we've had very exciting and compelling playoffs," said Bettman.
"But having the ability to now look forward to a decade of labor peace is the most important thing that we were able to accomplish."
(Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto; editing by Julian Linden)