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Bettman not concerned about Jets' attendance decline

Andrea Cardin / National Hockey League / Getty

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman doesn't sound worried about the Winnipeg Jets' decline in attendance.

"I believe that this is a strong NHL market," he told reporters before the Jets' clash against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night. "I believe that ownership has made extraordinary commitments to the Jets ... involving hundreds of millions of dollars. I'm not sure why people are now speculating that somehow they're not going to be here. At the end of the day, we can go through a litany of reasons ... as to how the attendance situation got to where it is.

"It kind of doesn't really matter because teams go through different ups and downs. I believe that the season ticket base and the attendance will evolve back to where it was."

The club confirmed to The Athletic on Friday that its season ticket base had dwindled from approximately 13,000 to around 9,500 over the last three years. Jets chairman Mark Chipman expressed concern over the future of the franchise in Winnipeg, saying those numbers wouldn't "work over the long haul."

Bettman offered his interpretation of Chipman's comments on Tuesday.

"What I believe Mark means by that ... (is) he didn't want to just be a member of the NHL; he wants a team that has the foundation for success," he said. "He wants to be competitive every year. He'd like to bring the Stanley Cup to Winnipeg.

"If the team is going to have the resources and the ability to compete at the highest level and spend to the cap as they have, it'd be important for the building to be full."

The Jets entered Tuesday's action in second place in the Central Division. They've performed excellently following a turbulent offseason in which former captain Blake Wheeler and Pierre-Luc Dubois left the team. Winnipeg was also at risk of losing franchise cornerstones Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck, but both players signed matching seven-year, $59.5-million extensions in October.

"I'm mystified at the tension that seems to have developed here," Bettman said. "And by the way, this is a team, if they make the playoffs this year ... it'll be six of the last seven years. They're a cap team. The star players who had an opportunity to go elsewhere decided to stay here. Those are the substantive things that deliver the message that everybody seems to be focused on."

Bettman himself appears to be confident in the Jets' future in Winnipeg, and he had a simple message for fans who might be feeling apprehensive.

"Get over your anxiety and come to games," he said. "No better way to deal with anxiety than rooting for your hometown team."

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