Actually Shabbs, it has never been 'up to Bettman'.
Being Commissioner, Bettman would customarily oversee the activities of the NHL and report to the Board of Governors, who vote on all of the decisions. Bettman would have the tie breaking vote in the case of an impasse.
Again, if the NHL was dead set against franchises in Canada, the Senators would have been toast when they went bankrupt.
The same thing would have taken place when the Montreal Canadiens were being sold almost ten years ago.
Bettmania--or Garyphobia, to be more exact--is fashionable among the Mainstream Hockey Media.
Bettman's an easy--and convenient--target.
But is this mania based in fact?
If you do a comparative analysis of the NHL during Bettman's tenure to the eras of Gil Stein, John Ziegler and Clarence Campbell--names unknown to many hockey fans, you might not be so quick to join the mob who want to lynch Gary.
My position, in case you are interested, is that I simply look at what is going on and try reserve judgement until I have the facts.
Insofar as Balsillie is concerned, I find his way of 'doing business' questionable. If he's serious about getting a franchise, why can't he just follow the established procedures for getting one, like all the other owners do?
If Len Barrie and Oren Koules could buy into a franchise, why can't Balsillie get it together with the Board of Governors, as they did?
About the Jets, this excerpt from a site devoted to the history of the team is worth reading:
Amidst a 4-month lockout that cuts the 1994-95 NHL season in half word begins to spread that the Jets future in Winnipeg is in jeopardy. Despite solid seasons from Alexei Zhamnov, Keith Tkachuk and Teemu Selanne the Jets again finish in last place with a record of 16-25-7.
Following the season efforts to save the Jets would be thrown in to overdrive after the Manitoba Entertainment Complex announces they would not exercise their option to purchase the Jets and keep the team in Winnipeg.
After the MEC fell apart, and a retirement ceremony for the Jets logo and Thomas Steen's #25 were held Operation Grassroots was started in an effort to persuade government and local buyers to construct a new arena and keep the Jets in Winnipeg. On May 16th 35,000 people attend a rally to raise money in the largest rally in Winnipeg in 50 years.
Approximately $250,000 is raised at this rally from the citizens of Winnipeg. A day later another $250,000 would be raised at "Hockey Social" at the Winnipeg Convention Centre.
Meanwhile a deal to sell the team to a ownership group in Minnesota would fall apart, as owner Barry Shenkarow announces the team will stay in Winnipeg at least one more season.
However, efforts to keep them in Winnipeg beyond a season were hampered when the Winnipeg City Council voted to deny charitable tax status on donations to The Spirit of Manitoba formerly known as the MEC, who were raising money to save the team. Although the decision would be overturned, the Spirit of Manitoba would fail to raise the required capital to proceed with the purchase of the Winnipeg Jets, ending all hopes the team would stay in Winnipeg beyond one year, as ownership outside Winnipeg was sought.
1995/96: "By the time I get to Phoenix she'll be rising, she'll find the note I left hangin' on her door she'll laugh when she reads the part that says I'm leavin' Cause I've left that girl so many times before." Words sung by Glenn Campbell must have been a punch in the heart to the fans of the Jets as they entered their final lame duck season in Winnipeg, as a group headed by Richard Burke and Steven Gluckstern announces they would be moving the Jets to Phoenix following the season.
So, according to this account, it was the City of Winnipeg--and NOT Gary Bettman--who would have been responsible for the final demise of the Jets.