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ESPN Report Sparks More Rumors About Possible Whalers’ Move

April 16, 1996

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A television report that the Hartford Whalers had made a deal to move to Nashville, Tenn., was denied today by the general manager of the NHL club and Connecticut officials.

ESPN cited an unidentified NHL team owner as saying state officials had decided to give up trying to keep the Whalers in Connecticut, and that the team was moving to Nashville.

``We would deny the content of the ESPN report,″ said Dean Pagani, the governor’s press secretary. ``There’s been no decision by anyone in state government to give up on the Whalers.‴

Whalers general manager Jim Rutherford adamantly rejected the notion that the team would strike a deal to leave the state amid an ambitious monthlong campaign to more than double the season-ticket base to 11,000. The deadline of the drive is May 1.

The latest rumor came a day after Rutherford met with state officials and Sen. Christopher Dodd in the effort to drum up ticket sales _ and a day before the first results of the campaign were to be announced.

``I spent an hour-and-a-half at the Capitol building yesterday with Senator Dodd and (Lt. Gov.) Jodi Rell and several other corporate leaders in a meeting that was held focusing on the (ticket) campaign,″ Rutherford said.

``For anyone to suggest that we made an agreement that we can exit is way off base. If that was the case, why would we have this meeting to continue the campaign?″

A news conference was scheduled for noon today at the state Capitol to deny the ESPN report.

ESPN did not immediately return a phone call this morning from The Associated Press.

Under a sales agreement with the state, the owners promised to keep the team in Connecticut until the end of the 1997-98 season. But they have indicated they will consider an earlier move should the ticket campaign fall short.

As a result, speculation that the Whalers are relocating has been surfacing on and off for weeks. Several cities have been mentioned as possible new homes. Nashville has a standing offer to any NHL franchise.

``It’s no secret that Nashville wants a team, and no secret that there’s a campaign going on in Hartford,″ Rutherford said. ``It’s not hard to see how someone can put this kind of story together.″

Gaylord Entertainment Co. spokesman Alan Hall said reports of a Whalers move to Nashville ``are just media speculation.″ But when asked if ESPN was wrong, he said, ``Let’s just say it’s media speculation.″

Hall added:

``We are still attempting to get a NHL or NBA team in Nashville in the arena. But I’m not prepared to say who.″

Gaylord Entertainment owns, among other properties, TNN-The Nashville Network, CMT-Country Music Television, Oryland Hotel and theme park and the Grand Ole Opry.

``We’ve been talking with the NHL offices about trying to get a team here in Nashville. We’ve talked to them in general terms about how interested we are in a NHL team. Anyone interested in moving a team ... that’s certainly someone we’d be interested in talking with,″ Hall said.

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