BUFFALO, N.Y., July 25 (UPI) -- Five groups are interested in buying the NHL's Sabres and keeping them in Buffalo, commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday, shortly before the team announced it had signed veteran defenseman James Patrick to a two-year contract.
He would not identify the potential ownership groups. Bettman also said it was "purely a coincidence" that he was in Buffalo a day after John Rigas and two sons were arrested in connection with the $3.1 billion collapse of Adelphia Communications Corp.
At a news conference, Bettman said he and Buffalo general manager Darcy Reiger planned Thursday's meeting well before Rigas' arrest Wednesday on charges of conspiracy to commit fraud.
Bettman again echoed his previous statements that the league is "committed to a process that keeps the Sabres in Buffalo." He went on to say that the league was not even talking to anyone who would express an interest for the franchise to be anywhere else but Buffalo.
Bettman and Reiger were joined at the news conference by Erie County Executive Joel Giambra and Buffalo Mayor Anthony Massiello. The commissioner was in Buffalo to meet with area business leaders in an effort to raise local support for the team.
"We need support and we need it now," Bettman told reporters. "The sale of the team will be done in an orderly, professional way. As important as it is to get a transaction, we want good owners."
The NHL took over control of the Sabres last month. The arrangement allows Rigas, the founder and former chairman of Adelphia, to remain owner of the team in title only, and has cleared the way for a potential sale.
While Rigas ran the Sabres separately from Adelphia, he used the cable company's money to help bankroll his purchase of the team. Adelphia, which had filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, is owed $157 million from the Sabres, making it the team's largest creditor.
Bettman said the team continues to plan for the 2002-2003 season.
"We continue to work with Darcy and other club executives to ensure that the day-to-day operations of the Sabres move forward in a business as usual manner," he said. "We will continue to do that as we seek a local buyer."
Reiger called the meeting with Bettman and community leaders "a very important day for the Buffalo Sabres."
Despite its ownership woes, the Sabres Thursday signed James Patrick to a two-year contract. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Patrick has 15 goals and 32 assists in 221 games with Buffalo since signing as a free agent in October 1998.
"Despite having opportunities elsewhere, we are very proud that James has chose to remain with the Buffalo Sabres and stay in our community," Reiger said. "He has provided us with depth and veteran leadership and will be a valuable presence to our younger players."
Patrick became the 14th defenseman in NHL history to record 600 career points and play in 1,100 games when he scored a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins last Oct. 14. The 39-year-old Patrick had 141 goals and 471 assists in 1,156 games with the New York Rangers, Hartford Whalers, Calgary Flames and Sabres.