Commissioner Gary Bettman says the league will listen to potential ownership groups as soon as one shows it can make an arena work in the Seattle area.

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NEW YORK — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made it clear Friday that Seattle needs an arena plan and financing in place before the league even considers expanding there.

Less than two weeks before the city of Seattle releases a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Sodo District arena proposed by entrepreneur Chris Hansen, Bettman said it will take far more than that to get expansion wheels turning. Bettman said the league will listen to Hansen or potential ownership groups looking at Tukwila and Bellevue as soon as one shows it can make an arena work someplace.

“From a distance, it won’t warrant — if it does at all — serious consideration until there’s a realistic expectation that there’s going to be an arena there,’’ Bettman said. “You’ve got your approvals, you’ve got your financing — you’re ready to go. You’re basically saying, ‘Listen, if we get a team, we’re committed to and are ready to break ground, because this building can be a reality.’ ’’

Bettman made his comments in a conference room at league headquarters to a group of two-dozen journalists attending the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) commissioners meetings. He said the league could decide at its June board of governors meetings to hold discussions about Las Vegas as a potential expansion site.

Bettman cautioned that no expansion decision will be made at those meetings, nor is Las Vegas on a faster track than anyplace else. But he cited Las Vegas as an example Seattle should emulate if it wants in on expansion discussions.

“In Las Vegas, there’s steel coming out of the ground,’’ he said. “The building is getting built. Whether or not they ever get a team is a different story. But there’s no question that there’s going to be a building there.’’

That question won’t get answered in Seattle until Hansen gets a master-use permit for an arena approved, unlikely to happen before 2016. There’s also the separate financing issue, because a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Hansen, the city and King County pledges up to $200 million in bonds for the arena if he can get an NBA team.

But NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday he doesn’t see Seattle getting a franchise for at least two or three more years. That means modifying the MOU for a “hockey first” scenario.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who met with Bettman in January, said he’s open to modifying the MOU if given a proposal that “pencils out” economically. Bettman said that, in their meeting, Murray indicated to him “there might be greater flexibility in the future.’’

For now, Bettman suggested the field is wide open to any group that wants to present a plan. It was shortly after his meeting with Murray that Bettman caused a fuss by telling a Vancouver, B.C., radio station he’d held discussions with groups looking at Tukwila and Bellevue.

“I didn’t believe at the time that it was a secret,’’ he said Friday, chuckling. “Lots of people have been talking to us about both of those opportunities, and I didn’t think that nobody else knew about it.’’

The Times reported soon after that Connecticut-based investment banker Ray Bartoszek was looking at the Tukwila site and longtime NHL power broker Jac Sperling was trying to form a group to play at either locale. Bettman said he monitors all interested groups, but nothing matters until somebody steps forward.

Hansen has said he wants to own an NBA team, but any NHL team in the Sodo arena would be owned by Los Angeles real estate magnate Victor Coleman — with whom he has a non-binding agreement.

“Chris (Hansen) has not evidenced much interest in an NHL team,’’ Bettman said. “The basketball team left. We think there’s a great opportunity for NHL hockey in that market. But in the absence of an arena, or the willingness of somebody who controls the arena rights to let it happen, there’s not much we can do.’’