The Islanders' preseason trip to China, which was spearheaded by...

The Islanders' preseason trip to China, which was spearheaded by team owner Charles Wang, will be called off. Credit: AP, 2006

The former owner of the Hartford Whalers says he would like to see hockey return to the city but added that he does not see relocating the Islanders there as an option right now.

In a telephone interview with Newsday Friday, Howard Baldwin said he has not reached out to Islanders owner Charles Wang, calling the idea "jumping the gun." He said he needs to first prove that Hartford is worthy of another NHL team before he starts shopping around for one.

Baldwin took the initial step on that front earlier this week when he announced a 10-day outdoor hockey festival - "Whalers' Hockey Fest" - to be held in Hartford in February. He said it will feature a Whalers reunion game, an all-star game of legends and several AHL, college and high school matchups.

He hopes the interest generated from the event could spur the league to consider Hartford in the future.

"I started the Whalers, I had them for 18 years and I feel very strongly about Hartford being a great hockey market," Baldwin said. "If something happens way down the road or if the NHL gets interest, great. But our first priority is to show people in the hockey world that Hartford is a very good and vibrant hockey market . . . Then who the hell knows what will happen?"

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