First in Line
There is no question that Winnipeg is full of intense hockey fans. There is also no denying that the city has been teased a number of times with the return of an NHL franchise, and have since become cynical and disillusioned about the issue. Almost any good news at all on this front is met with a flurry of pessimism.
That does not speak to Winnipeg’s lack of interest in a team, but rather to our desire to not get our hopes up. The fact of the matter though, is that most Winnipegger’s (along with those outside of Winnipeg) do not realize just how feasible a relocation to Winnipeg has become. For the first time in a while, the Winnipeg media published some positive speculation about the potential for the city to land an NHL team.
Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press (http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/columnists/we-cant-deny-it-anymore—-nhl-could-return-45394562.html) writes that we can no longer deny the feasibility. And just to enlighten HTR readers, I will outline the basic points he makes:
1.) The statement uttered by Earl Scudder has now become more than heresay. Emails between Bettman and Daly have been made public dating back to April 4th. In these emails, Bettman expresses in private his preference to give Winnipeg the first shot at the Coyotes. In said emails, it also appears that Bettman is conceding the fact that moving the team is one of the most likely conclusions to the Phoenix saga. Of course, he hasn’t fully given up yet, but it would seem he’s not as delusional as many of us Canadian fans tend to paint him.
2.) The time is ripe for Winnipeg to swoop in and take a team. The one thing Winnipeg lacks is an ownership group with immensely deep pockets. There is no one here who will compete with Balsillie’s insane 212.5 million dollar offer, plus the 17 million in support, plus the 50 million+ it will take to run the team next season before seeing any return on said investment. However, if Balsillie is out, then Winnipeg could certainly compete with Reinsdorf’s estimated bid of 130 million dollars. Further, the Reinsdorf bid would oust Gretzky, and is rumored to be little more than a front to move the team to Las Vegas. So there are definitely more positives with a Winnipeg offer.
3.) Despite all the propaganda spouted by Bettman, there is little doubt that more than a couple NHL franchises are struggling badly. Turner guesses that several owners could be, or will be trying to sell their teams outside of the media spotlight (Atlanta, Nashville, the Islanders, etc…). If that’s true, and more moves appear imminent in the coming years, then it’s not a stretch to see that Bettman would rather move the team to a secure location like Winnipeg, as oppose to another gambler’s market such as Las Vegas. A move to Winnipeg could increase league revenue without completely altering the financial balance of the league and throwing the lesser-lights out of the salary floor running. In short, it’s a buyers market as far as NHL franchises are concerned, and that’s a plus for Winnipeg.
4.) The Winnipeg ownership group has had several conversations over the last few years with the NHL. They have done things the right way. and been more than patient. If this is really all about precedence, than succeeding the team to Winnipeg would surely set a standard for how to acquire and relocate a franchise properly. And as Turner points out, if he was discussing Winnipeg in private emails with his deputy-commissioner, it is unlikely the conversation stopped there. In all likelihood, Chipman’s group has had talks under the radar with Bettman and Co.
5.) And as I’ve been saying on here, Phoenix has now had all their secrets made public. TSN was reporting tonight that the value of the team is sky-rocketting, but that just doesn’t make sense. Who’s going to outbid Balsillie to purchase a franchise that has lost 300 million dollars, only to go through the expensive process of moving it to a new city which is just as likely to fail, or at least, will need significant time to grow into a successful investment (ie. Kansas, Vegas, Houston, etc…)? The country is in a recession, and I just don’t see how that makes any sense for any businessman, no matter how deep their pockets. It doesn’t help that Moyes has expressed his frustration with the league, with his ‘accidental ownership’, and with the total failure of the club. It doesn’t help that several teams are making massive cutbacks, and Charles Wang is on record saying he regrets ever buying his team. Even if Bettman wins, this team cannot stay in Phoenix much longer, no matter what the 200+ protestors have to say about it.
Winnipeg can support that team better than any current US city. Could Hamilton do better? For sure they could, but not without altering the way the league is running at this current time. Also, apparently not without the league’s most hated man at the helm. It’s not outrageous to start imagining the return of the Winnipeg Jets.