Winnipeg hockey fans are looking blue, white and red in the face because they’ve been holding their breath waiting for their Jets to return home.
The latest tease was an April 13 report by Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos, hinting that a deal to save the Phoenix Coyotes is “all but dead.”
After struggling financially during the mid-1990s – the loonie would tumble to 63.11 cents US by August 1998 – the franchise relocated from Winnipeg to Phoenix, where the now NHL-owned club faced a litany of new challenges.[audio:http://www.torontoobserver.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Greg-Wyshynski-Interview.mp3|titles=GW Podcast] Greg Wyshinski aka Puck Daddy of Yahoo! Sports speaks on the Coyotes move.
During the 2011 all-star break, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league had no interest in continuing to run the Coyotes. Last month, he admitted time is running out to a cut a deal with Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer, the front-runner to purchase the team.
Hulsizer has been in talks with the league to buy the Coyotes for $170 million US since last September.
The city of Glendale is poised to raise $100 million to aid the purchase, through the sale of municipal bonds, but the Goldwater Institute, an independent government watchdog, has lobbied against it.
“We’ll hang in there as long as it makes sense and as long as we can,” Bettman said at the all-star game. “But time is getting short. Make no mistake about that. This is not something that is of infinite duration.”[audio:http://www.torontoobserver.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Scott-Morrison-Interview.mp3] Scott Morrison of CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada weighs in.
True North Sports and Entertainment, led by Winnipeg-based investor Mark Chipman and his partner, billionaire David Thomson, have made no secret of their interest to purchase the franchise and return to Winnipeg if Hulsizer’s deal goes belly-up.
In January, Bettman acknowledged Winnipeg could be an ideal fit if the franchise was to jump ship but he was careful to err on the side of caution.
“Everybody knows my view on that — if we have to move a club, it would be good to go back to a place that we were once in that has a different situation, vis-a-vis building and ownership and the like, but it’s one of the reasons we get concerned.
“We think it’s unfair when baseless stories come out suggesting things that aren’t true to get people in Winnipeg all excited.”
Arena in place
True North already owns both the MTS Centre — the arena where the Jets would play if they were to return — and the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose, who currently call the MTS Centre home.
The MTS Centre can only hold roughly 15,000 hockey fans, putting it 3,000 below the NHL median.
And if the NHL were to return to town, what would happen to the Moose? Would there still be a market for the minor-league club?
According to a report by the Winnipeg Free Press, True North is gearing up to launch a season ticket drive, aimed at gauging the city’s interest and ability to support an NHL franchise.
“One of the things the board has to have satisfied is that the market is capable of supporting an NHL team at NHL prices,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told the Free Press via e-mail.
Although he went on to say that it “can be done in a variety of ways, depending on the market and “there is no one ‘cookie cutter’ approach.”
The seat-selling arrangement is reminiscent of Blackberry founder Jim Balsille’s failed attempt to land the Coyotes back in 2009. Balsille had pre-sold season tickets in Hamilton, the southern Ontario city of his choosing.
Nothing concrete has yet to emerge but the rumors are swirling that an announcement could come from the NHL prior to the conclusion of the 2011 playoffs.
The wide-eyed Jets fans are as hopeful as they have ever been, but as they have learned the hard way, getting ahead of yourself is a recipe for disappointment.
For now, the Winnipeg fans continue to play the waiting game.[audio:http://www.torontoobserver.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Joe-Yerdon-Interview.mp3] Joe Yerdon of Pro Hockey Talk on NBCSports.com talks relocation.