It seems that the hushed talk normally found in coffee shops and around kitchen tables has finally made the mainstream. The Winnipeg Jets may be flying home to the MTS Centre. With the Phoenix Coyotes hemorrhaging cash at an alarming rate the fate of Glendale Arizona’s hockey team lays in the hands of its city fathers.
Tonight the fate of the Coyotes will be decided in city council chambers, when a vote will decide if the city will pour city tax dollars in a vain attempt to keep the team and the brand new Jobing.com arena open with its intended tenant. If the Glendale Council votes in favour of the team they could be on the hook for as much as 25 to 30 million dollars in expected operations shortfalls for the Phoenix Coyotes.
The current owners of the Coyotes, the NHL are desperately looking for a resolution in the ongoing saga since taking over the team from Jerry Moyes. Gary Bettman as head of the NHL has been forced into a corner after a very public battle, blocking the Moyes’ sale of the Coyotes to Canadian Blackberry billionaire Jim Balsillie. The battle boiled down to a disagreement on whom a team owner could sell an existing franchise to. The courts sided with Bettman and the NHL stating that any sale must be first approved by the league governors. The NHL ended up buying the Coyotes and running the team in trust until a suitable owner could be found.
Fast forward to today, and we see that the two front-runners for the team have dropped out of the running. Both Ice Edge Holdings and Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, preferred prospective owners of the Coyotes but ran into trouble negotiating with the City of Glendale.
All the while much further North in Winnipeg, a once long shot hope of regaining an NHL franchise may be gaining steam. With the strength of the Canadian dollar and economy, a new arena and ownership group in place Winnipeg is making Gary Bettman think long and hard about his decision to move the Jets to Phoenix in 1996.
The strength of Winnipeg’s bid is bolstered by the fact that the men holding the cheque in Canada are none other than David Thomson. Chairman of Thomson/Reuters Newsgroup, by all accounts one of Canada’s richest people and a co-owner of Winnipeg’s MTS Centre along with Mark Chipman.
Chipman and Thomson have quietly worked the back channels of the NHL laying plans for a franchise return to Winnipeg. Fighting to build the MTS Centre which has been a stunning success becoming the 26th busiest entertainment building in North America and 39th busiest in the World. Home to the Manitoba Moose, an American Hockey League team, Chipman learned the ins and outs of running a pro hockey franchise.
So it looks that indeed the stars are aligning, Hell is freezing over and more importantly Gary Bettman is afraid of losing his job over his failed experiment in moving professional hockey teams to the Southern United States. If the City of Glendale votes to deny the NHL tax monies to cover the Coyotes losses for the foreseeable future the NHL have the right to move the team as they see fit.
In 1972 Winnipeg signed Bobby Hull to a million dollar contract at Portage and Main, perhaps starting the rise of salaries that contributed to the loss of the Winnipeg Jets in 1996. Here we are in 2010, a generation has grown in Manitoba not knowing the joy of having a NHL team to cheer for. Could this possibly be the time to return hockey glory to Winnipeg? Only time will tell, but until then. GO JETS GO.
Authors Note – May 12, 2010: Last night Glendale Council voted unanimously in support of keeping the Coyotes in Phoenix. The vote provides “Bridge Financing” in the eventuality a buyer cannot be found and the team remains in Phoenix.