Hard to believe that 15 years ago this April, Winnipeg was crushed as fans had to sit back and watch their beloved Jets move to Phoenix. Every year there is less and less in the National Hockey League and in Winnipeg that can remind us of “the good old days.” The Winnipeg Arena demolition ended in 2006, as had most former Jets’ NHL careers. Winnipeggers can watch as Teemu Selanne winds up a 1,300+ point career that began in Manitoba with a 10th overall draft pick in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft; Khabibulin stumble as a starter, looking like a ghost of the former “Bulin Wall” that at one time was a hero up north; and Shane Doan finish his 14th season with the only NHL franchise both he and Winnipeg has ever known, the Jets/Coyotes.
It’s been a long time and yet we are no closer to the return of the Jets than the day they left. Sure we have a new arena in a great downtown location, a willing buyer/owner, and diehard fans like no other city. This, however, has yet to convince the NHL to bring a team here. So what is it? What is stopping Winnipeg from getting back its beloved Jets or some other franchise struggling in a large American market? Is NHL commissioner Gary Bettman holding a grudge?
To be honest, Winnipeg, this city cannot afford an NHL team.
Sit down, take a breath and hear me out.
It would be hard to find 17,000 people in our city who want to spend a couple hundred dollars 41 times a year to watch hockey. I know some will argue that corporate support will help by purchasing large blocks of seats and boxes. The fact remains that the financial numbers weren’t viable in 1996, and I don’t believe they are in 2011.
Over the years, we have learned to live without the NHL in our backyard. The American Hockey League moved a franchise here and it has been very successful. They have been so because it is fairly cheap and entertaining for the whole family. The NHL offers a unique experience that is no longer tailored for the average family. It’s tough for a city like Winnipeg, built by the blue collar people who live here, to embrace millionaire athletes that leave town the moment the season ends.
Winnipeg has done a great job replacing the void left by the Jets with festivals, outdoor recreation and non-stop events that embrace the uniqueness that is Winnipeg. Although I do believe there is room for another pro sport team in this city, I don’t believe the NHL fits. We should look for a professional league that is perhaps more humble, much like us, to satisfy our lust for sport.
This past week on Athletes Angle, we interviewed George Daniel, the National Lacrosse League commissioner. He believes that with our downtown arena and our passionate fans, an NLL franchise could succeed. Daniel stated that Winnipeg is one of the top two Canadian markets in which the NLL is looking to expand. With a national TV contract, 25 year franchise stability and a dedicated following, a NLL franchise in Winnipeg looks to be a turnkey opportunity.
What better way for Winnipeg to embrace their own heritage than by welcoming Canada’s national game to their city. Lacrosse is fast paced, hard-hitting action that comes at a very reasonable price. With NLL teams in Minnesota, Calgary and Edmonton, I can feel the hatred already! In my mind only one question remains, would we call the team the Jets?
Check out Athlete’s Angle with Ryan Karhut every Monday at 2 p.m. on 101.5 UMFM. To catch the full interview with NLL commissioner Daniel, head to athletesangle.com.