Why the Winnipeg Jets Won't Be Back

Scott FitzsimmonsAnalyst IMay 14, 2009

14 Apr 1996:  The Winnipeg Jets celebrate during a game against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California.  The Ducks won the game, 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Cratty  /Allsport

The recent news from Phoenix about the offer Jim Balsillie made to purchase the Coyotes has had a lot of people picking sides for if Balsillie should or shouldn’t get the franchise to move it to Southern Ontario. There are also debates on where the team should go, or what the team should be called if the “Coyotes” change homes.

 I would love to see another team in Canada, but I don’t really care where. I think that Winnipeg deserves to have another team to replace the Jets that were stolen from them in the late 90’s.

The loss of the Winnipeg Jets more than a decade ago, has had a huge impact on the sports fans of the entire province of Manitoba. The Jets never had a Stanley Cup contender, but were always a thorn in the side of any team they played.

The cost of operations and the huge increase in salaries were the main demise of the team, especially with the difference in the American and Canadian Dollar.

 It was definitely sad to see the Jets go, even if you weren’t a Winnipeg fan. What’s worse, is that the Jets, will never be a team in Winnipeg again.

Winnipeg is a large Canadian city that could definitely support an NHL team if given the Chance. The only thing is, there are few things that will put a halt to any team moving to Winnipeg any time soon.

For starters, the NHL should have never left Winnipeg. There are many teams in much worse of situations now that the NHL is holding onto. For example, the Phoenix Coyotes. The biggest problem was the salaries that Winnipeg had to hold onto.

Just like the Montreal Expos in the early '90s, Winnipeg had some big name stars they needed to pay big dollars to keep, but needed to see championships to justify paying the salaries.

Selanne, Tkachuk, and Zhamnov were the big ticket forwards, along with an up and coming Nikolai Khabibulin in goal. They were a team that one could have built a strong franchise to come, but now no one will ever know (just like the Expos).

The only problem was that not enough franchises knew how to handle a salary like that. Especially a Canadian franchise that had to deal with a struggling Canadian Dollar coming in from ticket sales, and US dollars going out in salaries.

That compounded with the City of Winnipeg, the Province of Manitoba and the Federal Government refusing to build a new arena made it harder to justify raising ticket prices to come watch a team that wasn’t really winning yet.

Having seen the reasons why the NHL left Winnipeg, there are some puzzling things that happened which cause the most skepticism in the possibility of the NHL returning. The lack of a suitable arena was a reason for the team leaving.

The cost of building it was the issue, with both Civic and Provincial Government not wanting to pick up the tab, and no private ownership stepping up to build either.

In 2004, the MTS Centre was opened to host the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. It is one of the AHL’s premiere arenas, and holds 15,015 fans. This is part of what puzzles me. $133 Million was spent on this state of the art arena. It was obviously built without the thought of the NHL in any of the builder’s minds.

At least no one that did any real research into the matter. A 15,000 seat stadium is great for an AHL franchise, but if you are trying to entice an NHL team to come to Winnipeg, you’ve instantly put yourself behind any other city that bids.

Manitoba Moose Owner Mark Chipman has stated the MTS Centre would be sufficient enough to house an NHL franchise, saying it would create a supply and demand situation.

It isn't that a team couldn't work, but they aren't going to be the NHL's first choice. Plus Chipman's words sound like a justification of the poor choice to build an inadequate building, or a cover for the lack of foresight to see what would be needed to support the NHL team the city deserves.

Besides, a new team will need as much money as possible to help keep the team from going deep into the red. There won’t be a competitive team to draw the crowds, and you’ll need to draw off the novelty and draw in as many fans right away to build your fan base. When you get a competitive team, then you can worry about creating a supply and demand situation.

The last straw that really shocked me was the decision of the governments to put money towards the building of a new stadium for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

David Asper of CanWest Global Communications is picking up most of the tab, but $20 Million will be shelled out between the Governments to build this stadium which makes any other bid to build a future hockey arena, a long shot to say the least.

I’m sure a new stadium can be justified, as what’s now called CanadInns Stadium was built in 1952, and with a state of the art hockey arena just recently built, there would be better places to spend the money.

I hope for the people of Winnipeg that I am wrong, but it will be a long time before the Jets or any other NHL franchise call Winnipeg home.