"I guarantee you people in Winnipeg will have a franchise."
Bold words from a bold man.
It shouldn't matter if you're a Don Cherry fan or not, but the man's rarely been wrong about anything.
I'm as skeptical as the next person, as this is about the 156th time I've heard a rumor of the NHL returning to Winnipeg. But my reason for airing this bit of news is that as the rumors continue to grow in number, the importance is the amount of truth they hold.
Let's take a look at the recent rumours surrounding hockey returning to Winnipeg, or even Canada for that matter.
Once the MTS Centre was built on Portage between Hargrave and Carlton in downtown Winnipeg, many believed the NHL wasn't far behind. That was in November of 2004, when the Centre opened as the new home of the AHL's Manitoba Moose.
As prized a franchise as the Moose are to the AHL in the records of attendance and success in their fifteen years of existence in the windy city, fans have become less inclined to think that the NHL will return the longer the Moose are here.
The Moose average 8,294 per game, second only to Hershey (9,555) in the entire AHL. That is 55% capacity for minor pro hockey in a city that used to house the former Winnipeg Jets.
The argument still is: Will Winnipeg respond if the NHL moves back? Will the corporate market help the team out?
And most importantly: Will the team win?
For fans in Winnipeg, it is about how the team is playing that will draw them out to a game. Take the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers for example. In Canad Inns Stadium (capacity of 29,533) the 4-14 Bombers managed an average attendance of about 26,354, 89.2% capacity—still above the average capacity of the Moose, who are annually fighting for the top spot in the AHL's North Division.
Many forget, however, that the data collected from now-demolished Winnipeg Arena is outdated.
Winnipeg Arena had a capacity of 15,567 for NHL hockey when the building was renovated for the 1979-80 season when the Jets switched from the WHA to the NHL.
The Jets average attendance from the 1979-80 season until their move to Phoenix in the 1995-96 season was 12,993, an average capacity of 83.5%.
Not too shabby, but will the fans who come out to fill 55% of the MTS Centre for AHL hockey fill more if the NHL were to set up shop there instead?
Don Cherry may have his quips and qualms, but mark his words when he says the NHL is coming back to Winnipeg.