There seems to be some confusion and concern over the MTS Centre and its ability to house an NHL tennant when and if Commissioner Bettman finally caves, like he should have done long ago, and admit that his precious sunbelt experiment failed.
An impromptu alliance of Canadians and passive NHL pessimists alike seem hell-bent on the idea of the NHL ever returning to Winnipeg in the first place, and in telling their cautionary tale, the first thing they point to is the size of the MTS Centre.
By now we all know the capacity of this arena, 15,045. Many of us who have followed the return of the Jets campaign for years as I have, probably have that number memorized, as it's used both in defense and against such a return to the province of Manitoba. There is probably not a more controversial or debated number in all of sports right now, certainly in all of hockey, than that number right there.
Arguments from Canadians
Pessimists, most notably led by a contingent from Toronto, argue that this number is simply too small to accommodate the NHL and its needs. Some even suggest a desire for 18,000 seats, even though this supposed NHL mandate can be debated as well, as I personally believe it doesn't exist.
They will cite that the Quebec Nordiques proposed arena of 18,000 is the way to go and that's likely where they got the magic number of 18,000 from. These people are also the crowd that scream from the highest mountains that "They'll believe it when they see it" concerning a return of the NHL to Canada or just an increase in Canadian franchises in general, since we haven't seen an addition in this manner since the Ottawa Senators beat out Hamilton for a franchise back in 1991.
Now, I realize their pain. I know these are likely some of the same people that are still bitter that they lost the Jets in the first place and don't want to get too emotionally involved this time around in case it fails again.
Still others are probably honourary members of "Nordiques Nation" and they too don't trust Gary Bettman or his cronies to do the right thing and erase the pain created 15 years ago.
Finally, others are those that thought Copps Coliseum was going to house the Hamilton Tigers part deux or whatever they would have named their franchise should they have been granted an expansion franchise instead of Tampa Bay or Ottawa back in the day.
But there comes a time when you just have to let it go and get behind your Canadian brothers for the good of Canada and the good of the sport in the hopes that the league might return to places they once turned their backs on.
Just be glad its as big as it is
In citing its minuscule numbers, anti-Winnipeg detractors suggest that even on its best day, and if sold out for an entire season, the 15,045 sellouts would only place Winnipeg at 23rd in the league in overall attendance.
I argue, what's better for business: 15,045 real live, legitimate fans each and every night paying legit NHL prices, or 11,000 "announced" fans at Jobing.com arena in Phoenix, when in reality the vast majority of those in attendance were given free or heavily discounted tickets and the real attendance is probably closer to 7,000 on a good night?
In addition, don't you think True North Sports and Entertainment, the would-be owners of a Winnipeg Jets rebirth haven't already considered this? You know they are going to try and be creative in getting as many fans into the building as they can, especially during its inaugural return season and subsequent years back when demand will be highest.
Whether this be standing-rail only tickets which every NHL arena has, except for maybe Phoenix, Atlanta, and Columbus who wouldn't understand this concept much less have a need for it, or adding more seats in the future, they are going to do what they can to increase capacity meanwhile not decrease the value of attending a game there should our 15-year nightmare finally end in the coming weeks.
Winnipeg pessimists also annoyingly point out that their should be a new arena because of this size dilemma and "If they thought ahead, they'd probably have the Coyotes right now." Well, back in 2004 when MTS Centre opened, who could have thought the NHL would seriously consider them? Remember once the Jets were stolen, this became AHL territory, home of the Manitoba Moose, who relocated from Minnesota of the then–International Hockey League.
MTS was built for them and to accommodate their crowds and fanbase. No one could have predicted the Southern experiment failing all at the same time, much less a higher Canadian dollar to that of the U.S., and a salary cap and floor all benefactors to Winnipeg's long-term viability, which did not exist back in 1996 when they left for the desert.
We knew it was a mistake from the beginning, maybe we'd be lucky if one or two franchises eventually relocated but the chances of that happening to Canada, and specifically to Winnipeg of all places? Never. That's the stuff fairy tales are made of.
Keep in mind, the original plans for the MTS Centre called for roughly 11,000 seats and it was on the insistence of then-Mayor Glen Murray (no not the winger) that it was built as big as it was. Yes, we all wish it was 17 or 18,000 now but what if the former had happened? If MTS had only 11,000 seats, with no possible way for that much expansion, they wouldn't even be in the conversation now, no matter how legit it actually is.
So could MTS Centre actually expand or not?
Depends on who you believe. Gary Lawless, a writer for the Winnipeg Free Press, recently wrote there is no truth to the rumors that as part of the $200 purchase agreement of the Phoenix Coyotes, $60 million would go towards a 2,500-seat expansion of the Arena. (See article here.)
This I completely disagree with. First off, Lawless seems like a good guy. He's been writing so long and so often I don't know what to believe anymore and he's been known to write out of both sides of his mouth so who knows, but I know this.
Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, a publication I take far more seriously and respect more than a conflict-of-interest newspaper whose goal is to sell copies, reported this first, and he's also been hinting at relocation of the Coyotes far longer than anyone else. He was one of the first to bring up Winnipeg when others dared to do. (See article here.)
What does Lawless think Campbell did? Pull the number out of thin air? It makes too much sense not to be true as we all know there is a need for increased seating and should it turn out to be false, I'm sure Campbell's credibility would be at stake, so let's be real here. Do you really think he made up that number? If it turns out to be true, who looks bad here? Its far more likely that Lawless is simply being cautious and doesn't want to get ahead of himself, which some would say is typical Lawless.
In the end will it happen? Who knows, but what I do know is MTS Centre isn't going anywhere. It's there waiting for the taking. If the Jets come back, that's their new home, like it or not. Is the 15,045 set in stone? Likely not, but we'll have to wait and see. What you see is likely not what you get.
You don't tear down seven-year-old arena's that cost over $100 million that is unless you live in the Westgate section of Glendale Arizona, and may have no other option, but that's another problem for another day.
Information and references from The Winnipeg Free Press, Hockey Forums.com and the Hockey News directly contributed to the content of this article.