NHL Return to Winnipeg: 5 Questions That Will Need to Be Addressed
The NHL has returned to Winnipeg, to Manitoba, and to Canada.
But what will the new team do with the decisions that face them in the upcoming off-season? Will True North Sports and Entertainment become more of a saviour to the Winnipeg community?
There are multiple questions facing the team as they return to Winnipeg, and they are all very large, important, and franchise altering decisions.
Who will be the GM? Who will be the coach?
These are all important questions, and we will look at how the new Winnipeg NHL franchise will handle them and the potential possibilities for each question.
Who Will Be the GM in Winnipeg?
Current GM Rick Dudley has very small ties to Winnipeg, having played 30 games with the Jets during the 1980-81 season, scoring ten points (five goals, five assists). Those 30 games would be his last as a player in the NHL.
In his first season as Atlanta Thrashers GM, Dudley aggressively pursued players, and was awarded when he picked up both Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byuflgien from the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks last summer.
Both made an immediate presence, with Ladd having a career year leading the team in scoring with 59 points (29 goals, 30 assists) and Byfuglien netting 53 points from the blueline (20 goals, 33 assists).
With a young core and the Thrashers drafting young Alexander Burmistrov, Dudley put his stamp on the team immediately last season and was signed to a four year extension.
Now the question is will Dudley move with the team to Winnipeg? Will True North big guns keep Dudley in his position or buy out his contract?
There is reason to believe that former Manitoba Moose GM Craig Heisinger would be the next possible option for the GM position in Winnipeg, having been the Moose's GM from the 2002-2003 until this last season.
Heisinger won the AHL's Commissioner's Award for best executive in 2008-09, when the Moose marched to the Calder Cup Finals. His roots run deep in Winnipeg, having been an equipment manager with the Jets in the early 1990s and having been assistant GM three years before under then Moose GM Randy Carlyle.
However, Dudley's NHL experience makes his worth skyrocket.
It is possible and probably better for the team altogether to keep Dudley as GM and name Heisinger assistant GM for the short term. With a man that is so respected around the league as Rick Dudley, the new Winnipeg franchise would do well to benefit from his experience and expertise.
Who Will the Head Coach in Winnipeg?
Current Atlanta Thrashers head coach Craig Ramsay finished his first full season behind the bench in the 2010-11 season.
An NHL veteran of 1070 games as a hard nosed winger for the Buffalo Sabres in the 1970s, Ramsay has seen his fair share behind the benches of NHL teams. However, most of that comes as an assistant coach.
Ramsay was interim head coach in Buffalo during the 1986-87 season and started the 2000-01 season as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers before being fired. Ramsay took the 2010-11 Thrashers out of the gate with a promising start, only to have them fizzle in the home stretch of the season and miss the playoffs yet again.
Winnipeg management has to be looking to see if Ramsay is the right man for the young team they have. Perhaps they may look for a coach with more experience and a better rapport with the younger players.
Several former coaches are still looking for employment in the NHL, and the following names come to mind.
Guy Carbonneau was the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens from 2006-2009 and led the team to a first place birth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs during the 2007-08 season. As a former player, his understanding of the game as a defensive forward is invaluable, as he amassed a 124-83-23 record with the Canadiens, a winning percentage of .589.
Kirk Muller is the current assistant coach of the Montreal Canadiens and is reported to be the next best coach that is still an assistant coach. Would the new team take a chance on a new coach?
Bob Hartley won the Stanley Cup with Colorado in the 2000-01 season and has not been employed since being fired by the same franchise in Atlanta in 2007. His 329-226-61-34 record (.581 winning percentage) speaks volumes, but can he still be an effective coach in today's NHL?
Ted Nolan has not coached since being let go by the New York Islanders after the 2007-08 season. He won the Jack Adams Trophy in 1996-97 as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres after leading them to a 40-30-12 record. He is 147-140-19-21 in his career and could be a good fit with the younger players.
John Torchetti is the current assistant coach and won a Stanley Cup in Chicago in 2010. Could a promotion be in order? He coached the LA Kings for twelve games during the 2005-06 season, replacing Marc Crawford and the Florida Panthers for 27 games in the 2003-04 season, replacing Rick Dudley.
Craig Hartsburg currently coaches the Everett Silvertips of the WHL and has almost 500 games of NHL coaching experience with Chicago, Anaheim, and Ottawa. His 201-208-69-13 record does not speak of much success, but his experience coaching junior hockey could help his report with the younger players in Winnipeg.
Can the Winnipeg Team Attract a Franchise Centreman?
With Nik Antropov as their number one centre, many are starting to say that the new Winnipeg team needs a bonafide #1 centre down the middle if they are to compete in the Western Conference in the future.
Playing against the likes of Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf, and Jonathan Toews, the Winnipeg franchise needs a centre who will play big minutes and be big himself.
The question is how much is the new team willing to spend? There are only a few free agent centre men in the market during this off-season, including Brad Richards.
Either the team will look to trade to afford that centre man they need or they will draft him. With the seventh overall pick in the upcoming draft in Minnesota, there are a few players who could be that potential franchise player, but will it be a centre?
ISS May 2011 Top 10 Ratings had five centres, including Jonathan Huberdeau (eighth) and Ryan Stone (ninth).
Whatever the case, Winnipeg needs a big centre down the middle to be a successful team for years to come.
Will the Community Respond and Support the Team?
The NHL's return to Winnipeg relies heavily on the community of Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba to support the new franchise and help it succeed far into the future.
The Drive to 13 season ticket drive will show how much the community supports the franchise and indicate that hockey works in the Manitoban capital.
With ticket prices ranging from $39-$129 per ticket and from $1,755 to $5,805 for season tickets, the community's deep pockets may come out in droves to support the NHL's return.
Until then, Winnipeg has something to prove.
What Will the Name of the Team Be?
Manitoba Polar Bears? Winnipeg Falcons? Winnipeg Flood? Winnipeg Warriors? Wnnipeg Thrashers? Manitoba Moose?
How about Winnipeg Jets?
You have to have been living under a rock to know that Winnipeggers loved their Jets and still do. The Jets name is under ownership of the NHL right now, and would take considerable cash to buy it back from the NHL. If True North were willing to take that financial undertaking, the Jets name would be right back where it was 15 years ago.
However, there are many marketing executive who feel the team needs a fresh start and a breaking from the Jets name and logo. Many have hinted at the team keeping the current AHL team's name and logo - the Manitoba Moose.
There have also been rumblings of naming the team Manitoba instead of Winnipeg to incorporate the entire province, which would be good for any provincial money if it were to be available.
However, this topic seems to be the most hotly debated and most talked about of all. If the Jets were to come back as the name and logo, the city would once again be in love with their team all over again. Yet, they already are with the new team whether or not they are the Jets.
True North has the responsibility to start a new legacy and chapter in Winnipeg hockey history and it is up to them to make it a strong, true, and proud legacy by the name and logo that the new team will bear.
Will it be Jets? Maybe.
Could it be Thrashers still?