NHL Returning to Winnipeg: 8 Questions That Will Need to Be Answered
If you are a fan of the NHL, you likely already know that the Atlanta Thrashers have been sold to True North Sports and Entertainment. The franchise will make the long move north to Winnipeg.
For those of you new to hockey or geography, Winnipeg is the capital city of the province of Manitoba. Manitoba is a midwestern province in Canada. The team becomes the seventh NHL franchise to be located in nation that spawned hockey.
If you assume that the NHL season were to start October 1, 2011, that would mean there are only 122 days until the Winnipeg franchise re-debuts. Actually, it would be less than that because of preseason games, but you get the idea.
Over the next 100-122 days, there are many questions that will need to be worked out by the team and also by the NHL. Let's take a look at eight of them.
No. 1: What to Call the Team? (Winnipeg Jets vs. Manitoba Moose)
As of this moment, the True North Group has been non-committal to what the name of the team will be.
It seems unlikely they have not given it some thought, but the rapid pace that the Atlanta deal came together makes it likely that they never made it past the kick it around stage.
The sentimental favorite would be to go with tradition and name the team the Winnipeg Jets once more. It feels right in our hearts, but is it the right decision? The Winnipeg Jets never exactly tore up the NHL. They had success in the defunct WHA, but in the big league only won two playoff series.
It has been reported by many sources that the NHL (not the Phoenix Coyotes) own the rights to the Jets name, logo, etc. If the ownership group chooses to go this route, the path should not be difficult. If they do use the Jets name, will there be a re-design of the logo and uniform or will it be a complete return to tradition?
But some say, a fresh start is needed. Why drag the bitter memories of 15 years worth of Winnipeg winters without an NHL team? Perhaps the Manitoba Moose is a better route.
The True North Group made sure that the AHL team by that name was well-exposed and a part of the community. Since the area is already used to the name, there may not be a backlash if it is selected.
There is also the possibility that a "sleeper" name could emerge. The Polar Bears, Wolves, and Whiteout are some names that can be found by various folk on Twitter. Any of these would be a long shot, and likely leave everyone scratching their head.
My vote: Bring back the Jets! Use the logo and uniforms they left town with.
No. 2: Who Exactly Is in Charge Here?
An item of more pressing concern than the name, would actually be "who is running the ship"? According to TSN, this is far from certain at the moment.
We know that Executive Vice-President Don Waddell will not be moving to Manitoba. Who will be the General Manager? It may still be Rick Dudley, but perhaps he and the new ownership group will not see eye to eye.
TSN reports that Manitoba Moose GM Craig Heisinger will "be a big part of the organization" according to True North Chairman Mark Chirpman. Exactly what that means remains to be seen.
Does Dudley want his likely replacement looking over his shoulder constantly?
My opinion: Dudley will remain on for continuity sake. No need for ownership to rock the boat if he is willing to relocate.
No. 3: Who Will Coach the Team?
The Winnipeg franchise could find themselves with an entirely new coaching staff by the start of the season. Ownership will likely chat with each member of the staff that is under contract and get a feel for their willingness to move north and their level of dedication to the team.
Head Coach Craig Ramsay is at the start of the list. While it is true that Thrashers had a very disappointing finish to the season, many did not expect them to have the strong start. Whatever blame Ramsay takes for the finish should also become praise for coming out of the gates strong with an unlikely group.
The official NHL homepage of the Thrashers lists four coaches, eight full-time scouts, two-part scouts, and seven people on the training/equipment staff. Decisions have to be made on and by each of these folks.
My take: Everybody will not be heading north. That seems impossible. I do expect Ramsay to make the commitment. Unlike Don Waddell, who was crushed by the loss of the team from Atlanta, Ramsay is a coach. Migration is a natural part of coaching, and his loyalty likely lies with his players.
No. 4: Who Will Be Captain?
Currently the man wearing the "C" for the Thrashers is Andrew Ladd. He is a restricted free agent.
NHL teams typically do not poach restricted free agents, but what if Ladd does not see himself in Winnipeg and a contract stalemate occurs? What if ownership wants a new "face" for the team such as Dustin Byfuglien or Evander Kane to reach out to the fans?
My verdict: Ladd will likely re-sign with the team. As long as Coach Ramsay is in place, Ladd will be his Captain. Winnipeg is a hockey city. They do not need flash in a guy wearing the "C", just leadership.
No. 5: Will There Be Backlash from Players?
One question that must be asked is whether or not there will be hard feelings or backlash from the players on the roster? Without knowing each player, it is tough to say.
Certainly, there will be some that are disappointed moving from Atlanta to Winnipeg. They most likely will not go public with that sentiment unless they are looking for trouble or a trade.
One does wonder if players with contracts that span a few years feel they have been sold a "bill of goods". Take Dustin Byfuglien, for example. His current contract runs through the end of the 2015-16 season. That is a very long time to be somewhere you are not happy.
My take: The majority of players will "suck it up" and go wherever is necessary to keep earning their pay. Byfuglien should enjoy the attention he will receive in Winnipeg. His talents will be appreciated in a Canadian city much more than they ever could in Atlanta.
#6: Will Winnipeg Have a Hard Time Luring Free Agents?
If players on the current roster are apprehensive about playing in Winterpeg—I mean—Winnipeg, then what will the reaction be for free agents? Judging by comments made by the front office brass of the Edmonton Oilers, expect the reaction to be (pardon the pun) chilly.
Heck when it was possible the Phoenix Coyotes were moving to Winnipeg, it was widely reported that goalie Ilya Bryzgalov had some choice words for the city. According to prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com, he said:
"You don't want to go to Winnipeg right? Not many people live there, not many Russian people there. Plus, it's cold. There's no excitement except for hockey. No park, no entertaining for the families, for the kids. It's going to be a tough life for your family. I've been there for just once, maybe twice, when I play in minors. It was really cold. I used the tunnels between the buildings to get to the arena. Because it was minus-40 or something. Real cold."
That's the comments of a guy who grew up in Russia, which most Americans imagine as one of the coldest places on earth.
Aside from the climate, it takes a dedicated player to willingly sign up to play hockey in a Canadian city as it is. The scrutiny dwarfs that in any American city, even New York. At least in New York City, a Ranger can be anonymous in certain places. Imagine a Winnipeg Whatever strolling out to a bar or grocery store in the first season of their return. Insanity will await them at every turn.
According to capgeek.com, the franchise has roughly $36,000,000 in salary committed to eight forwards, five defenseman, and two goalies for the 2011-12 season. They have seven restricted free agents and three unrestricted free agents. The 2010-11 cap ceiling was $59,400,000 and it is expected to go up slightly at least.
My opinion: Luckily for the team, they have the #7 overall pick in the Entry Draft. Concentrate on inking the restricted free agents and overpay for an outsider willing to join the team. But that is all contingent on...
#7: Can Winnipeg Continually Sell-out the MTS Centre?
The drive to 13,000. That's the slogan. Go to the MTS Centre's website (mtscentre.ca, which also provides the photo above) and it is the first thing you see.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was strangely cold in his remarks at the press conference Tuesday, May 31, 2011 to announce the NHL's return.
In no uncertain terms, he stated "This isn't going to work very well unless the arena is sold out every night." Hard to imagine Bettman being so stern with projects he is unwilling to give up on such as the Phoenix Coyotes or Florida Panthers.
But Winnipeg already knows how hard it was to keep an NHL team, and to get it back for that matter. A website has been set up at driveto13.com where you can actually see the progress made towards the goal of 13,000 season ticket packages, which are multi-year commitments, by the way.
My thoughts: Based on the buzz surrounding the return, the residents of Winnipeg and many far away places will reach their goal and the NHL Board of Governors will give final approval to the sale.
#8: Upon His Retirement, Will Teemu Selanne Be Honored in Winnipeg?
This one is a no-brainer. The second that Teemu Selanne retires, representatives from the Winnipeg team will be looking to honor him.
Regardless of the name of the team, Selanne's rookie season of 1992-93 is one of the greatest goal scoring achievements we will ever see. He tallied 76 goals in 84 games.
My knowledge: The franchise will look to celebrate an all-time great who got his start in a Jets uniform.