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Is NHL plotting a return flight to Winnipeg?

 

Theresa Tedesco and Adam McDowell, National Post

Published: Tuesday, May 11, 2010

 

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Jim Young/Reuters

Hopes in Winnipeg are high that the Jets (now the Coyotes) will return to the city

 

Preparations appear to be underway for a highly anticipated relocation of the Phoenix Coyotes to Winnipeg.

 

Reports of a contingency schedule for the National Hockey League's 2010-11 season give credence to a bid by a local group to purchase and relocate the Coyotes to where they began in 1972 as the Jets.

 

The bid is led by local businessman Mark Chipman, governor of the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose, which is owned by True North Sports & Entertainment.

 

Toronto-based billionaire David Thomson - who already has a minority interest in the NHL's Canadiens – is a part of Mr. Chipman's group.

 

Mr. Thomson is an equity investor in True North Sports.

 

A source close to NHL officials said that if an arena lease is not successfully negotiated with the city of Glendale, Ariz. "it [the team] is without question going to Winnipeg. There is no Plan B."

 

True North confirmed in a statement on May 7 that Mr. Thomson is "very supportive of True North's efforts to return the NHL to Winnipeg, should the opportunity arise."

 

A source who has had business dealings with Mr. Thomson described him as a "good soul" who is interested in sports.

 

"He sees himself as a Canadian statesman," the source said. "He loves his country and I think he'd look at doing this as an act of charity [philanthropy]."

 

Last night, Glendale's six-member city council was set to consider a last-ditch proposal to keep the financially struggling team in the desert town for another year with the help of a taxpayer subsidy. The NHL has been operating the Coyotes since the team emerged from bankruptcy protection last fall.

 

Glendale's city council was to consider whether to cover the NHL's estimated losses of US$20-million should it operate the Coyotes in Arizona for the upcoming 2010-11 season.

 

Until this week, Ice Edge Holdings, a collective of Canadian and U.S. investors, had been attempting to strike a deal with the city northwest of Phoenix for a favourable lease on Jobing.com Arena, which is owned by the city, and then purchase the team from the NHL. Those negotiations fell through two days ago.

 

Another offer to buy the team, by a group led by Chicago sports mogul Jerry Reinsdorf, failed last week.

 

Meanwhile, it appears the NHL is making logistical provisions for a possible move of the Coyotes to the Manitoba capital.

 

Published reports yesterday stated that if Glendale refuses to fund the league's losses, the Phoenix Coyotes would be moved to Winnipeg and play in the league's Northwest Division, shifting the Colorado Avalanche into the Pacific Division.

 

NHL representatives contacted by the National Post last night declined to comment.

 

A source close to Mr. Chipman, who is a director of Hockey Canada Foundation and former chairman of the AHL, said Winnipeg has been soliciting interest from the NHL since Jim Balsillie, co-founder of Research In Motion, failed to purchase and relocate the Pittsburgh Penguins to Hamilton, Ont. in late 2006. (He was subsequently blocked by the NHL in his attempts to purchase the Nashville Predators in 2007 and the Phoenix Coyotes last year.)

 

Mr. Chipman and a group of local businessmen sought to "correct the misconceptions about Winnipeg" with the NHL's senior brass. Winnipeggers carried a lot of animosity toward the NHL after the financially troubled Jets decamped for Arizona in 1996.

 

Mr. Chipman's group realized a change in attitude was in order.

 

It helped when Mr. Bettman mused to the Post in 2007 that he supported the idea of the Jets returning to Winnipeg and that he had maintained "a regular dialogue" with the city for years.

 

Local resolve to get a team started to gel and Mr. Chipman met with the NHL's board of governors to make his pitch.

 

"It's got to be very opportunistic," the source close to Mr.. Chipman explained. "If he [Mr.. Bettman] phoned, you had to be ready. I think they've been ready for the call."

 

National Post

 

Read more: http://www.nationalpost.com/sports/story.html?id=3015281#ixzz0ngTRvIDJ

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