CALGARY - Time to strike while the iron’s hot.
Now that the NHL is safe and sound back in Winnipeg, the WHL is staring at a great opportunity.
Western Canada’s top junior circuit has made no secret of its desire to put a franchise in Winnipeg.
Handcuffing a WHL franchise to an NHL club has proven to be a successful business venture in both Calgary and Edmonton.
It may (or may not) be too late to get a junior team into Winnipeg for the 2011-12 campaign, but it’s certainly time to start laying the foundation.
Offer the True North Sports and Entertainment group an expansion franchise now and, by this time next year, the new team can start adding players at the bantam draft.
Three months ago, WHL commissioner Ron Robison, who signed a five-year contract extension in February, publicly stated the league’s desire to move into two markets: Vancouver Island and Winnipeg.
The first destination was scratched off the list weeks later when the Chilliwack Bruins moved to Victoria.
That leaves the capital of Manitoba.
And like Victoria, the WHL is no stranger to Winnipeg.
Four different junior teams called Winnipeg home during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. The Winnipeg Jets (1967-73) became the Clubs (1973-76) and then the Monarchs (1976-77) before moving west to become the Calgary Wranglers.The Winnipeg Warriors (1980-84) also exited and still play in Moose Jaw.
There is little doubt the city can support both teams. With the ability to cross-promote the NHL and WHL teams — like in Calgary and Edmonton — season-ticket packages could be offered at reduced prices to those already purchasing the more expensive NHL ducats.
And while the MTS Centre had been looked at as too small to host an NHL club — it has the smallest capacity in the league — it’s certainly more than big enough to accomodate a WHL squad.
Adding an additional full-time tenant, with a minimum of 36 home dates a season, is a no-brainer for those tasked with keeping the turnstiles spinning.
There is one drawback.
The MTS Centre, known for its great acoustics, brings in countless major concerts every year.
In 2008, it was the 19th busiest arena on the planet — 11th in North America and third in Canada behind only Montreal’s Bell Centre and Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.
A WHL crowd won’t garner the same types of sellout crowds for weekend concerts, meaning the junior team might be relegated to largely weekday games, which are poor draws.
Nonetheless, the team would still bring in enough fans to survive.
And there’s also that natural rivalry with the Brandon Wheat Kings, just a couple of hours down the road.
When opposing teams travel to Brandon, it would make sense to have another club nearby to suit up against the following night. It makes too much sense.
The WHL needs to return to Winnipeg.