'Peg would have competition

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

Let's assume, for a moment, that at least one NHL owner will decide in a year or two that his team can't survive, not even under the league's new financial system.

If that happens, the owner will likely either put his franchise up for sale, or go shopping for a new city in which to play.

Winnipeg fans, of course, would immediately go into convulsions, anticipating the imminent return of the Jets.

Truth is, there'd be some serious competition.

"It's not like we're the only facility in North America that can accommodate a team," Mark Chipman, who heads up the MTS Centre and the Manitoba Moose, told The Sun.

Topping the list of competitors, Chipman guesses, would be Houston, where "they've expressed interest in NHL hockey for a long time."

They've also got a dazzling new arena, the 17,800-seat Toyota Center, home of the NBA's Rockets and the Aeros of the AHL.

With 89 luxury suites, proximity to a natural rival in Dallas and a huge population base, Houston has big-time profit potential in the new, salary capped NHL.

But does it have the hockey fans?

Sports business analyst Howard Bloom of SportsBusinessNews.com doesn't think so.

"I'm sorry, I'd choose Winnipeg," Bloom said. "Houston might be the fourth biggest city in the United States, but I don't think hockey would be on the radar screen.

"If I were to pick the top-5 places to relocate a team, I would put Winnipeg at No. 1. They have an arena, it's a traditional hockey market and they have enough corporate support to make it work."

Coming in a close second on Bloom's hot-list is Oklahoma City, which has a new building (the Ford Center) and a long history of minor league hockey with the Blazers of the Central League.

However, Bloom is convinced the New Orleans Hornets of the NBA, relocated to Oklahoma City in the wake of hurricane Katrina, are going to stay in Oklahoma. And he doesn't think there's room for both the NBA and NHL in that town.

Other cities that would likely vie for the NHL's affection are Kansas City, Portland and Cleveland.

Kansas City is building a glitzy, new facility that will hold more than 17,000 for hockey.

It also has a group, called NHL 21, dedicated to landing an NHL team. Its latest effort, an exhibition game between St. Louis and Nashville last week, drew 12,686 at the old Kemper Arena.

But Bloom, who's based in Ottawa, keeps coming back to Winnipeg, despite the fact the Jets already failed once.

"Someone's going to look beyond the history," Bloom said. "And someone's going to say it's a Canadian market. They're Canadians, and they love hockey."

Houston among contenders for NHL team

Five Potential NHL Cities:

City Facility Capacity Suites

Winnipeg MTS Centre 15,015 50

Houston Toyota Center 17,800 89

Kan. City Sprint Center* 17,104 72

Okla. City Ford Center 18,178 56

Portland Rose Garden 17,500 70

*opening in 2007


Videos

Photos