NHL knows we're here: Chipman

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 1:01 PM ET

So, there's a rich guy in Houston who figures his town would make the perfect home for an NHL team.

And there's another one in Kansas City who says Missouri's biggest city would show everybody the NHL can't miss there.

Why, then, isn't somebody in Winnipeg making noise, telling whoever will listen that he, too, will do whatever it takes to get the NHL back here?

If you found yourself wondering that same thing this past week, as our own Ted Wyman does in today's Hit Parade (facing page), you'll want to read on.

First, some background.

Leslie Alexander, the Houston millionaire who owns the NBA's Rockets, said recently he's doing all he can, including meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, to attract big-league hockey to Houston.

With a glitzy new rink, situated in the fourth-largest market in the U.S., Houston would be an attractive option for an owner currently losing money.

But Alexander, who's tried to get the NHL in Houston before, was upstaged by a very outspoken Tim Leiweke in Kansas City a week ago.

Leiweke, who runs a company that's building an 18,500-seat arena in downtown K.C., basically told the Kansas City Star he has his eye on the Pittsburgh Penguins, who won't be long for Pittsburgh without a new arena.

"The Pittsburgh Penguins can be the Kansas City Penguins, no question about that," Leiweke said. "It will sell out every ticket in advance, end of story. That team will be a huge, instant home run here. And that kid, Sidney Crosby, is unbelievable."

Now, for Winnipeg hockey fans who assume if the NHL is going anywhere, it's going to Canada, all this may have produced a feeling of consternation.

Some may even be wondering why we aren't being as aggressive about our desire to rejoin the big leagues. Surely, we could say the same thing, that Crosby and the Penguins would be a huge hit in downtown Winnipeg?

So we asked the man behind the Manitoba Moose and the new arena.

"Truthfully, I don't personally have the means either of those gentlemen have," a candid Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment, said yesterday. "What we're in the process of doing is evaluating the economics of this new (NHL) deal, and to what extent it actually is going to work. It's too early to say with absolute certainty that it does."

Chipman says he'd also want to know if an NHL team could fill our 15,015-seat building -- not just assume it could.

"For it to work here, there would have to be a very tangible demonstration that it does, in terms of the number of season tickets that we actually sell, and so on," Chipman said. "There's always more than one way to approach any business transaction, which is what this would be. One would be to say, 'I'm going to go get it and hope that it works.' Another would be to generate some real evidence of that, and then pursue it.

"It shouldn't be interpreted that we're disinterested in the subject because we're not taking the same approach that Houston and Kansas City are."

Chipman says he's not surprised at the rumblings out of Houston and K.C. He's believed for years Houston would be a better market than some existing NHL cities.

But he says Winnipeg is on the radar, even if it's not making as much noise.

"They know we're here," Chipman said. "We're mentioned every time the subject comes up, whether it's in the Globe (and Mail) or on Hockey Night in Canada. We're in the business, we have a building we think that works, so it's only prudent of us to try and really understand it. We are in that process."

It might not grab headlines.

Then again, that's not what Winnipeg hockey fans are hoping for, is it?


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