SUN Hockey Pool

Fans aren't buying it

JOYANNE PURSAGA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

Winnipeggers aren't banking on the return of the NHL, no matter how much the idea piques Gary Bettman's interest.

In the wake of the NHL commissioner's comments that the return of a team to Winnipeg "intrigues" him, several city residents said they'd love to see it happen but doubt it would last.

"I would love it but I don't think there's enough corporate money to bring something like that here," said Jared Hildebrand at River City Sports yesterday. "I don't think Winnipeg's a rich enough city. The only thing we have going for us is we're a Canadian city and there will always be a passion for hockey."

Hildebrand said he agreed with Bettman's comment an NHL team would be more likely to match the market than it did "three, four, five years ago" based on the current salary cap and revenue sharing.

But most fans had little confidence that cap would stay put, to allow the new team to survive more than a year or two.

"I just think it's a dream we keep holding on to. We tried so hard at the end to make it work, we thought it was going to happen," said Hildebrand of the grassroots "Save the Jets" movement just prior to the team's move to Phoenix for the 1996-97 season.

Carlos Freitas said he'd also welcome back the NHL but doubted the city could afford it.

"I don't think it will work out. The city's too small. The ticket prices are way too much for Winnipeg," said Freitas. "I think it could work out for now and last maybe a year or two."

Others said Bettman's vaguely positive remarks seemed to merely tug at the heartstrings of Winnipeggers without committing to them.

"Apparently, we're the next viable market. It's hopeful thinking that's gone on since the day we closed the doors to the building," said Michael Elves. "Our catchement area is the city and that's it. There's not that many people to come to games."

Jason Dodd, decked out in all-white embroidered Jets baseball cap, felt the comments aimed to be popular rather than promising.

"I think he's probably playing to the TV a little bit (about Winnipeg.) When he says Canada, I think he really means southern Ontario," said Dodd. "Realistically, I don't really see it happening."

Dodd echoed other fans' notion the city simply couldn't, or wouldn't, give the financial support an NHL franchise requires.

"I think even if somebody really stepped up and brought them here, it's whether the fans and the corporations would support it," said Dodd. "I'm not saying the devotion's not here, it's just not here in that quantity. You just don't have the money here."


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