NHL too rich for 'Peg

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:49 AM ET

A year and a half ago, Winnipeg wasn't on his radar. This month, we're his favourite Canadian city.

Amazing what a couple of threatened franchise moves, including one from Music City in Nashville, can do to change NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's tune.

Looking at Bettman's comments about the 'Peg over the years, it's clear he's gone from dismissing this city outright to at least warming to the notion there would be worse places to relocate a team.

Most recently, the commish told media types in Anaheim Monday the idea of the NHL coming back to Winnipeg was "interesting and intriguing." He even talked about the opportunity to right a 10-year-old wrong, referring to the relocation of the Jets to Phoenix.

It was a shocking comment, the first time Bettman has suggested leaving Winnipeg was a mistake, and led to several hundred gallons of ink being spilled in news pages across the country.

An interview Bettman gave Rogers Sportsnet three weeks ago didn't get nearly as much play, but was equally glowing about Winnipeg.

It was after Manitoba Tory leader Hugh McFadyen's ridiculous promise to bring the Jets back if he were elected premier. Bettman said Winnipeg would be his first choice, if there ever came a time to add a seventh Canadian franchise.

So what do we make of the commissioner's evolution?

Well, No. 1, he has a Nashville franchise that's being sold and is in danger of leaving Music City. This coming on the heels of a similar crisis narrowly averted in Pittsburgh.

Could it be Bettman is getting a tad gun-shy, and realizes the NHL might need all the friends it can get down the road? If it's Nashville today, it could be Phoenix, Carolina or Atlanta tomorrow.

After being left high-and-dry by the NHL a decade ago, Winnipeggers would no doubt draw all sorts of glee from watching the league, crippled by faltering franchises in the southern U.S., crawl back to us, pleading for a place to play.

Sorry to wake you from the dream, but we're not nearly there, yet.

In fact, at the risk of raining all over this parade, it's time to point out a couple of things that aren't working in this city's favour. As I've said before, our goal isn't to string you along or wave a pompom in your face. That'd be easy to do.

We'd rather tell it like we see it.

Buried in Bettman's state-of-the-league address Monday was this little tidbit: the NHL salary cap is likely to jump from $44 million US to at least $48 million next season. That's the second straight increase to a cap that debuted at $39 million after the 2004-05 lockout.

Wrong direction, folks, especially when you consider the minimum team salary of some $28 million will increase, accordingly. Apparently, league revenue is increasing, even if it isn't coming from Nashville.

And in case you hadn't noticed, the cost of acquiring a franchise is going the wrong way, too.

Jim Balsillie, the BlackBerry Boy, is paying $220 million US for the Preds. That after he almost landed the Penguins for $175 million.

Crazy? Maybe.

But the point is there's still somebody out there willing to dump gobs of American greenbacks into a franchise. One that's been bleeding so much red ink you'd think it had taken a high stick to its nose.

This is still a very rich man's game, and will likely remain that way until two or three more teams hit the market. It's a game too rich for Winnipeggers who've already been burned once.

How many more billionaires want to get into this club will determine when Winnipeg's millionaires get a seat at the table.

No tune Gary Bettman sings will change that.


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