SUN Hockey Pool

NHL could work in 'Peg when time is right

KEN WIEBE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:56 AM ET

Here we go again.

Gary Bettman is "intrigued" by the possibility of bringing the National Hockey League back to Winnipeg one day and the fact that isn't slamming the door in the faces of Manitobans anymore is a positive development.

What should be "intriguing" to those who hope the NHL returns to Winnipeg sooner rather than later (if at all) were two things that came out of Bettman's annual state-of-the-union address.

First and foremost, Bettman referred to going back to Minnesota after the North Stars packed their bags and headed for warmer temperatures in Dallas.

Minnesota is one of the biggest success stories as it pertains to U.S. markets.

The Wild have sold out every single game at Excel Energy Center since entering the league and are home to a passionate fan base.

"When we had the chance to go back to Minnesota, we did. Because it made sense, the right ownership, the right building situation," Bettman said Monday. "The market was strong and vibrant."

Secondly, it's plain to see that Bettman has no interest in seeing another team in Ontario -- and that includes a temporary solution in Hamilton at Copps Coliseum or a permanent one in the Kitchener-Waterloo region where Jim Ballsillie hails from.

Ballsillie, the BlackBerry guru, is waiting to see if the NHL board of governors approve the sale of the Nashville Predators to him.

Even if the sale moves forward, there are numerous logistical road blocks for Ballsillie to overcome before relocating anywhere can become a reality.

But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if the NHL is open to adding a seventh Canadian team and they're not exactly enamoured about the possibilities in Ontario, Winnipeg could leapfrog to the front of the line.

A salary cap expected to rise to $48 or 49 million next season wouldn't be seen as a positive, but Manitoba Moose governor Mark Chipman is on record as saying that Winnipeg wouldn't be at the ceiling of a salary cap anyway.

The more important factor to consider is that the Predators received roughly $12 million in revenue sharing last season, which could help make up some of the shortfall with only 15,003 seats at the MTS Centre.

Throw in a strong Canadian dollar and you've certainly increased your chances -- though it's probably still in the long-shot stage.

Chipman has declined comment on the issue of a potential return to Winnipeg this week, but you can be sure he'll be in contact with Ballsillie if and when the time is right.


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