Put up or shut up

TED WYMAN

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

It's funny how, for the better part of a decade, Winnipeggers blamed Gary Bettman for everything from the departure of the Jets to the Kennedy assassination, yet now that the NHL commissioner has completely changed his tune regarding the city, few people are jumping for joy.

In fact, it almost seems like people are running for the hills.

It's too expensive to buy a team. We can't afford tickets. The arena's too small. There's not enough corporate money in this town.

Was this the ultimate case of being careful what you wish for?

Average Joes in this city have been dreaming for years of the NHL returning, even though they knew the cost of tickets was escalating through the roof.

There's no question it will cost a small fortune to take a family to one game, let alone a whole season's worth.

When it seemed like little more than a pipe dream, it really didn't matter. Dreams don't take money out of the bank.

Now that there is some real hope on the horizon -- Bettman has essentially said he wants to return to Winnipeg -- people are protecting their wallets like they are walking past a potential mugger in a dark alley.

Several years ago, we wrote that if many pieces of a big economic puzzle came together, Winnipeg could one day return to the NHL. A lot of those pieces are now in place: A new downtown arena which was built to bring in revenue; an economically reformed NHL complete with salary cap; a much stronger Canadian dollar; teams in the southern U.S. going up for sale; and even an unlikely willing partner in the NHL commissioner.

At some point here, people are going to have to put up or shut up.

Are there any money men in this city who really want to get involved in such a venture? Would Mark Chipman be willing to open his doors and start a partnership with a wealthy owner who has a team on the move? If a rich owner like Jim Balsillie wanted to bring his team to the MTS Centre, would people entice him by snapping up tickets in a test run?

In short, do we want to be a big-league city?

At some point, we have to decide.

CRAPS COLISEUM: Balsillie has entered into a lease agreement with the city of Hamilton, presumably so he has the option of moving his NHL team into Copps Coliseum. The folks in Hamilton shouldn't get too excited though. Nobody is going to stay in that garbage dump for long. Clearly though, this guy wants a team in Southern Ontario and has the money to make it happen ... Little Man Gary obviously doesn't want another team in Southern Ontario, which might explain his sudden love for the 'Peg. Will we be just a pawn in this high-stakes game? Unfortunately, it looks that way ... Congrats to coach Derek Laxdal of Gimli, who guided the Idaho Steelheads to the ECHL championship this season. The team also included Winnipeggers Blake Forsyth and Kory Scoran and Travis Wight of Fannystelle, Man.

MR. JUDD WINS: Pretty sure no one will forget who won this year's Indy 500. It was that Scotsman with the Italian handle who is married to Ashley Judd. You know, whathisname? ... Here's why Barry Bonds is such a popular guy and why his home run chase is being met with mass ennui: Despite being asked on many occasions, he hasn't donated a single item of memorabilia to the Baseball Hall of Fame since 2002. "I'm not worried about the Hall," Bonds said recently. "I take care of me." He could have at least thrown them a bone and donated a couple of syringes and a vial or two of flaxseed oil ... Nice to see the NHL rates so well with the American public. NBC recently pulled away from an overtime NHL game to televise the Preakness Stakes pre-race show. Five people complained and they were all named Gary Bettman ... It has come to this: asked to name the Anaheim Ducks best player, a resident of the Southern California city -- who considers himself a fan -- could only come up with "Tommy Salami." No doubt others would have pointed to defencemen Chris Prosciutto and Scott Oscarmayer ... If anything has been proven by these NHL playoffs, it's that 90% of grown men can't grow a decent beard ... Kobe Bryant threw up a trade demand, which he said he would never go back on, and later the same day, went back on it. Guess you could say, like every time he touched the ball this season, he took a shot.

Ted Wyman is the Sun's sports editor. Got a note, quote or anecdote? Send it to thehitparade@wpgsun.com or phone 632-2794.

QUICK HITS: Let's start off with Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, on former heavyweight champion George Foreman titling his new book God in My Corner: "I'm no theologian, but I like to think God has better things to do than hold a spit bucket." ... Comedian Argus Hamilton on the recent on-air spat between co-hosts Rosie O'Donnell and Elizabeth Hasselbeck on The View: "After the show, Barbara Walters and Michael Vick were arrested for arranging catfights." ... Cam Hutchinson of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, on four Milwaukee Brewers players making an appearance on The Young and the Restless: "Meanwhile, the injury-plagued Toronto Blue Jays will send a delegation to General Hospital." ... Ian Hamilton of the Regina Leader-Post, on former NHLer Rick Tocchet avoiding jail time after pleading guilty to running a sports betting ring: "Apparently the judge felt coaching the Phoenix Coyotes was punishment enough." ... From Bill Simmons of ESPN.com: "I will never get used to this: One of our most white-bread American cities roots for an NBA franchise named for a musical movement created by African-Americans. It's genuinely insane. You can brainstorm with your buddies all weekend to come up with a name for a sports franchise that makes less sense -- there's no way you're topping Utah Jazz. Not even with Dallas Indians." ... Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune with a new name for the baseball division which has five of the six worst teams in the National League: "NL Comedy Central." ... Ostler on allegations of running a dogfighting ring against Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick: "Innocent or guilty, all I know is that Vick is fetching his own pipe and slippers these days." ... Jim Armstrong of the Denver Post on Barry Bonds: "Too bad. If the schedule had broken differently, Bonds would have faced Jamie Moyer this weekend in Philadelphia. The same Jamie Moyer who served up Bonds' 11th career home run in 1986." ... Dan Daly of the Washington Times on the grand slam event currently being played in Paris: "The French Open is the Tim Wakefield of tennis tournaments; it's the knuckleball specialist who turns the slugger into a twisty." ... Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald, on the lack of interest in the Ottawa-Anaheim Stanley Cup final south of the border: "Vegas odds are out: The likelihood of this drawing a big national TV rating is slightly less than the probability that global warming will melt both rinks and cancel the series."


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