SUN Hockey Pool

Out of our league

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:39 PM ET

Any talk of bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg invariably leads to the bottom line question: what would it cost?

I'm not just talking about ticket prices, either.

The one big unknown in this discussion has always been the value of buying a franchise. Let's face it, nobody's going to move one here for nothing.

A local ownership group is going to have to write a cheque, and it better have room for plenty of zeroes.

How many?

Seems now we've got an idea.

For the first time in the post-lockout era, a Canadian team in a market comparable to Winnipeg is about to change hands, as the Edmonton Oilers owners are in the process of selling to Edmonton billionaire Daryl Katz.

The reported price tag: $200 million.

Feel free to swallow now, Mark Chipman.

"I'm not surprised," Chipman, the boss of True North Sports and the Manitoba Moose, said yesterday. "If you look at the most recent transactions that are post-lockout deals, they seem to be in that same range."

Sure enough. American Craig Leipold, you may recall, recently sold the Predators to a local Nashville group for $193 million, then turned around and wrote a cheque for as much as $260 million for the Minnesota Wild.

And let's not forget Canadian Jim Balsillie, who proved he had more money than brains with his ill-fated attempts to buy, first, the Pittsburgh Penguins, then the Predators, and move them to Hamilton.

Balsillie, of the BlackBerry empire, offered a reported $240 million for the Preds, a team valued at no more than $143 million by Forbes Magazine.

And now we have Katz in Edmonton, willing to pay $43 million more than the estimated Forbes value for the Oilers.

"It tells us that's what one guy in Edmonton thinks it's worth to own a team in Edmonton," Chipman said. "I don't know that it tells us anything beyond that."

Sure it does.

It tells us that we're still waiting for this luxury vehicle to come down in price, one Winnipeggers can afford.

I, for one, expected franchise values to be dropping by now. I was expecting an owner in, say, Miami or Nashville or Carolina or Phoenix to throw up his hands and say enough is enough. Followed by another.

By the second or third collapse/relocation, values would be down and Winnipeg, a wholesale town if there ever was one, would be a serious player.

I'm still waiting.

And so is Chipman.

"There's still some settling out, in terms of exactly where this league is best suited (to be)," Chipman said. "I don't think that is completely resolved, and time will tell us that story."

Because of his ownership of the arena and connections in the NHL, Chipman is seen by most as the lead candidate to lead the acquisition of a team -- if it ever becomes feasible. He's been keeping an eye on the market conditions more closely than anyone.

While some factors have been in Winnipeg's favour -- a salary cap and revenue sharing program, the rising Canadian dollar -- one necessary trend hasn't developed: a drop in the value of teams.

"It's hard to say what it would take to acquire a team and actually move it here," Chipman said. "I don't have something to assess right now. There's nothing for sale. There's neither an expansion nor a relocation opportunity that I'm aware of."

So are the chances of getting the NHL back increasing, or decreasing?

Chipman would rather not speculate.

But it seems to me all that talk about the new NHL being more Winnipeg-friendly is still just that -- talk.

A week ago, the New York Times ran an article about the improved strength of the Canadian franchises, and raised the possibility that Winnipeg is now a viable option for any Sun Belt owner desperate to relocate.

I don't know about that.

As long as somebody's willing to write a cheque for $200 million, I think we'll have to pass.


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