SUN Hockey Pool

Daly: Winnipeg's a prime candidate

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:24 PM ET

So the NHL types are dropping our name again.

This time it’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly, calling Canadian cities like Winnipeg and Quebec City “prime candidates” for future NHL expansion or relocation.

That’s right, the NHL is even using the “R” word these days, something that not long ago was strictly verboten.

Commissioner Gary Bettman used to say it was Phoenix or bust. Apparently, he’s getting closer to the “bust” part every day.

Makes you wonder: are these guys paving the way for future moves, or simply leading us down a garden path lined with cacti and palm trees?

Today let’s assume, just for fun, that not only Phoenix, but one or two other Ben Franklin-bleeding franchises are going to go sticks-up in the Unexcited States over the next year or two.

Where does the ’Peg fit on the list of potential new homes?

“It’s still No. 1,” sports business analyst Howard Bloom (sportsbusinessnews.com) insists. “Because it’s not encumbered by any geographical situations like exist in Hamilton. You don’t have to pay a relocation fee.”

Bloom, who’s based in Ottawa, is right about that. The Toronto Maple Leafs and maybe Buffalo Sabres would demand compensation should a new team move into their neighbourhood.

But Bloom was singing a similar tune four years ago, when he told us we’d have an NHL team by now.

“Nothing’s changed from four years ago,” Bloom said. “Other than someone’s decided to keep funding what was a bad idea. I can’t figure out what billionaires do with their money.

“Four years later we still have hockey teams playing in those nontraditional hockey markets, still not doing well, still giving away tickets, still bringing down the entire NHL.”

The specifics, though, have changed.

Four years ago Bloom pegged Oklahoma City as a close second to Winnipeg for a potential NHL relocation.

With an NBA team there, he’s erased it from his hot list, and inserted Quebec City — if it gets the new arena they’re talking about.

After that, he likes Hamilton’s chances, even with the territorial issues.

His next two might surprise you: Seattle and Hartford.

“Seattle, because they’ve lost their NBA franchise,” Bloom said. “Hartford — why not? They’re talking about bringing teams back to (traditional) markets. Hartford’s a very good choice.”

Why not Las Vegas, you ask?

Too transient a population, says Bloom. Not the right demographics to create a loyal fan base.

Besides, the mayor of Vegas, a former mafia lawyer, is more interested in establishing a museum for the mob than he is in the NHL.

As for which teams are most likely to bail on their current cities, that’s changed, too.

Back in 2005, Bloom pegged Pittsburgh, Carolina, Anaheim, even Washington among the NHL’s trouble spots. All four have regained their feet, to varying degrees.

Today, he points to Phoenix, Atlanta, Nashville, Tampa Bay, Florida and the Islanders as his Staggering Six.

All show signs of owners getting fed up with emptying their wallets on something that just isn’t catching on.

Like he did four years ago, Bloom didn’t mind going out on a limb with a bottom-line prediction.

“I would think you would see Phoenix and Atlanta move at the same time, within the next two years,” he said. “I’m thinking sweet justice: the Jets return to Winnipeg, via the Coyotes.”

I don’t know about that.

The Bloom may be off that rose, if you know what I mean.

But it sure is interesting to hear the NHL talk positively about Winnipeg, 13 years after the fact.

Is Winnipeg that positive about the NHL?

We may find out soon enough.


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