WINNIPEG - Hockey fans in Manitoba are learning what purgatory must be like.
The time between learning an agreement to bring the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg is in place and having the lawyers actually finish the deal must seem like an eternity for the NHL-starved people of Manitoba.
The situation remained relatively quiet on Friday, a day after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did his usual schtick on his radio show, pooh-poohing the notion a return to Winnipeg is imminent.
“Maybe at some point there will be a deal, maybe there will never be a deal,” Bettman said during the ‘NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman’ on NHL Radio. “But there isn’t one now.”
Bettman, who made his comments at about the same time Thrashers co-owner Michael Gearon was telling Atlanta media the deal with True North was 80% complete, seemed particularly peeved news of an agreement had gone public.
“If the team gets sold, and if the team gets moved, then there will be a press conference,” he said. “If you keep saying it enough, you might ultimately be right. But the level of accountability, in terms of the willingness to just put anything out there in terms of a news story, is really just ridiculous.”
The commish even cracked wise about all the times he’s been “sighted” in Winnipeg over the last few years.
“I’m not in Winnipeg,” Bettman said. “I haven’t been in Winnipeg. Over the last few months I would get calls that I was allegedly spotted. The fact of the matter is, there has once again been a ton of commentary, speculation — you name it — that A, there’s a deal and B, that we have a date certain for a press conference to announce the deal.”
While the date of a press conference has not been set, it is no secret True North officials are making preparations in the event of one.
The Winnipeg Police Service is also getting ready in the event the NHL returns after 15 years away.
“We do have a contingency plan in place,” said Const. Jason Michalyshen, a spokesman for Winnipeg police. “We have to keep in mind safety has to be the highest priority.”
He said if and when an announcement happens, police will be dispatched to the corner of Portage and Main, where they expect joyous fans to gather.
“I think celebration is a good thing. If we have to close that intersection or any lanes for a period of time we will do so. But we will not tolerate any property damage,” he said.
Michalyshen said it would be “naive” of police to believe there won’t be open alcohol at the impromptu celebration and that officers will likely use some discretion when it comes to policing that. However, he said anyone whose drunken behaviour puts themselves or others at risk will be given a swift ride to “a place where their safety can be assured.”
Meanwhile, Atlanta media reported Friday the deal won’t be completed before Tuesday since Monday is Memorial Day.