Oilers, Flames on side

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:22 PM ET

They used to be our hated rivals on the ice, but it seems the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are on our side when it comes to the fight to get back into the NHL. Of course, those teams need the same changes to player salaries in order to survive as Winnipeg needs to get its Jets back.

"If we achieved what we're looking for, Winnipeg is obviously a candidate, at some point," Oilers governor Cal Nichols said. "What's different about Winnipeg and Edmonton, really? It's a Canadian city that hockey is front and centre in most of the time."

Flames president Ken King is right behind Nichols, heading for our corner.

"Winnipeg has great spirit," King said. "So if spirit counts, and I think it does, because that's the reason Calgary has a team, and if community service counts ... then sure, why not have a team in Winnipeg? If it can work here, why not there?"

Actually, there are a few differences in the markets -- starting with the arenas.

MORE LUXURY SUITES

Edmonton and Calgary both seat around 17,000, while the new rink here holds just over 15,000. The Alberta teams have more luxury suites, too.

Neither Nichols nor King have seen our facility, but Oilers president Patrick LaForge was here when the Moose hosted the Edmonton Road Runners two weeks ago.

LaForge loved what he saw, with one caveat.

"It's brilliantly located downtown in the city centre, as it should be," he said. "Just walking around it is fun and it is fresh ... and it smells like success. I was walking through it enviously, thinking, 'Isn't this cool?'

"(But) it's probably on the small side. I don't think there are any left that are that size in the NHL."

At the same time, he says if all 15,000 seats can be filled every night, you don't have a problem.

King says better to have 2,000 fewer than 2,000 too many, because it creates demand.

FULL BUILDING

"You'd need to have a pretty good yield (average price)," the Calgary boss said. "And a pretty full building."

Winnipeg could probably borrow some ideas from the ownership structures of the Oilers and Flames.

Both are broad-based, particularly in Edmonton, where 36 investors share the financial burden.

We like this idea, too: the Oilers are completely transparent, sharing financial information with their fans in order to keep them onside.

For instance, Nichols had no trouble saying his group has turned an $8 million profit in six years at the helm. Or that without money from NHL expansion and the assistance program for the weak Canadian dollar, that would have been a $30-million loss.

So at least fans understand when the Oilers continually lose star players to richer teams.

Through it all, the owners asked the fans to hang in there until 2004, and the new collective bargaining agreement.

"Our fan base regard themselves as an extension of ownership," Nichols said. "We're all in this together, as a team. For the most part, they have bought in."

Of course, without a firm and reasonable salary cap, there won't be anything to buy into.

"If we don't have it," Nichols said. "Our owners group has very little desire to carry on."


Videos

Photos