SUN Hockey Pool

WHL dream lives!

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

The return of the WHL to Edmonton by way of expansion?

That isn't only a possibility, it's an issue that was revisited yesterday by WHL governors during a conference call, and a topic that'll be discussed, debated and possibly voted on, as early as Thursday.

If talks go to a vote, and two-thirds of governors agree expansion is the way to go, the door will be wide open for the Edmonton Oilers to obtain the WHL major junior franchise they've been after for more than a year.

RECEPTIVE GOVERNORS

"There are governors receptive to exploring every avenue to accomplish what we want to do in the long term," WHL commissioner Ron Robison told the Sun yesterday.

"We're coming to grips with what that new long-term vision might look like. We're attempting to put options in front of the governors that might allow a little flexibility and serve the best interests of the league."

While the WHL took a position not to add to its 20 teams after expanding to Everett, Washington, in 2003, Robison said interest by groups like the Oilers has a faction within the league pushing for more franchises.

"There are strong views for, and there are reservations about expansion," said Robison. "We're working on scenarios that would be creative solutions to dealing with the demand for franchises. Certainly, Edmonton is part of that consideration.

"In light of the fact there doesn't appear to be any interest in selling existing franchises, we have to look at the merits of expansion."

The Oilers, led by president Patrick LaForge, have spent the past year courting WHL owners. The Oilers made an offer of $5 million to any owner who'd sell for the 2004-05 season and twice made overtures to purchase the Tri-City Americans, with the last bid coming in March.

Rethinking expansion has come out of the Tri-City situation as the league attempts to sort out what will happen with the Americans in the wake of governors blocking a bid by owners Darryl Porter, Glen Sather, Brian Burke and Bob Tory to relocate to Chilliwack, B.C.

"I don't think for a minute that franchise is going to end up here," LaForge said. "But I'm hoping there are some combinations I can fascinate about. In dealing with Chilliwack, they'll deal with a couple of things.

"I've been too many years in league meetings to know you just can't let things drift. You've got tickets to sell, programs to put out. You've got a schedule. You've got all that stuff. You've got franchises in the room saying, 'Deal with it.' They don't like procrastination."

The Oilers have indicated they intend to operate the Road Runners of the AHL next season, and have forwarded their request for scheduling, but that hasn't diminished their interest in a WHL team.

Oilers' governor Cal Nichols said last week a WHL team is a better fit for the Oilers, especially given potential for rivalries with the Red Deer Rebels and Calgary Hitmen, owned by the Flames.

GOOD MARKETS

"You don't want to miss good markets," LaForge said. "It's a pretty fluid world we live in. History says to us that times change. The best businesses in the world learn to react.

"Those who adapt are successful. That's proven decade in and decade out. If the WHL is thinking that way, about staying nimble and being ready to react, then good for them."

If a vote is taken Thursday and governors decide on expansion, it's possible a new team or teams could operate next season. Robison said, however, it's just as likely governors could ask for more time to study the issue.


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