Just when you think a football stadium has a monopoly on all tedious discussion, an NHL exhibition game blows into town to squeeze another breath out of a different, though equally exhausted, topic.
On the backs of the NHL's visit to Winnipeg last night comes the annual hockey referendum in these parts consisting of the usual question -- a 12-year-old query that is defining a generation of hockey fans in this province directed at the game's greatest player, Wayne Gretzky.
Will our city ever get an NHL team again?
Speaking at a luncheon in Toronto earlier this month, the Phoenix Coyotes head coach said what all of us have suspected since the Jets left, that while fans in Winnipeg can be counted among the greatest hockey boosters in this country, all the mini-packs and jerseys we buy may not make up for the fact that the corporate coffers might not be as deep as they need to be.
"People have to realize and understand that it's not so much from a season ticket point of view -- I'm sure the people of Winnipeg would shell out for 15-16,000 every single night -- but it has to do more with the corporate end of things and the commercial side of hockey," Gretzky said.
Mark Chipman, your comments on the matter?
"It's understandable that people have that question mark about Winnipeg, because it doesn't have the head offices that other cities do but at the same time it does have a significant mid-size company presence," the Manitoba Moose governor said while watching the Calgary Flames practice at MTS Centre yesterday. "We enjoy a stability a lot of economies in North America would love to have right now. Is there enough of it here? My instincts say there very well may be."
Chipman made the AHL work in this town but the NHL is in a different tax bracket, and any potential ownership group would certainly need do its due diligence to check if the corporate dollar pool is deep enough to maintain a franchise here long-term. We already know what the market is for the Moose -- many of the club's corporate sponsors are locked into long-term deals and the waiting list for corporate suites at MTS Centre sits around the 50 mark.
"I wouldn't bet against this city based on the experience we've had," Chipman said.
Neither would Gary Doer.
"We're certainly not making any predictions that would create false expectations, but we believe that with the way this community came together to build the arena means that you should never say never," the Manitoba premier said in standard politico-speak.
Yesterday, when pressed on what he said earlier this month, Gretzky didn't blink.
"I don't know why it's new news, I said it 10 years ago, too," he explained. "The issue has been more the corporate side, not the fan side, so it's really nothing new what I said. I've always said it's a good hockey town..."
Don't say it, don't say it...
"I hope that one day they do get one back."
Here's a proposition for you, Winnipeg.
How about we all put our Freddie Olausson jerseys on, meet at Portage and Main and swear on Bobby Hull's contract that we never speak of the NHL coming back until we are all sitting inside the MTS Centre watching the Jets (Version 2.0) get pummeled by the Oilers again?
This way we can finally talk about this story in real terms -- conditions where maybes and possibilities no longer exist and the only expectations people have are from an overpaid free agent winger who doesn't like the Winnipeg winters.
That's not going to happen, but it sure would be something worth commenting on.