|A media report says a return of the NHL to Winnipeg is possible but only if at least two other plans fall through. (QMI Agency File)
There are a couple of big ifs involved, but signs suggest the NHL considers Winnipeg as a viable option for the relocation of the Phoenix Coyotes, should it come to that.
On Monday, a report surfaced in the Phoenix Business Journal stating the NHL is working on a backup plan to move the Coyotes to Winnipeg, should the current deal to sell the team to Ice Edge Holdings or a potential deal to Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf fall through.
Rumours of a potential return of the NHL to Winnipeg have been heating up for months, especially since it became known that Canadian billionaire David Thomson is a partner in True North Sports & Entertainment — who run the MTS Centre and own the AHL's Manitoba Moose.
The article in the Phoenix Business Journal cites two sources, with knowledge of the Coyotes finances and ownership, confirming the deal between the NHL and Thomson has been completed in principle and that the move could take place in time for the start of the 2010-11 season.
News of the story brought a swift response from the NHL offices.
“There is no “deal” in place with any alternative city or ownership group at this point, and there is nothing imminent in that regard,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an e-mail. “While we have not had reason to conduct thorough due diligence in recent years, we have always said that with the negotiation of our new CBA and the construction and opening of the new state-of-the-art facility in Winnipeg, we believe it could be a viable NHL market.”
Scott Brown, communications director for True North Sports & Entertainment, offered this response to the rumour mill heating up again.
“We saw the piece (in the Phoenix Business Journal) and we can tell you there is no truth to the claim True North Sports & Entertainment has agreed to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes,” Brown said in an e-mail. “That is simply not true.”
Brown said neither he nor Manitoba Moose governor Mark Chipman would have any further comment on the story.
While Thomson has the ability to write a large check and is a partner in True North, there is also speculation he is interested in purchasing a stake in the Atlanta Thrashers.
When it comes to the Coyotes situation, the NHL is on record saying their preference is to have the team remain in Arizona.
The NHL purchased the Coyotes, who are still in bankruptcy reorganization, for $140 million in October after a long court battle with Research in Motion CEO Jim Balsillie, who planned to move the team to Hamilton.
In December, Ice Edge Holdings signed a letter of intent to buy the Coyotes but they’re still trying to tie up some loose ends and complete the sale.
However, there have recently been some questions about financing and the ability to hammer out a lease with the city of Glendale, Ariz.
An important meeting scheduled for Tuesday could provide some answers in terms of how flexible the city of Glendale will be regarding the lease agreement.
Should the Ice Edge sale hit another snag, many believe the NHL will try to broker a deal with Reinsdorf.
Failure to find another ownership group interested in keeping the team in the desert would likely lead to relocation being considered a serious possibility.
The Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix for the 1996-97 season and the team has reportedly lost more than $300 million since that time.