TORONTO - This week opens with the chances of the NHL returning to Winnipeg looking better than ever — much to the delight of native son James Reimer.
“I was probably one of the kids who cried when they left in ‘96,” the Maple Leafs’ goaltender said Monday. “My favourite players were Nikolai Khabibulin, and Teemu Selanne was a big hit. It was a fun team when you were a kid, because everyone was young and playing hockey (pretending to be Jets).
“As a province, you’re proud of what you can accomplish and I think Winnipeg could hold a franchise again if the NHL saw fit. It would be good for the NHL and for the city.”
The renewed optimism for a seventh Canadian team sprouted from developments the past few days in Phoenix and Atlanta. The Coyotes saga took a turn when the Goldwater Institute, a public spending watchdog, said it would block millions of dollars in bond sales by the City of Glendale, Ariz., crucial to raising funds to keep the team. Glendale is talking of its own legal action against Goldwater, but that’s not likely to be a popular move in a recovering economy of a non-traditional hockey market. It’s believed the league would seriously look elsewhere if this latest attempt to sell the team is blocked.
What the NHL does or doesn’t do with Phoenix will affect its position in Atlanta, where the money-bled Thrashers have severe in-fighting and could miss the playoffs again. Quebec City, which has a new arena in the works, is also keen on returning to the league, but Winnipeg already has the 15,000-seat MTS Centre. There is already talk of two separate schedules being drawn up for 2011-12, one with a Winnipeg component. But one hang-up is current negotiations on a U.S. TV deal, that would be less attractive without the vital Phoenix and Atlanta broadcast markets.
Reimer can only see the basic premise.
“Hockey is what we do on the Prairies. When it’s winter for 11 months, you get to play a lot, watch a lot and live for it. The fans out there are hardcore, they’ve supported the (AHL Manitoba) Moose really well. If the NHL went there, they’d do well in terms of ticket sales and pack the building. Hopefully, it all works out.”
Alberta-born winger Jay Rosehill agreed.
“It would be nice to get another team in Canada,” Rosehill said. “I played there a lot against the Moose and assuming they can get the corporate support and sponsors and everything else necessary, I think the fans will be there.
“It’s not nice being in the NHL and playing in a half-empty building. It doesn’t feel right and if we can get teams up to the places where people want to watch them, that would be the best thing.”