Chipman deserves thanks

From left: True North Sports and Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman, NHL commissioner Gary...

From left: True North Sports and Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and True North partner David Thomson arrive with good news for the press conference at the MTS Centre. (FRED GREENSLADE/Reuters)

TOM BRODBECK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:40 PM ET

WINNIPEG - Patience, perseverance and discipline. Those were the three words NHL commissioner Gary Bettman used to sum up how True North Sports & Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman landed Winnipeg a new NHL team.

And it proved to be a successful strategy, literally to the very end of negotiations with the owners of the Atlanta Thrashers, who inked a deal only a few hours before Tuesday’s official announcement.

In fact, without that discipline and perseverance to the very end, Bettman said the entire deal could have been scuttled. It they didn’t get a deal done by Tuesday, there might have been no deal at all, he said.

“I would have been very worried,” Bettman said. “We were running out of time.”

With the player draft only a few weeks away and the urgent need to finalize next season’s schedule, Bettman said it was critical for the deal to be complete by early this week in order to make it work for the 2011-12 season.

“It just became a timing issue,” he said following Tuesday’s blockbuster announcement.

Chipman and his True North team have done a great thing for this city and this province. Bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg is easily the single most important development this city has seen in decades.

And it wouldn’t have happened without the disciplined, measured approach taken by Chipman and his True North partner David Thomson over the past seven years.

Chipman says the ball got rolling in a tangible way in 2004. That’s when they began a discreet dialogue with the league, exploring various options as opportunities arose.

It was done privately and professionally, and Chipman knew he couldn’t push the league faster than it wanted to go.

“Mark knew he would not be able to control the timing of this,” said Bettman.

No, the timing would be dictated by activities in other NHL markets, including the extent to which other franchises would succeed or fail.

What Chipman and his team did was ensure that when an opportunity did arise — like in Atlanta — that they were ready with their ducks in a row to capitalize on it.

And they did.

But they did have to do some dreaming first. Chipman readily admits that when he was talking about the possible return of the NHL in 2002 he was probably “dreaming in Technicolor.” But without that dreaming there would have been no subsequent development and, ultimately, no earth-shattering announcement Tuesday.

I was at the final Winnipeg Jets playoff game against Detroit in 1996. And I attended the final Jets regular season game at the Winnipeg Arena on April 12, 1996. I still have the bronze key chains they gave out that game, displaying a simulated Jets’ ticket from the final game on one side and the first Jets ticket from 1972 on the flip side.

I was also at the arena in 1995 when they retired the Jets logo and some players’ jerseys. We were sad and angry at the same time.

That’s when then-Jet Ed Olczyk promised that if the team won the Stanley Cup in the future that it would be “coming back to Winnipeg.” The last time I saw Gary Bettman in person is when he flew into Winnipeg to tell us we couldn’t have the NHL anymore, that the league had priced itself out of our market and that no one wanted to own the team here anymore.

But all that has changed.

Yesterday I shook Bettman’s hand and thanked him for helping us bring the NHL back to Winnipeg. It’s been a long 15 years.

But the biggest thanks has to go to Mark Chipman. His patience, perseverance and discipline is what made this deal finally happen.

And Winnipeg, Manitoba and Canada will forever be indebted to him for that.

Thank you Mark Chipman.


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