WINNIPEG - The first time Winnipeg tried to get into the NHL, it was flatly rejected — and someone put a bullet through the front doors of a brewery in protest.
Not even the Canadian teams wanted to share their spoils with the Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Quebec Nordiques, who along with the Hartford Whalers were part of a proposed NHL-WHA merger in late 1978.
When word got out the powerful Habs, owned by Molson, were against us, beer drinkers united in a boycott of the brewery, one going so far as to empty the barrel of his rifle through the door of the company’s Winnipeg office.
The NHL hastily called a second vote, and Montreal and Vancouver acquiesced.
Fast forward 32 years, and Winnipeg is applying once again to rejoin pro hockey’s elite club at the NHL board of governors meeting in New York, Tuesday.
This time, there should be no reason for anybody to grab a gun.
From Montreal to Vancouver, plus all points south and in between, this one should be a slam dunk.
“I personally predict it’ll be very smooth and dealt with without any controversy or complication,” Oilers CEO and alternate governor Patrick LaForge told QMI Agency, Monday. “It’s another historic moment in Winnipeg’s history.”
A 75% ‘yes’ vote is required to approve new owners, while relocation requires a simple majority.
The difference this time, all 30 franchises share the TV and sponsorship money, so nobody is giving up a big slice of the pie.
Besides, Winnipeg is simply taking the place of Atlanta, a tradeoff that, when you look at the numbers, is a no-brainer.
“If we raise the water in the pool, we all win,” LaForge said.
Winnipeg has not only raised the water, it’s jumped in fully clothed, raising eyebrows around the league for its Drive to 13,000 season tickets, which wasn’t much of a drive, at all.
Truth is it would probably take longer to walk across Portage and Main than it did to sell out the downtown arena, not just for Year 1, but Years 2 and 3 — and in some cases 4 and 5 — as well.
’Peggers paid, and the NHL took notice.
“There wasn’t much question that emotional equity in Winnipeg was exceedingly high,” Calgary Flames president/CEO Ken King said. “And it would seem the financial equity that’s required to back up emotional equity was there as well. Maybe it was even bigger than people might have thought.”
Both King and LaForge took note of the multiyear approach taken by Winnipeg’s True North Sports and Entertainment, and you can bet the rest of the NHL’s governors did, too.
“A bold move by a new entry,” LaForge said. “It delivered. That’s a really sound message. It puts to bed the issue of stability or whatever that people may have contemplated in some places. Good for Winnipeg.”
LaForge himself had issues the last time we spoke, mainly with the capacity of our building, which at 15,000 and change is easily the smallest in the NHL.
Seeing how it’ll be jam-packed to the rafters every night, at an average of $81 a head, he doesn’t anymore.
“It serves to cause ticket prices to stay high,” he said. “Small and tight and full — that’s not a bad thing. Every market has a little different challenges. Maybe that’s one Winnipeg has to live with. They seem prepared.”
In Calgary, King sounded like an echo off the foothills: “If they keep that building packed and get a good yield, they’ll be fine for many years to come.”
The man responsible for that, True North boss Mark Chipman, gets rave reviews from our Alberta supporters, too.
It was, after all, Edmonton and Calgary where Chipman went to research the feasibility of his NHL dream.
“Everything from soup to nuts,” is how LaForge described their talks. “And it’s not like he’s new to the business.”
Turned out the Manitoba Moose were the perfect training ground for more than just players.
“He ran his American League franchise as well as many NHL operators run their NHL franchise,” ‘King said of Chipman. “He’ll make a superb member of the NHL.”
To say nothing of his partner, billionaire David Thomson.
All that’s left is the rubber stamp.