Addition of Winnipeg all good for NHL

Winnipeg hockey fans cheer as they get word that their NHL franchise will be called the Jets while...

Winnipeg hockey fans cheer as they get word that their NHL franchise will be called the Jets while watching the 2011 NHL draft at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man. (Reuters)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:20 AM ET

If we needed any other evidence the Winnipeg Jets had arrived and impacted the economy of Manitoba, it came when the the Mounties and the Canadian Border Services agency seized a shipment of bogus Jets sweaters.

They were intercepted at the border a couple of weeks ago.

When criminals are trying to jump on the bandwagon, you know something special is happening.

Winnipeg got the Atlanta Thrashers. A crook would have his street cred ripped in Atlanta for even thinking about trying to counterfeit a Thrashers jersey. He'd have better luck moving Michael Vick gear.

Or a bus from the 1996 Olympic Games.

So, a previously irrelevant NHL franchise has become relevant and, of course, it had to come to Canada for that to happen.

Canada has another NHL team, which should satisfy all those passionate Jets fans who saw their franchise ripped from them and shuttled off to Phoenix where it has become hockey's longest-running reality show, edging out "Islanders Got No Talent."

The Coyotes have become like Liz Lemon on 30 Rock.

She keeps looking for a boyfriend and winds up finding out they all ultimately have some kind of fatal flaw. It's kind of what happens a couple of times a year when an owner is rumoured to be courting the City of Glendale and the Coyotes.

It is starting to sound like the NHL and Glendale have found a way to wrap up the situation Entourage-style with a group headed up by former San Jose Sharks executive Greg Jamison. (That's enough of the television analogies.)

Meanwhile, Jets 2.0 sold out season tickets at the MTS Centre in 17 minutes, or about as long as it took to write down the names of all the fans in attendance at at typical Thrashers home game.

The Jets are back and in addition to the good folks of Winnipeg, people across Canada feel good that an NHL franchise has been repatriated to hockey's heartland. (Billionaire Jim Balsillie will have to spend a little bit of money -- not that he can't afford it -- to change his website to makeiteight.ca.)

After a spring and summer in which the news was overwhelmingly sad, the return of the Jets to the NHL after a 15-year absence is good, if for no other reason than the game is going to be played in a place where it's loved.

There's been a lot of talk about the viability of the Jets as a business in a market like Winnipeg.

Just what the Jets do for the financial picture of the NHL isn't quite clear yet. Despite selling out their season tickets in a gate-driven league, the Jets are a bubble team when it comes to the league's revenue-sharing program.

"They definitely won't be a giver, but it remains to be seen if they will be a taker," according to one NHL insider.

As the Thrashers in Atlanta, the franchise did receive some of the league's revenue-sharing pie.

From another key business standpoint, one television executive said he didn't think the Jets will add appreciably to the ratings in Canada.

"Most of the hockey fans in Manitoba were probably already watching TSN or Hockey Night in Canada, even without having a home-town team to root for," he said. "I think we'll see a very small uptick in the overall audience for a Saturday night game on the CBC, for instance. The ratings for their regional package should be OK because the building is sold out and there will be a lot of interest in the early stages, but we're not talking about a big marketplace here."

But, even if it's a small uptick, that is a positive.

How will the Jets help their NHL partners as a road draw? Can they be worse than the Thrashers?

The Thrashers filled buildings to an average of 90.3% capacity, which was the fourth-lowest in the league (Nashville was the worst road draw at 87.6%). The Jets would certainly draw better in Canada than the Thrashers, if there were any seats to be had in Canada -- outside of Ottawa.

Winnipeggers will have to continue to deal with pro sports doing everything they can to make them part of the East. The Jets are in the Southeast Division and so, along with the CFL's Blue Bombers, who play in the East, they continue the city's professional sports geographical misplacement.

The folks at True North Sports and Entertainment run a tight ship and there's not much to quibble with in the way they've done their thing so far, but they clearly needed to take better advantage of their travel options.

A long homestand in February and early March, only interrupted by a one-game trip to Minnesota?

That's the time for a business trip to Florida.

The Jets are going to be run on a skatelace budget. According to capgeek.com, they currently have the second-lowest payroll in the NHL, next to the Islanders. The franchise has made the playoffs only once in its 12-year existence. That's probably not going to change this year.

In this honeymoon year, that won't matter.

What matters is, in the minds of Winnipeggers and most Canadians, a wrong has been righted.

Who knows? If the the Jets prove they can make a go of it, maybe they'll pave the road to Quebec City.

Balsillie can afford to change that website to makeitnine.ca.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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