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Don't give up, NHL tells city

We'll get a team 'at some point,' deputy commish assures

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The NHL's deputy commissioner has a message for Win­nipeg hockey fans: Don't be dejected by what happened this week in Arizona.

On Tuesday night, the City of Glendale guaranteed the NHL up to $25 million to hold onto the Phoenix Coyotes if the league fails to sell the team to an owner willing to keep it in Arizona.

The move, which effective­ly means the Coyotes are all but certain to remain in the western Phoenix suburb for at least one more year, dis­appointed Winnipeg hockey fans who were excited by the prospect Manitoba's capital could reclaim the team it lost in 1996.

After the vote, NHL dep­uty commissioner Bill Daly suggested the league's desire to keep the team in Glendale should not be taken as a slight to Winnipeg.

"We needed to be in a place where we had contingencies planned out," Daly told re­porters in the Glendale city council gallery, explaining the league's motivation for sup­porting the vote.

"We've said for several years we believe Winnipeg can support an NHL franchise. They have indicated repeatedly that they continue to be interested in a franchise and I believe at some point they'll get an NHL franchise. I wouldn't be discouraged or dis­appointed if I'm in Winnipeg at all."

Daly's long-term optimism was shared on Wednesday by Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, who said he isn't surprised that Glendale council agreed to bail out the Coyotes, but added that he believes there are plenty of troubled NHL teams that could come to Winnipeg within the next three years.

Katz said the Glendale council did what it thought it had to do to keep the Coyotes, even if it wasn't the best financial move to make "When you're trying to protect an invest­ment that you've made, many people will tell you, quite often the hardest thing to do is walk away as opposed to potentially pour­ing more money into it," Katz said.

He said he never believed the Coyotes would be moving to Winnipeg, but that he believes Winnipeg will get an NHL team within three years.

"There are still several mar­kets in the NHL in the United States that are bleeding and I don't think they'll be able to stop the bleeding, so it's important for us to be ready, willing and able when the time comes."

Katz said he's confident Mani­toba Moose governor Mark Chipman, who is also chairman of True North Sports and Enter­tainment, which owns the MTS Centre, will act when the time is right.

"The best thing that govern­ment can do is just keep its nose out of it. This will be private-sector driven. Let them do what they do, and when they've done something and if they require any­thing, they'll come to you, and if not, they can do it all on their own even better."

Katz said Chipman has not asked city hall for any help in securing an NHL team.

Premier Greg Selinger said the province is "well-positioned" to see the return of an NHL team, but he wouldn't say if that could happen when the Coyotes' year-long re­prieve runs out.

"There's nothing on the table, which means it's speculative," he said Wednesday. Asked about reports the province might chip in as much as $15 million, Selinger said those figures are "very speculative." But he said that as long as a private-sector buyer backed a deal, there could be a role for gov­ernment to play in luring a team back.

"There is significant support for an NHL team in Manitoba," Selinger said. "We'll have to see how it goes in the next year."

In Glendale, Daly went one step further than commissioner Gary Bettman did on Tuesday night in an interview with CBC television's Scott Oake on Hockey Night in Canada.

Bettman suggested Winnipeg deserves to have its old franchise back, but only once the NHL has exhausted every option for keeping the team in Arizona.

"If we have to move the Coyotes, obvious­ly there is an equitable fairness point that if the team has to go somewhere, certainly the place it came from should be given strong consideration," Bettman told Oake.

"But to go beyond that right now, to con­firm which options we are considering, I don't want to raise anybody's expectations, because the thing we've been consistent about, going back years, is we try not to move franchises if we can avoid it."

Bettman's latter statement has been de­rided by hockey fans across Canada on call­in shows and newspaper websites, but NHL fans in Phoenix take it seriously.

On Tuesday night, several fans expressed annoyance at the treatment they receive by tourists from Winnipeg who come to watch the team play at Jobing.com Arena.

"They say, 'This isn't your team; we've just lent it to you,'" said Coyotes fan Sueann Canfield.

Another fan had one word to say when she learned a reporter from Winnipeg was in the Glendale council gallery: "Vulture."

-- with files from Aldo Santin

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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