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NHL in Winnipeg answer coming quickly

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True North Sports and Entertainment doesn’t say much about its bid for an NHL franchise and for that Winnipeggers should be thankful.

There have been no half-truths, no lies and no bluster out of the camp Mark Chipman and David Thomson have assembled. No symbolic gestures. No cheesy photo ops.

The people of Glendale got all that and more from their city council and the potential buyers trotted through the Phoenix suburb like tire kickers at a Sunday afternoon open house.

What will Glendale get for this? Another bill for $25 million from the NHL to cover Phoenix Coyotes operating losses for 2011-12. Pow. Right in the kisser.

For their money, Glendale will get another season of Eric Belanger and his scintillating skills. The ever-thoughtful Mr. Belanger will get to spend another season in a market where NHL hockey doesn’t work. His paycheque will drain revenues from clubs that actually make money and result in a smaller pot from which the rest of his union brothers can collect. But so long as Eric gets to go to work in his shorts and shop at the high end Galleria — what does that matter?

The City of Glendale will vote Tuesday night on a resolution that would see them agree to put up another $25 million in order to satisfy the NHL and have the league stay for one more season. Attempts will be made to sell the Coyotes to a buyer willing to keep the team in Glendale. Such a buyer has not materialized in close to 24 months of searching but Friday’s reports that the NHL was willing to put another year on the clock for only $25 million had hockey fans in Phoenix celebrating.

Back in Winnipeg, this news was a surprise only in how the NHL managed to keep the Coyotes in Arizona. Commissioner Gary Bettman had shown his will and desire to be strong on this subject. Bettman has the support of his owners and usually gets his way.

As usual, True North offered no comment. Does that mean they’re sitting idly by? Not likely. True North has expressed interest in acquiring an NHL franchise. There are others for sale and one, the Atlanta Thrashers, has owners that have described their situation as "urgent."

Three questions arise and distill Winnipeg’s position in pursuit of an NHL team in terms of next season.

Does Thrashers ownership want to sell?

Does True North have enough time to make a deal with Thrashers ownership?

Will the NHL give such a sale and subsequent franchise relocation its blessing?

Regardless of any rumours or speculation — that’s what this comes down to. Nothing is done and any suggestion otherwise is untrue. There are rivers to cross before this becomes a reality.

The next thing Winnipeg will hear from True North will be an announcement that the Manitoba Moose will be playing out of the MTS Centre next season or that the organization is launching a test-market ticket drive to gauge the community’s interest in paying NHL prices for NHL hockey.

The latter has long been part of any plan to bring NHL hockey back to Winnipeg and would only come if True North were to find itself in a position to buy a franchise.

One way or another an answer is forthcoming and rapidly.

We’re not sure what taxpayers in Glendale are saying but they’ve got the astute business skills of Mayor Elaine Scruggs and Phil Lieberman pulling the levers on their behalf.

Short of handing your finances over to Bernie Madoff what could be worse?

The NHL has handled this affair deftly. But commissioner Gary Bettman shouldn’t consider winning this fight with Glendale his proudest moment. Taking lunch money from second grader shouldn’t be too tough for an accomplished and skilled operator like Bettman.

Is this a victory for Glendale? Maybe. But in taking this hill it appears from this vantage point that Glendale’s losses will hamper them from winning the war. The problem with selling the Coyotes to a buyer willing to keep them in Glendale is the already over-inflated price the NHL needs in order to walk away satisfied. The going rate was $170 million and no one, absolutely no one, has been willing to pay that sum.

A year later and more costs on the NHL tab will only push the price tag higher.

This appears to be throwing good money after bad but that should surprise no one as it seems to be Glendale’s fall back shot. If all else fails — dig the hole a little deeper. Scary stuff for a community already over-burdened with debt and a shrinking tax base.

Lieberman has suggested the league bring Jim Balsillie to the table to buy the team. Talk about inviting the wolf into the barn.

Mr. Bettman has often said he’s concerned with "raising expectations," in Winnipeg. It’s a nice sentiment but unrealistic. Expectations have been raised from the moment he admitted last spring he had a legitimate offer for the Coyotes from a group that would relocate the team.

True North was that group and despite their silence — this story has burned hot ever since.

The next thing True North says on the subject will tell the tale. One way or another.

We’re listening.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

LIVE BLOG: Glendale council votes on plan to keep Coyotes for another year, Tuesday at 9 p.m. on winnipegfreepress.com

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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