Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NHLers saying no to Winnipeg

Players' no-trade clauses list teams that could be moved here, analyst says

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So some NHL players are reportedly balking about coming to Winnipeg -- even before the city gets a team, or may never get one?

That's a head-scratcher for Manitoba Moose head coach Claude Noel.

"You know what? People with no-trade clauses in their contracts dictate where they want to play," Noel said. "But for me, it isn't about location. That's all fine and dandy, but I think it's about the environment and that's what you create. I mean, is Detroit a better destination that Winnipeg? And players want to play in Detroit.

"I have nothing against Detroit (ravaged during the current recession), but I've been in cities that were maybe not ideal. You go where the winning becomes the environment. And I think if Winnipeg got a team they'd have to re-establish themselves as whatever that is. (But) Players want to have success."

Noel was reacting to a Free Press question relating to comments made by Hockey Night in Canada analyst Glenn Healy on the Hot Stove segment Saturday night. The topic was the tenuous financial situation surrounding the Atlanta Thrashers and Healy, a former NHLPA executive, said it's common for higher profile NHL players to have lists of teams where they can't be traded

"Guess what name is appearing on a lot of players' no-move teams? Atlanta," Healy said. "Why? Because if the team goes to Winnipeg, it's not a desirable place for them to play their winters."

This should come as no surprise. Edmonton has been dealing with a similar stigma, which only harkened to Noel's original point.

"You know what? In the '80s with Gretzky and the bunch, I don't think too many players were saying, 'I don't want to go to Edmonton,' " he said. "Create the environment and they'll play. And they'll love Winnipeg and they'll love Edmonton."

The indignation about getting dissed before the city even has a team, however, is noteworthy.

"It's kind of a slap," Noel conceded. "I like Winnipeg. It's got a lot to offer. It's cold, but... you get those things. (The Moose) are run like a well-oiled machine, the way they run their franchise. And the locker-room is better than some NHL teams. For me, it's a slap (in the face) but you have to get over it."

Moose veteran Garth Murray, born and raised in Saskatchewan, also blanched at the perception suggested by Healy.

"It's frustrating, obviously, being a western Canadian guy," Murray said. "It doesn't make sense. They're getting paid top dollar and there's nothing wrong with the city. Get a nice jacket and a tuque for the winter and you're fine.

"That's just something that always seems to come up. But I don't think it would ever really be a problem. Especially with the support level from the fans. I don't think you'd hear a bad word from any of the Jets guys who played here."

Moose Guillaume Desbiens was born in Quebec City, and knows a little something about NHL players (and their wives) being leery of small Canadian cities.

"Anybody who says that obviously hasn't spent a whole lot of time in Winnipeg," Desbiens noted. "You look at other franchises. Nobody wanted to play in Chicago about six years ago before the organization changed. As soon as you have a good organization that treats the players well, the players know and they'll come."

Added longtime Moose Alex Bolduc: "I'd like to know what players have that in their contracts because I've been playing here for parts of five years and grown to love the city. Playing in any Canadian city in the NHL is a privilege and you'd be pretty crazy not to jump at the chance."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2011 C1

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