MURRAY Edwards is one of the richest men in Canada and part of a small group of decision makers in the National Hockey League. Alas, he's not pulling any strings to repatriate the Winnipeg Jets.
The part-owner of the Calgary Flames is a member of the league's board of governors and the sole Canadian owner on the league's executive committee but he's towing the party line when it comes to the future of the Phoenix Coyotes.
He said the only way a non-NHL city could land a franchise is through expansion or relocation and currently there are no plans to expand from the base of 30 teams and no team -- not even the money-losing Coyotes -- is set to pull up its stakes and move.
If either of those scenarios -- bet on the latter, if anything -- was to materialize, however, he believes Winnipeg is immediately part of the conversation.
Edwards was in town Tuesday to receive the International Distinguished Entrepreneur Award from the Associates, a group of prominent business leaders who support the I.H. Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba. He made his fortune in the oil and gas industry -- he's the biggest shareholder of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., one of the country's largest energy producers -- but he has a strong Winnipeg connection as the chairman and major shareholder of Magellan Aerospace, which owns Bristol Aerospace, one of Manitoba's largest employers.
He received a custom-made pure gold medal in front of a sold-out, blacktie crowd at Tuesday evening's gala at the Fairmont Hotel, widely seen as the business event of the year.
Previous IDEA winners include Howard Schultz (Starbucks Coffee Co.), Dame Anita Roddick (The Body Shop), Israel Asper (Canwest Global Communications Corp.), Paul Desmarais (Power Corp.), and Jim Balsillie (Research In Motion).
He sat down for an interview with the Free Press Tuesday morning.
Free Press: What are the odds of Winnipeg getting an NHL franchise in the not-too-distant future?
A: I think the landscape has changed dramatically over the last decade. Today, there's a much stronger Canadian dollar, a collective bargaining agreement which provides for certainty in terms of player salaries, there is revenue sharing (between the most and least profitable teams) and the new set of rules has opened up the game. Most fans think it's as fast and entertaining as it has ever been. That's good for hockey in Canada.
FP: What about the Phoenix Coyotes? They could be moving if the City of Glendale doesn't meet the NHL's Dec. 31st deadline for finding a new owner.
A: One of the principles around the league table is we do not move teams easily. It's important for stability that we only move them as a last recourse.
Today, there is no franchise that is contemplated to be moved. The priority for the league's head office in New York is to work with the City of Glendale and help (the Coyotes) be successful.
If there ever was an expansion or relocation opportunity, I believe Winnipeg would be at or near the top of the list. You need strong ownership and fan support to succeed, I think those things exist in Winnipeg.
FP: What does the future hold for Bristol Aerospace?
A: Over the last 10 years, we've retooled our business so we no longer rely on the low Canadian dollar to be competitive, we rely on our specialized skills. Our goal is to be among the best in the world with our leading-edge manufacturing processes, lean manufacturing and proprietary products, such as our wire strike protection system for helicopters. When a helicopter hits a power line, it doesn't go down, it cuts the power line. We rely on our strengths.
FP: What's your outlook for Manitoba's oil fields near Virden, considering oil and gas supplies around the world are depleting?
A: A number of larger companies have set up operations there. It's a very high-tech industry and the technology is leading to more drilling activity in Manitoba and opening up reservoirs that previously were thought to be non-produceable. But Manitoba isn't in any danger of supplanting Alberta as the oil and gas leader in Canada.