Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hey, NHL dreamers, time to chill

The Show is a long way from returning to 'Peg

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Pill: (noun)

1. A small globular or rounded mass of medicinal substance, usually covered with a hard coating, that is to be swallowed whole.

2. Something unpleasant that has to be accepted or endured: Ingratitude is a bitter pill.

If you are a hockey fan, an NHL fan, and you live or have any interests in Winnipeg, please take one or preferably both of the above.

Then, take a deep breath and repeat after me: Helping, pushing, fabricating or willing any Winnipeg-returns-to-NHL story along will not make it go any faster than it's bound to go.

Today, like yesterday and the day before, it's in a holding pattern and the end of the Olympics isn't going to start anything.

Many, many fans want current rumours to be true and they are caught up in the passion of the possibility. Keep the passion. It's one of the best things about real hockey markets.

It's the message that needs to continually pop up at NHL headquarters.

The recent furor, however, is risky when it comes to messages. As one NHL source insisted on Tuesday, the complete lack of foundation to anything that's currently being suggested leads to this observation from afar: "amateur hour."

And that's where the danger lies.

There is no accountability to much that goes viral on the Internet, sometimes even what's on the airwaves and in print, though the Free Press has tried to excel at listening, but not overreacting to every little item. It's the only responsible way to approach the story, or lack thereof.

But we all know that anyone, anywhere can invent something, or claim to know what's going on, and too often the responsibility ends with the "send" button of the phone or computer.

The speculation doesn't often end there, leaping into the chatter at rinks and the local park, all the way to city hall and the provincial legislature.

Like Tuesday's crescendo.

This NHL story, when and if it happens, will not be because of chatter. And it will not be a function of what politicians and bureaucrats think or do.

Realistically, True North and/or president Mark Chipman and billionaire David Thomson need nothing, or next to nothing from governments.

City hall will be the last call True North will make when it's ready for a deal -- same for a team that is serious about moving here and same for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman, for one, is not a big fan of any politician, even though it's in his job description to wear the permanent smile for any public occasion.

If this story is in Bettman's plans -- and believe us when we tell you he's in control of the agenda here -- it will come out only after he starts the wheels in motion.

It's pretty apparent that Winnipeg via True North is not only interested in participating, but is ready, including with all the capital it will need via Thomson's involvement.

Politicians have played a role in the past, but to the best of our knowledge, most if not all the public investment that went into the True North building has long been paid back. Thankfully, when it gets to the nitty-gritty of the next step, politicians won't be an essential element, which automatically boosts chances.

But lest they feel not needed at city hall, they'll be required for one important item.

True North is going to need a construction permit for its arena. Not to add 3,000 seats, like all the foolish rumour-mongers will have you believe.

Fact: If the NHL's coming to town, the building's biggest weakness is its internal media facilities. A new or expanded press box is a must, given the NHL's international exposure and that two or three TV crews would broadcast each game. Other studios and work areas need serious upgrading to reach big-league standard.

If you hear that rumour, then maybe we're onto something.

In the interim, take a pill.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 17, 2010 A5

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