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Game on: Winnipeg vs. Quebec

How two spurned cities stack up in race to woo NHL back

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It's shaping up to be the biggest-ever hockey battle between Winnipeg and Quebec City -- which will be the first to see the return of the NHL?

It has long been assumed by hockey watchers in the Manitoba capital that Winnipeg was at the top of the list to receive a relocated franchise. After all, the 15,003-seat MTS Centre is just six years old, has been deemed suitable by NHL brass for the world's biggest hockey league and a potential ownership group is already in place.

If you are scoring the matchup, Winnipeg has two crucial elements in its favour -- it has the blessing of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and the backing of the richest man in Canada, David Thomson.

Quebec City, meanwhile, which lost les Nordiques to Denver in 1995, a year before the Jets took flight for Phoenix, does not have a new building. But it has grandiose plans to build a new $400-million arena -- complete with some degree of federal funding. Everything else, including a potential owner and the holding of serious discussions with the NHL, appears to be a couple of years behind the Winnipeg effort.

Bettman told a news conference earlier this week the NHL would be happy to return to Quebec City, just as he has said it would like to come back to Winnipeg on earlier occasions.

"I've followed very closely the articles, I've seen the cartoons and, as we've said, if the right circumstances presented themselves, we would like to find a way to go back to Quebec City," Bettman said.

"The issue obviously is the need for a new arena, because in the absence of a new arena it is not possible for us to go back. How a new arena gets built, who pays for it, is not something we're getting involved in."

Federal Tories had been openly musing about contributing up to $180 million for this facility, going so far as to have some of its MPs don Nordiques jerseys at a press conference. While the talk had others across the country crying foul, there is already evidence that it's paying dividends for Prime Minister Stephen Harper in La Belle Province.

An EKOS poll released Thursday shows support for the governing Tories in Quebec has risen to 21.1 per cent for the week ended Sept. 14, up from 15.8 per cent just one week earlier.

What all this means is anybody's guess. Franchises, after all, haven't always been awarded to the most deserving cities. Hello, Tampa, Phoenix and Nashville.

So, let's get ready to rumble.

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