Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Don't bet on Jets yet
An obvious bargaining ploy? Could it be?
‘COULD It Be?’
That was the headline on the TSN home page Friday afternoon, emblazoned in bold 'Japanese Bomb Pearl Harbour' typeface above a picture of Keith Tkachuk in a Winnipeg Jets jersey.
Could it be? It is a headline that simultaneously couldn't be more tantalizing -- especially around here -- or more journalistically gutless.
Because sure, it could be. Anything could be. Heidi Klum could be my next wife, which is just as tantalizing -- for me, not her -- and just about as likely to happen before next winter.
It took until the fifth paragraph of the actual TSN story -- a breathless dissertation on how Jerry Reinsdorf's deal to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale was on the ropes and Ice Edge has been summoned back to the negotiating table as the last thing keeping the NHL from returning to Winnipeg -- to get to the nub of what I think the real story is here. To wit:
"Sources close to the situation are also concerned Glendale may be using Ice Edge as leverage to lure Reinsdorf back into discussions and perhaps, into a revised proposal that is far less reliant on city subsidies."
Gee, do you think? Do you think it might be possible that negotiators in Glendale realized they'd be in a better bargaining position with Reinsdorf right now if they hadn't needlessly punted the Ice Edge bid to the curb when they approved Reinsdorf's last month?
That to me was always the most surprising thing about the actions of politicians in Glendale last month. Everyone was up in arms on how city councillors had sold the farm to Reinsdorf, but American cities do that all the time for team owners. What surprised me is they cut their own hamstrings at the negotiating table by rejecting the Ice Edge bid entirely.
So they finally realized that and asked Ice Edge to come back to the table and will now, presumably, negotiate with them and vote on their proposal. That is hardly earth-shattering news, I think, and vastly different than saying the Reinsdorf bid is now 'dead,' any more than the Ice Edge bid was ever 'dead' -- any more than anything is ever dead in a place that is, after all, named after a bird that rose from the ashes.
So where does that leave us? Could it be?
The rumours have certainly been running in overdrive in Winnipeg for the past week. The Moose have asked for/received/are considering bids to raise the roof at the MTS Centre to put in more seats for the NHL -- that was one rumour. The Moose have stopped selling season tickets -- that was another. The Moose have dug up Ben Hatskin? That was, well, actually I made that one up. But hey, when in Rome...
True to form, the locals behind an NHL bid continue to do themselves and this community a disservice by not setting the record straight. A feeble press release on Friday was pointless, addressing what we already know -- True North and billionaire David Thomson are interested in moving an NHL team to Winnipeg -- while ignoring the only thing in Thursday's media reports that I found new and significant, the suggestion on ESPN.com that plans have already been made to move the AHL's Manitoba Moose to Thunder Bay for next season in anticipation of an NHL team.
Spokesman Scott Brown bristled when I asked for a comment on the Thunder Bay report -- I think Moose fans deserve at least that -- and reverted back to his standard default position: no comment.
So we're left with what we do know about the Phoenix situation.
Look, unlike a lot of folks in these parts lately, I don't proclaim to be an expert in the intricacies of Glendale civic politics, Arizona public finance law or right-wing watchdog groups like the Goldwater Institute. (Barry Goldwater? He's your inspiration? Seriously?)
But I do know a little about politics and a little about math and an analysis of the present situation through the prism of those two disciplines yields the following equation:
(Two active bids to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix) + (A city with a $180 million investment in a hockey arena and the already demonstrated political will to keep an NHL team playing there) + (a league determined to keep the Coyotes exactly where they are, no matter what) does not equal the Coyotes playing in Winnipeg next year.
On the contrary, it adds up to the Coyotes staying exactly where they are.
Now that doesn't mean the latest developments aren't a serious wrinkle. They are. And in fact, I believe there will be more serious wrinkles -- and more hysteria -- to come. This whole Coyotes deal has brinksmanship written all over it and it says here that this deal will get done at precisely one minute before midnight of whatever deadline soon emerges.
And the real hysteria is yet to come in this town. Because with politicians in Glendale seemingly now balking -- or at least posturing that way -- at paying any price for the Coyotes, the next play by the NHL head office is obvious: A planted story in the media -- you'll find my email address at the bottom of this column, Gary -- about how the NHL is seriously considering/on the verge of/in serious discussions toward moving the Coyotes to Winnipeg.
If that sounds cold and calculated and something that would show cavalier disregard for the hopes and dreams of the entire province of Manitoba, remember we are talking about Gary Bettman here.
And such a leak/plant/public pronouncement by the NHL about Winnipeg would have the effect of lighting a fire under politicians in Glendale -- use it or lose it fellas -- to get a deal done to keep hockey in the desert.
Look -- Could it be? Of course, someday.
But for now? Let it be.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 8, 2010 D1
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