TORONTO -- While some of his colleagues fled from the topic of a potential return of the NHL to Winnipeg for years, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke was never one to cover up his worries about the Manitoba capital.
He always seemed to be torn on the matter -- unfailingly complimentary of his first-hand dealings with chairman Mark Chipman and True North as Vancouver's NHL affiliate for the Manitoba Moose starting in 2001 but wondering if Winnipeg's relative size to other NHL cities wasn't too much to overcome.
Asked Saturday at the NHL's annual scouting combine for his thoughts on True North's deal last Tuesday to acquire the Atlanta Thrashers and move them to Winnipeg, Burke proved he's consistent.
"First, congratulations to Mark Chipman and the Thomson family," were his first words. "They worked very hard to get this done, and very professionally. So congratulations and we wish them well.
"There are challenges in the marketplace. I think there right now is a wave of Canadian patriotism and euphoria that's not realistic. That being said, I think the challenges in the market, in being the smallest market and having the smallest building, having the smallest corporate base, I think those are challenges that can be met in Winnipeg with this CBA."
Burke was asked for his take on Winnipeg's swift and decisive purchase of 13,000 season tickets.
"They could sell 26,000," he said. "I'm not worried about the first five years. They could sell 26,000 today, this week. The key is you need stamina. This isn't a sprint. Having a pro team in a small market, it's a marathon. The question is, what's the stamina, what's the durability, what's the endurance?
"It's not the first 100 days. That's going to be easy for them. The low-hanging fruit will all get picked in the first 90 days. It gets harder after that.
"But I believe Winnipeg can be successful. I don't want to be a negative voice, I want to be a realistic voice. I do believe those challenges can be met there."