Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A place to believe in, or place to be leavin'?

Already talk of Jets wanting out of 'Peg

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Winnipeg: NHL heaven or NHL hell -- depends on who is doing the talking.

Bob McCown says three members of the Winnipeg Jets are actively trying to get out of Winnipeg. Jets captain Andrew Ladd says let them go.

What Ladd says about the issue is far more important.

Keep in mind, Ladd just signed a five-year contract extension to remain in Winnipeg and he's the leader of this team. He's put his money where his mouth is and not just opened his yap to let it roar.

McCown, the entertaining, witty and respected host of a sports talk radio show in Toronto, from time to time likes to say snarky things about our town. Sometimes he's right, but this time he's missed the mark.

McCown's assertion isn't based on anything new, or factual for that matter. He's taken a morsel of misinformed gossip and spun it into a few minutes of radio.

Some hockey types believe Winnipeg will have a tough time attracting and keeping players. The theory is old and outdated as is their perception of Winnipeg, forwarded by people who haven't been to Winnipeg in a decade.

Sure, it's still cold here in the winter, that hasn't changed. But our town is far more vibrant, modern, wealthy and dare we say cosmopolitan than when last the NHL lived here.

McCown believes players will look past the sold -out building and gold-plate ownership while coming to the conclusion that this isn't a good place to earn a seven-figure living.

"Guys are not going to want to play there," said McCown.

"I have first-hand knowledge of no less than three members of the Atlanta Thrashers, no fewer than three, who are now Winnipeg Jets, who are actively pursuing alternatives. Not the least of the problems, there's no place to live, in the style that an NHL player has become accustomed to. Are there upscale homes? I'm sure there are. But they're not available and they're not for rent."

Ladd's response to this talk was succinct.

"I haven't heard that, but if there are guys that don't want to be in Winnipeg then we don't want them anyway," said Ladd. "We want people that want to be part of a good hockey organization that's going to create a winning culture. From everyone I've talked to -- I haven't heard any of that."

Name an NHL roster that doesn't have three disgruntled players looking for a new address. Sorry, you can't.

The bottom line is there are going to be players that like it here and players that don't. Winnipeg has assets that places with more housing options like Phoenix and Atlanta can't boast.

Fifteen-thousand fans willing to fill the building for 40 nights or so is a good start.

It's a little early for this kind of talk. The franchise hasn't even played a game and McCown has rats fleeing the ship.

Maybe we should let it play out a bit and let the players make informed decisions after spending some time in Friendly Manitoba.

Maybe they'll see the warmth instead of the cold.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 13, 2011 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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