NHL

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Chipman brings respect to table

He's a hockey man and a whole lot more

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Having Mark Chipman help pull the strings at the NHL's highest level can only benefit the Jets and their future.

Winnipeg has had one strong season as a reborn NHL market, but its long-term health will remain slightly in doubt until it can prove for a decade or more that it is financially viable.

In their previous NHL stint, the Jets never had a powerful presence at the league level. They had a vote, but they didn't have someone on the inside helping shape the very issues that were put to the test.

Chipman, from the league's smallest market, has become a trusted and respected voice in the NHL in just over a year.

For those who have watched his hockey management career unfold, it was no shock to see Chipman rise to prominence among NHL owners. But the speed of the ascension is a little surprising.

Late last week, when it was announced the NHL would bring a new group of owners to the table in its CBA negotiations with the players' union, Chipman's name was called.

Earlier the same week, a story broke out of Boston that a member of the Jets organization had been chastised by Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs for speaking out of turn at a board meeting.

Regardless of what Jacobs may or may not have said to a member of the Jets ownership team, it's clear the NHL's decision-makers had a clear idea of what they had in Chipman. So they asked for his help and brought him to New York.

Some conspiracy theorists will suggest Chipman was called in to the negotiations to refute the Jacobs rumours.

The NHL's season is on the brink and they're playing public-relations footsie? Preposterous.

Chipman was brought in because of his abilities. He knows the law, finance and, most importantly, he's a hockey man. Not some loaded playboy involved in owning the first sports franchise he could get his hands on, but a lifelong hockey person with deep roots in the game. Kind of like having Joe Canada right there in the boardroom.

"Mark is very much a team player. He's the whole package. He's a listener and the players would appreciate him hearing their side of the negotiation," said AHL president Dave Andrews, who worked alongside Chipman for over a decade during their time together in the AHL.

"He's a lawyer, understands finance and has operated a franchise at different levels for a long time. He loves hockey and wants what is best for the game."

 

Gary Bettman has often been accused of being anti-Canadian. Bringing Mark Chipman, owner of the tiny and fledgling Winnipeg Jets, into the inner circle is about as pro-Canadian a statement as Bettman could make.

It was also smart -- something else Bettman is known for being.

Chipman went from rookie IHL owner to the league's lead hand in just three seasons as he championed a merger with the AHL. Once in the AHL, it was almost no time before he became that league's most influential owner.

Andrews first worked across the negotiating table from Chipman during the merger of the rival leagues. Once he had Chipman in house, he quickly moved him to the head of the table.

"Mark was the lead guy on the IHL side during our merger talks. I worked from our side and he from the IHL side. Once we moved forward into the reconstituted AHL in 2001, he was a person I really relied on. He was on our executive committee from the start and he was chair of our executive committee very soon after that," said Andrews.

"I had a conversation with Gary (Bettman) when Mark was moving towards the NHL. I told Gary that he was gaining a partner in the league that would be far beyond his expectations. Mark is really intelligent, really passionate about the game, and what's different about him is he's open-minded."

The players, upon hearing of Chipman's inclusion, immediately warmed to the idea. Jets captain Andrew Ladd suggested had Chipman been involved with negotiations from the start, they would have been over long ago.

Andrews says Chipman will push for what's best for the NHL, both from the ownership and player side.

"Mark's not soft, but he will listen. He's fair-minded and obviously very bright. He has great leadership ability. I wasn't surprised when they picked him to join the six owners," said Andrews. "Perhaps most important, he wants what's best for hockey and the greater good of the league."

Winnipeggers want their Jets back on the ice. Chipman's presence in New York can't guarantee that, but it does go a long way to help ensure when the Jets do return, it will be in the framework of a deal that works best for Winnipeg.

This city spent a long time on the outside looking in. Now one of their own is an insider.

Chipman and Winnipeg have come a long way in a short stretch.

Still, one gets the feeling the best is yet to come for both the city's hockey team and its owner.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2012 D1

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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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