Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

How about an all-star game at MTS Centre?

Winnipeggers should be rewarded for passion

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OTTAWA -- The actual game might be a bit of a dud and the skills competition is beyond silly but the entire all-star weekend package with its mix of star power and hockey's newsmakers has its cachet and Winnipeg could and should have its crack at hosting.

How Winnipeg would respond to an all-star game isn't really in question as the city has an impeccable record when it comes to hosting big events like world championships, Grey Cups and Briers. Winnipeg knows how to throw a party and make its guests feel like the centre of attention. An NHL All-Star Game in Winnipeg would go over like free rye at a social. We'd drink it all up and then ask for more.

Jets chairman Mark Chipman said this weekend he'd like his organization to host an NHL Entry Draft, all-star game or Heritage Classic at some point.

"I think we could," said Chipman. "I think it's a ways off. There's a lot of people in line for it. But, yeah, we'd love to have an all-star game. We'd like to do one or more of these events but in due course.

"I think right now we're focusing for the next couple of years on being a member of this league and being the best possible hockey team and organization we can be. These things take an enormous amount of energy and resources. I have no doubt our community would support any one of these events."

The league has thrown the Columbus Blue Jackets a bone in granting them next year's game in hopes of energizing a demoralized market.

Awarding the Jets an event would be a different approach -- actually celebrating the game in a vibrant hockey market worthy of an all-star nod itself.

Things heard, seen and learned at all-star weekend:

There was a time when Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman were in lockstep on the issue of keeping the Phoenix Coyotes in Arizona but those days are over.

Scruggs blamed Bettman last week for preventing a sale by asking for a bloated sale price.

Bettman said this weekend the mayor was in over her head on the subject.

"The mayor isn't very well-informed on the status of the transaction. With all the groups we've talked to, price has never been an issue," Bettman said.

The most telling remarks on the status of the sale that at this point has borne no fruit came from deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

"We've been at this process for two-plus years now," Daly said. "At some point, if you're not successful, you have to turn the page and move on. I think there's a growing sense that we're getting there."

Moving on would mean the relocation of the franchise and it's believed there are four markets in the running, Seattle, Quebec City, Las Vegas and Kansas City. Seattle is believed, at this point, to be the lead horse.

Seattle is a major U.S. market with a hockey history and missing both an NHL and NBA franchise at this time. There's a theory, supported by NHL insiders, that the two leagues would like to find one owner for both a hockey team and a basketball team that could arrange the construction of a new building.

The Key Arena is an antiquated facility in Seattle that could house both franchises while a new building goes up.

Quebec City has talked about a new building (they would use Le Colisée in the interim) and some progress has been made but the fact they haven't begun construction has some skittish.

"I think Le Colisée is an option, but only if construction has started on the new building. There has to be that commitment," said one governor.

Bettman didn't want to go down either road.

"The last time I was in Le Colisée was for the world championships and I didn't go on a site tour," he said. "I sat in the stands. So I don't know the answer to the question because it's not anything we've looked at. To suggest anything else gets the excitement (going)... and I'm not looking to raises expectations because that's unfair.

Kansas City has a new building with no major tenant but never seems to get much buzz in these talks.

The NHL likes Vegas, they just announced an extension on their contract to hold the league's yearly awards weekend there, but it's a non-traditional market without a building.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 30, 2012 C2

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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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