Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Winnipeg's ready for NHL's return

City among top 25 hockey markets in world, and it's time to act like it

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Yes, it was very kind of Steve Yzerman to say Winnipeg might someday be a nice little NHL town. But the reality is we're way past the point of asking for reassurance.

Doing so makes us look needy and brings our competence as a market into question. We don't need to do it. Those days are behind us. Winnipeg is one of the top 25 hockey markets in the world and we need to act like it.

"I think the current CBA is favourable to small-market teams and a city like Winnipeg, I'm quite confident they could fill their building," Yzerman was quoted as saying. "I don't know the details of it all, but I think Winnipeg could be a good option for the NHL to put a team into."

A few years back Wayne Gretzky stood up in front of some suits in Toronto and said Winnipeg couldn't pay the freight for an NHL club. At the time, Gretzky was part of a management team running the Phoenix Coyotes into the ground.

The Great One's words were, well, far from great. They were uninformed and unsolicited. At least Yzerman was asked his opinion, although we believe it to be irrelevant at this time.

Pats on the head or negative comments from former players are no longer required. Winnipeg has established itself, via the work of True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd., in terms of a building and a bullet-proof ownership group. The NHL was close to moving a team here last summer and has told the world they are prepared to make that step as early as Dec. 31.

We're not in a competition with Quebec City.

We're not in a fight with Phoenix over the Coyotes.

We're not a question mark in the eyes of the NHL.

What we are is poised to be the next market to get an NHL team, should the league determine it needs to relocate a franchise.

No more navel gazing, folks. It's counterproductive. No more asking for approval. We've built it on our own, thank you very much.

When the Chipman family put up their money for a rink downtown they made sure the building would be serviceable should an NHL franchise become available. End of story.

Our rink is NHL calibre. Gary Bettman, who happens to be the commissioner of the NHL and as a result the only voice that matters on these issues, says so. So stop with the "Our rink is too small," whining or the "Is our rink big enough?" questions.

The building works in our market. At 15,000 seats, there will always be a demand for tickets. If True North put out a call for season-ticket sales tomorrow, we bet they'd sell 13,000 packages before Christmas. It's a slam dunk. There's money in this town. Over the last five years, there's been significant wealth creation in Manitoba while most of North American has been in recession.

Still, there's this nagging question among some of us whether or not we belong. We need to take a page out of Quebec City's playbook where self-esteem is concerned. They don't give a second thought to what anyone else thinks in terms of their suitability for the NHL. They've deemed themselves fit and now expect an NHL franchise to land in their laps.

No building, a funding package well short of its goal and no owner currently in place. No matter to Quebec fans. Put us in line, they say. In fact, put us in the front of that line.

Good for them, I say. Confidence is half the battle in many of life's challenges.

It's about time Winnipeg looks in the mirror and sees itself for what it is: ready for the big time.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 22, 2010 C4

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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
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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