Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Yotes pact merely 'conceptual'

Whatever. We're next in line for NHL favours

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The sky was falling Friday afternoon for those Winnipeggers sweating about the possible return of NHL hockey to this city when a text came chirping over the phone.

"Just read your story about Coyotes sale to keep team in Phoenix. You ruined my weekend."

First of all, sorry, dude. Didn't mean to spoil your days off, but the news waits for no one. Certainly this story wasn't going to keep until Monday morning.

But before you jump off the balcony of your Corydon Avenue walk-up, keep in mind that the Phoenix Coyotes are not the only troubled franchise in the NHL.

It's also wise to understand the position True North Sports and Entertainment has put this community in with their quiet but dogged pursuit of an NHL franchise.

Commissioner Gary Bettman has all but anointed Winnipeg as the next destination for the league should relocation be deemed necessary. Not Hamilton, not Quebec City, not Houston and not Kansas City. Winnipeg is on deck and the lineup won't be changing.

So chill, Depressed Texter. All is not lost.

Winnipeg will still get an NHL outfit someday. It might still be the Coyotes, for that matter. You can write the phrase "conceptual deal" on 165 million cocktail napkins, but until there's an exchange of cash and keys, this deal ain't done.

Maybe it does reach completion. Maybe the people of Glendale won't revolt when they find out they're paying through the nose to keep a franchise most of them don't know exists.

Winnipeg has other fish to fry.

There's a bunch of limping NHL dogs out there waiting for the Old Yeller treatment and True North has the Elmer Fudd hat in hand with the Winchester all polished up and loaded.

It's as simple as point and shoot once the target is established.

Altanta Thrashers, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lighting are all ailing franchises Bettman might need to relocate.

Winnipeg remains the solution in his back pocket.

Many NHL types have whispered from the beginning of this saga that Phoenix was not the problem child Bettman would clear up with Winnipeg. Bad optics and all, with Bettman having FedExed this city's Jets to the desert in the first place.

Maybe this latest news is not what many were hoping for, but this process has always been a venture without a net.

The Coyotes play in Phoenix and despite the area's near complete lack of interest in the franchise, there remains political will to keep them right where they are. That's tough to trump. The folks on Glendale's city council are facing a US$500-million tab for sports properties they've stuck their neck out for, and losing the Coyotes would mean paying a lot of money for a lot of years with nothing but an empty hockey rink to show for it. How's that for a re-election campaign platform?

So it appears the City of Glendale has dropped its drawers in an attempt to persuade Chicago rich guy Matthew Hulsizer to buy the Coyotes and keep the team at Arena.

Mr. Hulsizer is said to be an illionaire with a b and not an m, so we'll leap to the conclusion that the guy knows a thing or two about money -- how to get it and how to keep it.

Buying the Yotes and playing in a hockey market that is best known for burning money at an obscene rate wouldn't seem to meet the criteria above, so we're guessing Matty H cut himself a sweet deal.

One of those with loss-coverage insurance and an out in a few years if the franchise isnw't profitable.

As much as I feel for all those in Winnipeg who had their weekend spoiled due to this news, part of me thinks the people of Glendale really deserve our sympathy. No doubt they will be paying a portion of the tab without much in the form of consultation.

But enough about Glendale and the Coyotes. It appears that ship may have left the dock.

But another will soon come chugging down the river.

True North has made sure and steady steps to get to this point. Think of the NHL as an exclusive restaurant where getting a table requires an act of God. True North has greased the maitre d' and is just waiting for the folks at table nine to suck back their cognacs, pay the tab and get the hell out.

Maybe they're lingering a little longer than anyone would like, but they'll vacate sooner or later. Their limo is already running.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 16, 2010 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
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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