Trietley: NHL returns to Winnipeg

By Greg Trietley

Winnipeg is back on the sports map, baby!

The Canadian city will soon be the proud home of an… Winnipeg is back on the sports map, baby!

The Canadian city will soon be the proud home of an NHL franchise once again. True North Sports & Entertainment might finalize the purchase and relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers by the end of this week, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. If that deal falls through, U-Haul trucks also circle the current home of the Phoenix Coyotes.

As NHL cities go, Winnipeg, Manitoba, will surpass Edmonton, Alberta, as the coldest, Ottawa, Ontario, as the smallest and Buffalo, N.Y., as the poorest.

You’ve probably heard the potshots about Winnipeg’s location, and those have some merit. By car, Winnipeg is 16 hours away from both Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta. The nearest NHL city is Minneapolis-Saint Paul, which is eight hours south.

Simply stated, Winnipeg is in the middle of nowhere. It probably won’t be the most popular place for Penguins fans to go on a road trip.

More than anything, the icy metropolis sounds like a great place for a maximum security prison. It gives off a Louis Sachar’s “Holes” vibe, except you shovel five feet of snow daily, not dirt.

When Phoenix was the franchise du jour to move north, Coyotes goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov told Canadian journalist Paul Friesen that he’d consider the Russian KHL before Winnipeg. “There’s no excitement except the hockey,” he said. “No park, no entertaining for the families, for the kids. It’s going to be tough life for your family.”

It’s an age-old question that the Inuit of Canada’s Northwest often ponder: “What is there to do in Winnipeg?” Apparently the city won’t be a popular place for free agents like Bryzgalov because it doesn’t have the Louvre, parks (research for next week: Does Winnipeg have parks?)) or Broadway, which I hear are big draws for hockey players. It only has the usual restaurants, bars, schools, businesses, industries and places of worship. But who bases his choice of residence off that?

Winnipeg also has the MTS Centre, a 15,015-seat arena built in 2004. It will be the smallest venue in the league, but Canadian Broadcasting Corporation studied the economic viability of hockey in Winnipeg and stated that an average of 14,500 fans buying tickets that average 75 Canadian dollars equals “a good business opportunity.”

Winnipeg had the Jets for 16 years. They moved to Phoenix and became the Coyotes in 1996 because, like in Quebec City, ownership couldn’t sustain the business with a struggling Canadian dollar, a 40-year-old arena and skyrocketing salaries.

The Canadian dollar is now strong, and the cap keeps spending tied to revenue.

The Jets didn’t win much, but they did create the “White Out” in 1987, in which fans showed unity by wearing white to games. Half the sports world has adopted the premise, but franchises have to be careful. The Jets franchise, now as the Coyotes, has the term “White Out” trademarked.

So when Penn State rolled out its “White Out” campaign in 2005, the Coyotes sent a letter to the school about it, according to The New York Times. The brilliant minds in State College then tried to avoid infringement by trademarking “Penn State White Out.”

If the Thrashers move to Winnipeg, this trademark also means that Winnipeg can’t use “White Out” either. Only the Coyotes can. But nothing can stop the return of the rally song “Everybody Wear White Tonight,” which is sung to the tune of Wang Chung’s undying opus “Everybody Have Fun Tonight.”

Jets merchandise still flies off the shelves — always respect a fan in a blue, red and white Teemu Selänne jersey — but Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz said that the new team will start fresh as the “Manitoba something.”

I sincerely hope not.

Should the move occur this summer, TSN reported that the NHL won’t have time to adjust the divisions. That means that the inexplicably-not-called-the-Jets will play in the Southeast for a season and will host Alex Ovechkin three times.

Then after next year, future-not-called-Jet Dustin Byfuglien will presumably play in the same division as Roberto Luongo. Because of this, I’m all for switching out Winnipeg’s old goal song, “Taking Care of Business,” for “Chelsea Dagger.”

The biggest gripe about Winnipeg remains the cold. January temperatures average 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet when sources leaked the Atlanta deal last week, Winnipeggers took to the streets to celebrate, and they did it without coats on.

Maybe the city’s notorious cold is as overhyped as Buffalo’s snow or Seattle’s rain, or perhaps everybody in town is just that crazy about hockey, and also ridden with frostbite. For the sake of the league, I like to think the latter.