Be patient about NHL's return: Winnipeg mayor

The NHL's possible return to Winnipeg was revived Friday, but Mayor Sam Katz is taking a cautious approach to the latest news.
Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz said the city is 'an ideal market' for hockey.
The NHL's possible return to Winnipeg was revived Friday, but Mayor Sam Katz is taking a cautious approach to the latest news.

"Do I believe the opportunity is there? Yes, " Katz said. "Do I want to see Winnipeggers get excited and then feel disappointed? No."

"And that's why I'm saying I personally believe there's an opportunity. I'm just saying, you know, the next two to three years."

He made the comments Friday after rumours surfaced that the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes to Chicago sports tycoon Jerry Reinsdorf is on shaky ground.

There are reports that if an owner can't be found to keep the team in Arizona, the NHL will instead move quickly to finalize a purchase agreement with Toronto-based billionaire David Thomson and Mark Chipman, chairman of Winnipeg-based True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

Thomson and Chipman are partners in True North, which owns the 15,000-seat MTS Centre and the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.

The NHL has yet to comment on the rumours.

The Jets left Winnipeg for Phoenix following the 1995-96 season. ((
True North issued a statement Friday that said in part, "We will continue to respect the efforts of all parties involved to maintain the Coyotes in Arizona, including those of the National Hockey League.

"As we have stated many times in the past, if that situation changes, we are certainly open to reviewing the opportunity with the NHL."

Sports fans in Winnipeg have long awaited the return of NHL hockey to the city — ever since the Jets moved to Arizona following the 1995-96 season and became rebranded as the Coyotes.

The franchise never has turned a profit since moving away.

However, Jets merchandise continues to be a strong seller at sports stores in Winnipeg, even though the city's current hockey team is the Manitoba Moose, who have played in the city since their inaugural season in 1996-97.

Agreement in principle

A story published March 29 in the online edition of the Phoenix Business Journal said the NHL had an agreement in principle with Thomson and Chipman as a backup plan that could see the Coyotes move back to Manitoba's capital.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said March 30, in response to that story, that the league's focus remains on keeping the team in Glendale and there was no agreement in place with Thomson and Chipman.

However, he admitted the league has been in talks with them "regarding their potential interest in owning an NHL franchise and potentially bringing an NHL franchise back to Winnipeg."

"It remains an intriguing possibility and one we would consider given appropriate circumstances, but there is nothing new to report on that front at this time," Daly said at that time.

He has not commented on the latest rumours.

Katz acknowledges Winnipeg might not be No. 1 on the NHL's list of potential buyers for an NHL team, but he is confident the league will one day play in the city again.

"Whether you're first or second or third [on a list of desired cities for a team], only the NHL would know that for sure," Katz said. "The key thing is that we have the tools in place to grab that opportunity, if and when it comes."

Katz has said in the past that the opening of the 15,003-seat MTS Centre in 2004, the third busiest sports facility in Canada, has made Winnipeg a player among cities vying for an NHL franchise

On Friday, Katz said that he has not spoken with Thompson or Chipman about what is now happening in Phoenix but that he is confident that Winnipeg remains a contender.

"Everybody knows that Winnipeg is an ideal market," the mayor said. "We know how hockey is growing here, if you just look at the youth enrolled in hockey.

"We know that Winnipeggers love their hockey, and they understand it. I believe there is a very good opportunity for us, and it could happen in the near future."