Blades owner tells Coyotes to stay away
In the strongest words yet against a potential invasion by the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes, the owner of the Saskatoon Blades has pledged to do whatever it takes to protect his club’s status as the only hockey team in his rink.
The issue was raised when Ice Edge Holdings recently announced its plans to buy the Coyotes and play five games a season in the 14,659-seat Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon.
"There’s no question it would have an effect on our ticket sales," Blades president and co-owner Jack Brodsky said.
Since it opened in 1988, the city-owned Credit Union Centre (formerly known as Saskatchewan Place) has always been home to the WHL’s Blades, and was recently expanded to seat 14,659 for hockey games, in time for the 2010 world junior championship.
"We've been here for a long time. And, anytime someone else moves in and affects your market, we would defend our position as the sole hockey tenant," Brodsky said.
Ice Edge COO Daryl Jones has contacted Brodsky about the proposed plan. The Blades owner told him that he wants to keep talking, but his hockey club’s position hasn’t changed.
Saskatoon has hosted neutral-site NHL games in the past, but there hasn’t been a plan of the Coyote’s scale since the late Bill Hunter tried to purchase the St. Louis Blues and move them to Saskatchewan in the 1980s.
BOG squashed Hunter's dream
The league’s board of governors didn’t approve of that deal, killing Hunter’s dream of bringing the NHL to his hometown.
Today, a similar story seems to be developing, with most of the current NHL board of governors opposed to the idea of having the Coyotes play games outside of Arizona.
But many fans in Saskatoon feel the Ice Edge group has given the city new hope.
"I’m a Winnipeg Jets fan, so it’d be good. I’d love to see them come back to Canada," said Terry Reidle, who drove three hours from Swift Current to Saskatoon to see Team Canada play on Saturday.
"I would go. I think they’d be sellouts, all five games for sure," Brett Reese said.
Many fans thinks the NHL is keeping track of how they support the world juniors in Saskatoon.
There is a strong passion for the game in Saskatchewan – a love for hockey that runs deep through every community.
It helped Saskatoon and Regina win the bid to host the 2010 world junior hockey championship, becoming the first Canadian cities to host the tournament twice (the first was in 1991).
But there’s a difference between pulling together for a special event and supporting NHL hockey on a routine basis, Brodsky said.
Small market may not be feasible for NHL club
Saskatoon is a great major-junior city, he said, but the viability of the NHL in a small market of 250,000 is questionable.
"It’s okay for a major event like [the world juniors], but how many games a year are they going to be buying tickets to see NHL product? And, if it’s a short-term thing, I’m not sure that’s the healthiest thing either."
It’s not fair to tease fans with only five games a season, with no guarantees of how long it will last, Brodsky said.
"It starts to look like a money grab."
While the NHL continues to monitor the situation, local businesses in Saskatoon are doing the same. If the Coyotes came to town, there would likely be an increase in business for restaurants, hotels, and retail stores – especially those that sell NHL merchandise.
"You’re going to have fans coming in to get a jersey to go watch their team," said Mike Stefanuk, manager of Jersey City.
"Whether it’s Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton or whatever team [the Coyotes] bring in for those five games. Everyone going to the game would definitely want to get something new for it."
But, like most fans, Stefanuk isn’t holding his breath for a dream that has eluded Saskatoon for decades.