Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Return of The Jets

The Golden Jet Bobby Hull

It is heady times in Winnipeg. For years fans have been mocked, teased and dismissed about the Winnipeg Jets ever returning to the city. The NHL returning after fifteen years ago in Phoenix seemed against all odds despite

I have refrained from saying anything in the months prior on the NHL coming back because I believed that the real announcement would only come from one group: The True North ownership.

The last I wrote on this subject was in 2009 when I said:

Winnipeg should be patient. It has an arena, an ownership group and a reputation for hockey. At some point the league might be coming to it because of problems with a franchise.

This is pretty much what happened. Atlanta Thrashers ownership and the NHL just couldn't make inroads in Georgia. Even when the economy was bubbling along in the U.S, Atlanta was a tough sell. It became tougher with a recession.

Meanwhile in Winnipeg, the owners of the Manitoba Moose stuck to their knitting, expressed interest in the NHL but otherwise kept quiet and showed that they had what it took to have an NHL team return. They did this by running a stable, profitable and competitive AHL franchise in one of the most utilized arenas in North America.

Gary Bettman has used Winnipeg for a long time as a hammer on weaker ownership and cities reticent in not offering supports for their NHL team. Phoenix and Atlanta have been the main whipping boys but a few others have also faced the spectre of losing a team. And Winnipeg's name has always been present.

The loss of Winnipeg's NHL was one of a series of blows the city took to its self confidence over a few decades. The city is not out of the woods yet but it has weathered things better, built on a few successes but has had a hard time coalescing things. It is possible that a Blue Bomber victory in the Grey Cup could have been a rallying point for a victory party at Portage and Main. Certainly on the face of it, the Bombers have more fans than the Jets did or do.

However, would a spontaneous pick up game of the 30 on 30 have happened downtown and The Forks. No.

The Jets was about thumbing our nose at the NHL when it started, it was about acceptance when we got in and it was our utter defeat when the team was lost to Phoenix.

The True North people had no real choice when it came to choosing the name Jets again. It has been an open wound for so long and while some said a fresh approach was equally valid, it seemed the wrong step to take in light of the fandom.

I'll be writing more in the next days about the coming changes around the MTS Centre. Some of those changes have been in the works for a while but there is no doubt that the return of the Jets has hastened some of that.

There was criticism of the MTS Centre over the years for a variety of things. Where it was built, how it was financed and what it would do for the downtown have always been an issue. I was entirely not satisfied with some of the financing of the MTS Centre. I certainly was not very happy with Crocus putting $5 million into the project. It lacked transparency going in and out. However, I never blamed the True North owners for what happened with MTS Centre and actually agreed about it going downtown.

In the end, it seems likely that the work to rehabilitate the Eaton's building would have required even more government help for what seemed an uncertain outcome.

I cannot deny the appeal of having the Jets back. I was brokenhearted when they left and didn't pay nearly as close attention to the NHL when they left. I have been following the Phoenix fiasco for years now but is all always seemed the odds were against us for getting this team or any other back.

I expect that a lot of pride will reside with the team and that with steady hands over years, something might be built that will make it possible for the downtown once again to be filled with celebrations.

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