For the first time since 1996, a deal has been reached to bring a National Hockey League club back to Winnipeg. A contract to relocate the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg was revealed Tuesday at a news conference at the MTS Centre. The team will be called the Jets and play in the MTS Center beginning with the 2011-12 season.
The NHL announced in July 2008 that it was considering moving either the Ottawa Senators or Montreal Canadiens to Winnipeg due to the financial difficulties of the original owners of those clubs. The league considered other cities for the move including Hamilton, Halifax, and Quebec City but they all declined the invitation. The Atlanta franchise was not part of the negotiations between the NHL and potential ownership groups for the other three teams because they were not interested in any other city besides Atlanta. The deal was done in secrecy with no announcement by the NHL until after it had been signed.
There have been several attempts to get an NHL team to Winnipeg over the years but none of them came to fruition until now. The city has been without an NHL team since the Jets left for Phoenix in 1996. Prior to the Atlanta deal being announced, many people assumed that if Winnipeg was going to get an NHL team it would be by the Sens or Canadiens. But nobody expected it to happen so soon after the last one left.
The Jets were renamed after Winnipeg's first WHA/NHL franchise, which relocated to Phoenix following the 1995-96 season to become the Coyotes.
|History||Atlanta Thrashers 1999–2011 Winnipeg Jets 2011–present|
|Home arena||Canada Life Centre|
The Winnipeg Jets, on the other hand, have not returned to town. That club plays its home games in Arizona and will return to Winnipeg on December 1. When franchises migrate, they generally bring their history with them to some extent. The Winnipeg Falcons, who played in the World Hockey Association from 1976-79, are a good example of this - they boasted many talented players on their roster including Luc Robitaille, Paul Kariya and Alexander Mogilny.
The Jets, however, only had two years remain on their WHA contract when they moved to Arizona so they could join the NHL as an expansion team in 1998. They didn't come close to making the playoffs during their one season in Winnipeg but did win one game during their inaugural campaign.
Since then, the team has never left town even though it owns its own arena (MTS Center). Owner Barry Shenkarow refused to sell the club despite offers from other cities including Phoenix, Denver and Seattle. The Thrashers' owner, Jeff Vinik, is from Winnipeg and wanted to keep his team in its original city but was unable to reach an agreement with Shenkarow.
In the end, Shenkarow got what he wanted: an NHL team again. He'll be able to use his own fans as a marketing tool since there aren't that many people in Arizona who know or care about hockey.
There is little doubt that Saskatoon has a large number of hockey fans who would support an NHL franchise, but there are certain roadblocks that might hinder the city from attracting an NHL club. The Credit Union Centre is a wonderful hockey rink, although it only seats little more than 15,000 people. It's not the kind of place where you find yourself screaming at the ice in front of the net like you do in New York or Chicago.
The biggest problem with bringing an NHL team to Saskatoon is that there is no community around the arena. There are no nearby suburbs or towns that could potentially attract fans who work in Saskatoon but live outside of town. If an NHL club was to come to Saskatchewan, it would need to be based somewhere else besides Saskatoon.
Another issue that arises when considering an NHL franchise in a small city is that there just aren't that many of them out there willing to invest in one. An expansion team is identified with a huge financial commitment, and few cities are willing to make those kinds of investments unless they are sure they can sell out all their games. Saskatoon is a small market that doesn't have the audience to justify such a move.
Finally, there is no tradition of supporting hockey in Saskatoon. The University of Saskatchewan Huskies men's team has had some success over the years, but nowhere near enough to warrant an NHL team being based there.
When you consider that the city has lost an NHL franchise twice in the last 31 years, both times due to ownership concerns, the word strange comes to mind. There are now seven active NHL clubs that have moved. The list starts and finishes with Atlanta teams, first the Flames, then the Thrashers. Now there are only memories of those days when hockey was hot in Georgia.
The Flames left town in 1996 after one season and were replaced by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. The Thrashers followed suit four years later after one mediocre season. During their time in Atlanta, both teams had more names than players with no Stanley Cup victories to their name. Now they're just reminders of what could have been for an entire region.
There have been attempts to get another NHL team back to Atlanta over the years but none have come close to succeeding. If anything, the situation has gotten worse as time goes on. No NHL club resides in Georgia now, which means if a player is injured and needs to be healed, someone has to fly him or her in for treatment. That's not only expensive but it also creates security issues for the individual and his/her family. You can't blame them for wanting to avoid all of that if possible.
The last attempt at bringing an NHL team to Atlanta was by way of relocation.
Is there an NHL team in Saskatchewan? Saskatchewan, Canada, does not have an NHL franchise, therefore who do they root for? They are located between Manitoba (which has Winnipeg) and Alberta (which has Calgary and Edmonton), so they might support either. However, since there is no team, they must choose one over the other.
The only team that resides in Saskatchewan is the Regina Pats, a junior ice hockey team that plays in the Western Hockey League. Founded in 1956, the club is based in Regina and plays home games at Taylor Hall Center.
They have been to the WHL Finals twice but have never won. Their most recent appearance was in 2011 when they lost 4-3 to Portland in Game 7 of the Finals.
In addition to the Regina Pats, there were plans to establish an NHL expansion team in Saskatoon in the 1978 season but this did not happen. There have also been discussions about bringing an NHL team to Montreal or Quebec City but nothing has come of these talks yet either.
Saskatchewan has never had an NHL team but hopes to soon. In 2007, the NHL announced that it was coming to Saskatoon but due to financial issues the project collapsed and nothing else has happened since then. If it weren't for the fact that there is no team here, people would be complaining about having no NHL fans.