He’s ‘scrambling’ to do a deal that would bring the AHL back to St. John’s
Greg Selinger, the Manitoba premier, stood at the MTS Centre podium in downtown Winnipeg Tuesday morning, positively gushing.
“Welcome home,” he said to the National Hockey League, as the two reunited following a 15-year breakup, “... we’ve missed you.
“Building the MTS Centre was the first step,” he would go on to say, as Winnipeggers celebrated the sale and official announcement — finally — of the Atlanta Thrashers’ move to Manitoba.
“I’m proud that we ignored the naysayers and fought through the opposition, working to get it done.
“The second step was the one True North just completed — buying the team.”
About an hour before the party kicked off in The Forks, back east, some 3,000-odd kilometres away, Danny Williams stood in the lobby of his Glendenning Golf Course clubhouse — sans podium — and noted St. John’s is now “scrambling” to get a deal done that will see the new Winnipeg club move its American Hockey League franchise to the Newfoundland capital and Mile One Centre.
For weeks now, St. John’s and Winnipeg have been negotiating a deal — though nothing is yet signed — to move True North Sports and Entertainment’s AHL club, the Moose, to St. John’s where it will be leased by Williams and operate as the farm club for the new NHL franchise.
The whole thing hit a snag last week when a proposal from St. John’s Sports and Entertainment to the provincial government for $500,000, to assist the new AHL team with travels costs, was ripped up on Confederation Hill before the ink was dry.
That’s the difference with how things work in Manitoba and Newfoundland.
So now Williams, the former premier and hockey fan, is taking extra shifts to get a deal in place before it’s too late.
“We’re going to be required to respond virtually right away,” said Williams of the impending phone call from True North. “I’m not talking seconds or minutes or hours, but it will be a very, very short time frame. This could slip away on us very easily.”
The new Newfoundland premier, Kathy Dunderdale, doesn’t necessarily concur with Selinger and his outlook on pro sports and the like.
“Philosophically opposed” to the idea, apparently.
Selinger denied Winnipeg’s NHL bid of government money. Sort of. Here’s the catch: the Manitoba government has offered to make the MTS Centre NHL-ready in every way, shape or form.
So, in essence, that government has contributed.
In Newfoundland? Treated as a mere nuisance, and a bit of a political football.
True North, under Mark Chipman, wants to come to St. John’s. Winnipeg likes the city, the building, especially likes the fact Glenn Stanford, the former St. John’s Maple Leafs’ director of business operations, would return to run the team.
But they won’t wait forever as St. John’s tries figure out what’s up or down.
“Winnipeg will say to us,” said Williams, “very, very soon, ‘it’s showtime ... are you in or out?’”
Following Tuesday’s news conference in Winnipeg, Chipman told reporters St. John’s remains a “strong possibility” to house the AHL team, but cautioned no deal was etched in stone.
In St. John’s, Williams was saying he believes in the AHL project. He believes in the economic spinoff for St. John’s and, by extension, the province. A spinoff some at City Hall figures to be in the range of $10 million.
He believes Mile One, to which be bought the naming rights years ago, needs an anchor tenant.
But he’s also a businessman, and before the light switch is turned on, before a pencil is purchased, Williams is into the project for $3 million — leasing fees for the team and Mile One, and travel costs (in addition to covering off their own travel, the club would have to subsidize inbound trips for opposing teams).
In one breath, Williams is saying if he can’t nail those costs down a bit, the deal doesn’t happen. With the other, he’s looking at “other ways” to make it happen.
Those might include finding extra revenue through corporate sponsors, or adding an extra buck or two on ticket prices.
On Tuesday, St. John’s city councillor Danny Breen was saying SJSE was working on another proposal to submit to government, requesting funding for the AHL project.
Either way, it doesn’t appear Williams is going away.
He wants this to happen, and he will do everything in his power to make it happen.
It’s that passion, kind of like the display we saw in Winnipeg Tuesday, that will make it happen.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.
He can be reached by email