NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was lecturing the media at Thursday night’s San Jose Sharks-Detroit Red Wings seventh-game showdown, telling ESPN.com the whole Atlanta Thrashers-to-Winnipeg thing was a “made up” story.
Unless you’re in one of those cities, and chatting up the parties involved, who knows.
But consider this: given the sinkhole the Phoenix Coyotes have become, a big wart on the face of the NHL, one would have to believe Bettman is only too willing to rubber-stamp a sale of the Thrashers, even if it means relocating the team.
The peddling of the Atlanta Thrashers to a Winnipeg group could come as early as this weekend or next week, potentially sending a ripple affect through hockey that might impact St. John’s.
While the ECHL seems to have the inside track as a hockey suitor for Mile One Centre, some insiders maintain the American Hockey League is not entirely out of the picture.
If the Thrashers move, it could start a domino affect filtering through the AHL and winding up in, you guessed it, St. John’s.
Longshot, no doubt, but a possibility.
And if Winnipeg finally secures its NHL team, things will happen fast.
So word of caution to the folks of St. John’s Sports and Entertainment: if you’re really, truly interested in having hockey return to Mile One — and considering the events calendar hasn’t exactly been, well, bloated — a second crack at the AHL might be in the offing (no deal, and there most certainly won’t be a third chance).
But there won’t be much time to assemble and haggle over a lease agreement that must somewhere fall between onerous (to the client) and reckless (to the building).
When St. John’s last skated in the AHL, it had the benefit of not picking up the travel tab for visiting teams, thanks primarily to the tenure it had accrued as teams came and went over 14 seasons.
It won’t have the same luxury again.
The provincial government is pumping $1.5 million a year into ‘Republic of Doyle’. Whether that’s justified or not, who knows. But consider this: what the CBC program has done for the image of Newfoundland across the country, not a dollar figure can match.
Now, while reading an AHL boxscore between St. John’s and, say, Charlotte, N.C. might not necessarily generate the same impact, the national exposure that’s sure to come with a St. John’s AHL team (and, potentially, a game or two live on CBC’s Sunday AHL broadcasts) can go a long, long way.
The province wasn’t fussy on handing over a subsidy to a group trying to entice the QMJHL back to St. John’s. But what’s good for Doyle can be good for pro hockey and some dough — regardless what you call it, be it subsidy, grant or gift — should be found to at least help offset travel costs that continue to climb.
I recall the final of the 4 Nations Cup last fall, with a full house at Mile One and the downtown, for once, alive. Likewise the Herder final.
Times that by 30 or 35 AHL home games and the economic spinoff — minimal some nights, significant on others — is obvious.
A win-win for the city and, to a lesser degree, the province.
Of course, maybe the Thrashers will stay put. And maybe the AHL landscape will remain unscathed.
But if there is movement, best to be ready.
Is there a more underrated senior hockey player in the 1970s and 80s than newest Hall of Fame inductee Kirk Johnson? Mention the great locals to play in the old Newfoundland Senior Hockey League, and almost never will Johnson emerge ... While Andy Sullivan’s name will almost certainly roll off the tongue initially when discussing former senior players who would have played pro if born elsewhere, not to be overlooked is Zane Forbes. A big, strong winger who could play any style, Forbes was a prototypical pro hockey player ... Memo to slow, overweight 46-year-olds who still think they can play hockey: wear a full facemask lest they want a big shiner ... Ever stop to think Newfoundland had nine — nine! — NHLers this season: Ryane Clowe, Daniel Cleary, Teddy Purcell, Michael Ryder, Adam Pardy, Luke Adam, Colin Greening, Darryl Williams coaching in Vancouver, and Derek Clancey, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ pro scouting director ... How come I keep hearing the Corner Brook Royals and Deer Lake Red Wings are in trouble, and might not return to the West Coast Senior Hockey League next season? Didn’t we hear the same thing with the old provincial senior league, until it finally went kaput? ... If there is pro hockey at Mile One next season, what impact will it have on attendance at Mount Pearl, Northeast and C.B.N. senior hockey games? ...
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org