Williams keeps working the corners, still thinks he can score

Robin Short
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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.

Until ...

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.

Good luck.

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

at rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: American Hockey League, MTS Centre NHL, National Hockey League Atlanta Thrashers True North Sports Maple Leafs

Geographic location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Newfoundland The Forks

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Recent comments

  • reg
    June 08, 2011 - 20:41

    It s interesting seeing the critizism of Danny Williams, over this AHL team. Here's a guy, who had an approval rating other premiers could only dream of, never took a salary and made deals for Newfoundlanders that will pay off far into the future. Yes now there s a man who lacks credibilty. Hey we've had the AHL in NB., fact is its a north american wide leaque and if you want it get behind the man who can bring it back! Never seen a politican who didn't like the limelight, in this case its a man with substance, other provinces wished he had been doing their bidding.

  • Anna
    June 01, 2011 - 13:21

    God will that man never go away, I thought when he resigned in December we had heard the last from him and it was so lovely not having to see his face in the media. Now Robin Short is his biggest fan. I like the suggestion of the person who said, divide the $500,000 by the number of tickets to be sold, add the difference to each ticket and there you have it.

  • chuck mckenna
    June 01, 2011 - 13:00

    dear people of n.l. i'm reaching out to you from winnipeg on the day after the big announcement that the jets are coming home. i can't speak to the issue of public expenditures being used to finance private business in your beautiful province, but i can tell you for days what it felt like to hear mark chipman stand up and say that hockey is back in the 'peg, that our prodigal team has returned. there's a reason that the cliche " hockey IS canada, canada IS hockey." is so often trotted out; because it's so true. we lived, we were okay, when the jets left. prospered even. since 1996, unemployment has gone down to 5%, the city's population has increased by 80,000, disposable income is some 40% higher, a new national museum, ikea, a new stadium and arena. all that. but if you had seen the people and street parties unleashed on our downtown yesterday after the press conference, the 400 person shinny game at portage and main during rush hour , then the debate about bringing the moose to n.l. or not would be put to sleep on the rock and ahl hockey would happen at the mile one centre, where it belongs, again. mark chipman has no problem publically stating that the moose would prosper in st john's and he's as astute a business man as they come. a colleague described him as " an under-promiser who always over-delivers." and all he wants to do now is find the best new home for the team he's run with class and integrity since 1997 and he's convinced that st john's is the right place in which to do that. let me tell you, this guy does his homework. sharp as a tack. anybody who's in business bed with david thompson, the richest man in canada, isn't there because he's pretty. make it work. whatever that means, just make it work. i'd love to watch the announcement on tsn and rogers, to see you have a chance to party like we did yesterday, and again today, if for no other reason than that we're all canadians and what is a benefit to you is also, to us, a benefit. good luck. we're all rooting for you. really. we are.

  • Joseph McGrath
    June 01, 2011 - 11:15

    Wow,this guy Short is a financial geru in waiting.Time to get him to write the business news instead of the sports news.

  • Barbara
    June 01, 2011 - 11:10

    I think Danny misses the spotlight. If his subjects are not bowing down to him in blind adoration he will not be happy. If the AHL team is brought to St. John's, dear Danny will get his craved media coverage from his front row seat at Mile One at the expense of all taxpayers of NL Media people, please let Despicable Danny blow off into the sunset and let the real leaders of our Province get on with their work.

  • David
    June 01, 2011 - 10:11

    For all the financially challenged (which is apparently mpst of you): Mile One is an albatross. It is a sunk cost that has no bearing on this decision....none. To subsidize anything to "make use" of a previous poor expenditure (MIle One is not an "investment", so I do not use the term...and it is more liability than asset., but I digress.) Anyone with a clue about business, or investing, or making money for that matter, knows that the existence of the building is 100% irrelevant to this decision. If Danny Williams doesn't know it, that says sometihng about his business skills. And if he does know it, that says sometihng about his respect for the taxpayer. Danny seemed like a big man for foregoing a salary...now he comes looking for a handout!? He looks more petty and small than anyone before him.

  • Jerry
    June 01, 2011 - 09:31

    The economic spin off is good gor Newfoundland and labrador> Afterall, the taxes stay here in the province and will be used for roads in La Scie, education in Labrador, wharf repairs in Burin and to fix the pot holes in the streets of St. John's. Plus, it will add to helping this province be seen as a whorld class destination for arts, culture, entertainment and tourism.

    • Taxpayer
      June 01, 2011 - 10:33

      I hope this comment is sarcasm. Or we a very poorly informed public.

  • Trouty
    June 01, 2011 - 08:59

    Dude give the fog devil talk a rest. He never tried to save the fog devils cause they were a sinking ship. And before you critize I ewas a season ticket holder for them. Truth is qmjhl does not want to be here nor becides 3ooo people do anyone here care hence why the Q pulled out so fast. The goal is to bring the best level of hockey. AHL to Q is no comparison. And remember to every 1 devils season ticket holder who won't go. About 100 will take ur place with AHL

    • Steve
      June 01, 2011 - 09:47

      Don't Understand the Government. If Mr. Williams was still Premier do you think there would be AHL back in St.John's. Absolutely. Doesn't matter what product coming out of mile one, if it's a money maker go for it. This is a no brainer. Where do Premier Dunderdale and especially Mr. French be today if it were not for Danny. Pretty good, Mr. Williams didn't even take a salary. This is not just for St. John's it's for all the Province. Since the Government won't help out, hopefully some of the big corporates will.

    June 01, 2011 - 08:39

    GO CAPS GO!!!

  • Have the Corporates coughed up anything yet
    June 01, 2011 - 08:09

    Is the Corporate Community putting any money into this venture as it does in the rest of Canada through the purchase of seats? A great percentage of the seats for the other Hockey Teams across Canada are bought up by that sector, for instance the Financial and Industrial Sectors. Maybe they have already agreed to do the same for this proposed team, and it hasn't reached my ears as of yet.

  • Its Nuts
    June 01, 2011 - 07:59

    An AHL team in NL no longer makes any sense, if it ever did. Of the 30 AHL teams only 4 are in Canada with none in Atlantic Canada or Quebec. That means it's going to be expensive for a NL team to fly to other cities and no doubt our team would have to subsidize the travel of other teams to come here. It would also be very inconvenient for any NHL team that needs to call up a player on short notice from St. John's and fly them out west. It would be nice to have an AHL team again but it just doesn't make sense.

  • Foley
    June 01, 2011 - 07:32

    Where was his passion when the Fog Devils were leaving? Never heard a word about losing that anchor tenant for Mile One. Why didn't the big guy step up with $500,000 of government money for the Foggies at the time? Surely that would have gone a long way to saving that team.

  • David
    June 01, 2011 - 07:31

    Cute headline....I'll give it a try: Danny Williams gets 2-minutes for tripping Dunderdale, 5-minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct (quel surprise!) , and a 5-game suspension for jumping into the crowd and acting like a complete buffoon. Trade him for a bag of pucks.