When True North announced that the National Hockey League was coming back to Winnipeg, it didn’t take long for the speculation to spread that the Western Hockey League could soon follow.
The idea that Winnipeg could join Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver as cities with both NHL and WHL teams was almost immediately placed on the backburner, but the rumours started to simmer again on Sunday when CJOB radio’s Jim Toth reported that True North had been in discussions to purchase an existing WHL club and relocate it to the Manitoba capital.
Toth tweeted that the talks — which were never confirmed by True North — broke off and the organization is “not currently searching” for a junior team, but should the Winnipeg Jets’ owners come calling again, the WHL is clearly ready to pick up the phone.
“We’ve certainly made it public that if in the event there’s relocation (of a WHL team) that Winnipeg would be our first choice in the Eastern Conference,” WHL commissioner Ron Robison said Tuesday. “The market would make sense for a number of reasons: Number one, a stronger presence in the province of Manitoba; number two is we’ve had a real successful formula, especially with NHL teams in Calgary and Edmonton (that also own WHL teams) and could see that certainly happening in the future in Winnipeg. But it’s all contingent obviously on a team being available.”
The question of what teams might become available remains, with a number of clubs walking a fine line financially.
A source told the Sun that the Brandon Wheat Kings were not the unnamed club in negotiations with True North and it’s apparent that the WHL sees Manitoba as a two-market province. But, just what sort of impact a second team would have on the Wheat Kings remains to be seen.
“Until there’s a franchise (in Winnipeg), we’re only just speculating, but it would be different,” Wheat Kings owner/general manager Kelly McCrimmon said. “We’ve never had a rival. I think that part would be positive, that it would give us a natural rival, something that every other team in the league enjoys. … Certainly, one negative that comes to mind, it would really, I think, bring to a head our team being out of the Keystone Centre at playoff time because the only option we’ve had would be Winnipeg and that wouldn’t be possible for our team. So that is an area that I think would have to be addressed.”
Robison reiterated the league’s desire to keep their existing franchises where they are now and True North’s history has shown us the organization will not make the jump into the WHL if the going cost of a franchise exceeds the numbers in its business plan.
Still, with rising costs putting the pinch on some of the WHL’s smaller markets, it seems like a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ major junior hockey makes it’s return to Winnipeg.
BEST OF THE WEST: While none topped the voting, a handful of players with local ties earned mentions when Annie Fowler of the Tri-City Herald released the results of her Best of the West poll of “players, management and broadcasters” from the Western Conference Clubs.
Brandonite Joel Edmundson, traded to the Kamloops Blazers from the Moose Jaw Warriors this season, was ranked as the fourth-best defensive defenceman in the conference, while Wawanesa blue-liner Jordan Thomson of the Blazers was fifth in voting for top 16-year-old.
Meanwhile, a trio of former Wheat Kings were ranked highly in categories. Spokane Chief Carter Proft, who leads the WHL in penalty minutes, was second in voting for most irritating player, while Brendan Rouse of the Vancouver Giants was sixth in the top defensive forward rankings.
Interestingly, Alessio Bertaggia was ranked sixth among best skaters even though he had played only two games in the conference at the time of the voting, having suffered a shoulder injury shortly after the Chiefs acquired him from the Wheat Kings.
AROUND THE WHL: Bertaggia had two goals in his return to the Chiefs’ lineup on Friday after missing nearly a month and he now has five goals and two assists in five games with Spokane … Moose Jaw D Morgan Rielly has been named the WHL player of the week after posting four goals and an assist in three games … If Saskatoon can beat Moose Jaw tonight, the Blades will match their franchise record with a 13-game winning streak … B.C. Division leading Kelowna has lost two players — LW Carter Rigby and D Mitchell Wheaton — to season-ending shoulder injuries.