According to Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun, and Hockey Night in Canada, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers may not be all that supportive of the National Hockey League returning to Winnipeg.
“I think a lot of people in Canada would be excited about the prospects of the Phoenix Coyotes moving here, but there are a couple of people that would not be thrilled of Phoenix moving to Canada”, says Francis. “The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames would never say so publicly. Everybody has been muzzled around the league to not say anything about Phoenix or Winnipeg. But it they do move back to Manitoba, that will eat up into a considerable amount of money for the Flames and the Oilers in terms of their regional TV deal (with Rogers Sportsnet). It will cost them millions of dollars over a number of years. So, they’re not thrilled about it. It will also hurt their merchandise a little bit, because there are fans out there. There is a rivalry that I would think pick up over a number of years, but it would take a lot of years to rekindle that rivalry that would generate some more revenue.”
Hockey Night in Canada’s Glenn Healy, a former Director of Players’ Affairs with the National Hockey League Players’ Association refutes Francis’s claims. “I disagree with Eric here because I tend to look at having a team like Winnipeg in that division (Northwest), and playing Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver six times a year (is good). I think there’s no doubt by having the number of carriers we have in Canada, whether it is TSN, Sportsnet, there will be suitors that will want to pick up that package.”
Both viewpoints are understandable, but there are more questions than answers currently. If Sportsnet West (located in Manitoba) picks up the Jets too, how will that hurt the distribution of the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames that we already see regularly in the prairies? Due to the greater possibility of scheduling conflicts, will more games be seen on the Sportsnet alternative channels, and less on Sportsnet, which has a greater distribution? Or, will TSN pick up the Jets, like Healy minorly implied as a possibility, like they have already have done regionally with the Montreal Canadiens in Quebec and Atlantic Canada? How large would the region be for the Winnipeg Jets’ games, and would residents in Alberta and Saskatchewan see Jets games regularly as well as Calgary and Edmonton?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. There’s no deal yet and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has made it perfectly clear he will do everything in his power to keep the team in Phoenix. But the time is ticking on a deal in Phoenix, with the 2011-12 NHL Schedule to come out either in late May or early June.