May 31, 2011 is a date that will go down in Winnipeg history. It was on this day that True North Sports & Entertainment announced their purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers, and the crowds headed down to Portage and Main to begin the celebrations. However, it wasn't until yesterday that it became official, as the NHL Board of Governors unanimously approved the transfer of ownership from the Atlanta Spirit Group to True North. So perhaps we should add June 21, 2011 to the list of unforgettable days in Winnipeg, because it is now 100% official. The NHL is back in Winnipeg!
Not that this should come as a surprise. Three weeks have now gone by since the original announcement, and some pretty important things have occurred that wouldn’t have happened if the vote wasn’t going to go through. The first thing to happen was The Drive to 13,000 for season tickets, and we all know how well that did. Selling out nearly instantly, plus adding 8,000 people to the waiting list, just proved how ready Winnipeg was to have a team come back to town. I'm not going to lie, I'm still super excited that our group managed to get 5 season tickets in the upper bowl. The other major announcement was the replacement of Rick Dudley as GM, as Kevin Cheveldayoff was named General Manager of the franchise with Craig Heisinger to act as his Assistant General Manager. As of this moment, we don't have a coach, a captain under contract, or even a name for the team. We also don’t know if "Jump" by Van Halen will be our intro song. Yet we couldn't be happier.
Of the unknowns mentioned above, the biggest topic of discussion around Winnipeg is of course this: What will the team be called? This is the great question, because it appears that nobody has any clue what TNSE will decide. Will the team be representing Winnipeg or Manitoba, and will they be the Jets? Initial indications were that they wanted to go in a different direction with the name, especially since the Jets franchise is officially still alive in the Arizona desert. However, the public outcry for the Jets to return has been loud and clear, and Chipman and company surely have noticed. The rumor mill has produced all sorts of nicknames, but the main four that have managed to stay in the public discussion seem to be the Jets, the Falcons, the Moose and the Polar Bears. The general consensus from everyone I have talked to is that the Jets are the preferred name, but the Falcons would suffice if need be. However, people consider the Moose to be a minor-league name attached to a now defunct era, and the Polar Bears would be just plain embarrassing. TNSE has reportedly received over 250 proposals for the name and logo, with the best one I’ve seen being located here. Regardless of what the team is named, be prepared for the inevitable "Go Jets Go!" chants to echo throughout the MTS Centre this fall.
Two of the best players on our roster, captain Andrew Ladd and young stud defender Zach Bogosian, are Restricted Free Agents as of today. Is Chevy looking to re-sign them both? I haven’t heard anything about Bogosian, but there is no question that Andrew Ladd is a prime target for our new GM, especially since he told us so. Recall that Chevy won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks two years ago while Andrew Ladd was there, so they are very familiar with each other. Ladd spent his own money to fly out here with his fiancée last week so that they could tour Winnipeg with his agent, and all reports suggest it went well. He was recognized multiple times in the street by well wishers who welcomed him to town, and was even treated to lunch by some random people! Friendly Manitoba to be sure! I certainly hope that both Ladd and Bogosian are retained, but if not I suppose they could be peddled for additional help elsewhere in the lineup if need be.
As for the coaching search, it appears to be down to two potential candidates. This past Monday both Craig Ramsay and Craig MacTavish were told that they were no longer in the running for the position, leaving Claude Noel and Mike Haviland as the reamining two options. It will be interesting to see what happens here, but it appears to me that Noel is Heisinger's guy while Haviland is Cheveldayoff's guy. It should be interesting to see which direction they go in, but I am glad that the new Winnipeg franchise is getting the entire facelift. TNSE just dropped $170M on this team, so I figure that allows them to make whatever decisions they want to. I've seen different reports saying that both guys have the job, so I guess we'll have to wait and see.
Despite having more questions then answers about our new team, the city remains abuzz. It seems that all of these unresolved issues have just heightened our anticipation for the answers, because these are the topics that everyone is talking about over coffee break and lunch hour. With the draft coming up on Friday, perhaps some of these answers will arrive because it's hard to believe that a coach wouldn't be in place and that a player will be drafted by an unnamed team. Either way, the MTS Centre will be filled on Friday evening for the NHL Entry Draft Party, where the team will draft 7th overall and one lucky person in attendance will win a pair of season tickets! Good thing I already have mine, but I suppose another pair would be okay too. Who will Chevy draft with the 7th overall pick? Oh great, another question, but at least we know exactly when this one will be answered.