What a summer it's been here in Winnipeg. It has been hot, it has barely rained and there are virtually no mosquitos. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are tied for 1st in the CFL with a 5-1 record, the Winnipeg Goldeyes are tops in the North Division of the American Association baseball standings, and the golf courses are in fantastic shape. Oh yeah, this summer we also found out about the return of the Winnipeg Jets 2.0 (along with their awesome new logo). Without a doubt, this has been one of the best summers in the River City of all time.
Despite all of this, you just knew that someone would try to rain on our parade. And wouldn't you know it, the storm clouds originated in Toronto. Bob McCown, host of Prime Time Sports on the Fan 590 and Rogers Sportsnet, tried to drop a bomb on Winnipeg by saying that people don't and won't want to play here.
McCown claims to "have firsthand knowledge of no fewer then 3 members of the ... Winnipeg Jets who are actively pursuing alternatives" to get out of Winnipeg because "there's no place to live in the style that an NHL player has become accustomed", and that while there are upscale homes in Winnipeg, "they're not available, they're not for rent" (click here for the audio - thanks to thenhlhotlist.azvibe.com for posting audio here).
Now, the fact that this didn't get some attention from the mainstream media over the weekend suggests to me that this is a non-story. However, the more I thought about it over the weekend the more it bothered me so I thought I'd take a look at it.
To be fair, the above audio clip was part of a much larger round-table segment involving McCown, John Shannon, Paul Jones and Elliot Friedman (click here for the audio) that began with the Islanders arena vote and the fact that certain teams struggle to attract and keep players. They also said some good things about Chipman and Winnipeg in general, but the overriding point being made is that Winnipeg will struggle to attract talent unless they can follow the Detroit model and create a winning atmosphere over the long run. Seriously though, there are about 12-15 teams that you can say that about.
As for these players "actively pursuing alternatives", I'm not sure what kind of alternatives they think they have. Would being demoted to St. John's, Newfoundland be more desirable? Sorry boys, but if you are under contract I'm not sure what kind of alternatives you have other then staying home and being suspended without pay. Is that a better option then playing hockey in a hockey-mad city like Winnipeg? If it is so bad that the player requests a trade, well I'm sure Cheveldayoff would prefer to move out a malcontent and get something back in return. Players request trades all the time for a variety of different reasons, and that won't be an issue that belongs to Winnipeg alone.
What really gets me though is this view that Winnipeg doesn't have any "upscale housing" available to these players. Can you please define for me what "upscale housing" means? Is it simply saying that your house is valued at a certain benchmark, like say $1,000,000? If it is, well a quick search on www.winnipegrealtors.ca shows that today there are over 30 houses for sale within the city limits of Winnipeg with an asking price of $1,000,000 or more. However, looking at the value of houses in Winnipeg is a different breed because Winnipeg is one of the most affordable major cities in Canada to own a home. The Winnipeg Free Press wrote this story in April of this year stating that the housing market in the city is one of the hottest in Canada, yet it remains one of the lowest in terms of average selling price and mortgage costs. Is that such a bad thing? All I know is that if I tried to purchase the home in which I live in a city like Vancouver or Toronto, I would have to pay at least 3 or 4 times as much. Does that mean the house is any better there? I think not.
Another excellent point that my wife brought up was that during an episode of Oil Change it showed that Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle shared an apartment together that was no screaming hell. You can't tell me that Winnipeg doesn't have apartments or condos available that look exactly like this one in Edmonton. I recall hearing recently that the Winnipeg Jets are currently the youngest team in the league, so I bet that about half of the team will be looking for apartments or condos just like Hall and Eberle did. We have those here, and they are cheaper than in other cities.
As for the high priced veterans and their families, there are amazing houses in amazing parts of this city that are available. What they need to keep in mind is that they may only need to spend $500,000 to get a house that would cost them well over a million dollars elsewhere. To be perfectly honest, I think that once the players and their families get here and take a look around, they won't believe how little they will need to pay to buy or rent a fantastic place.
We have been told for the past 15 years that we would never get an NHL team back, and that housing was one of the of the hundreds of issues blocking our chances. Well we proved everyone wrong by getting our team back, and yet we still have people trying to undermine us and our city before the puck has even been dropped. For every Dave Naylor who just last week tweeted a question wondering if Winnipeg was the best pro sports town in Canada, we have a Bob McCown trying to cut us down. Oh well, I guess the fact that Bob McCown and his sunglasses are even talking about Winnipeg from his studio in Toronto means that we are officially back in the big leagues so I suppose it could be worse. We could be living in Toronto...