In all the hustle and bustle surrounding the potential relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg one of the debates raging on centers around whether or not the NHL can work there this time around. After all, the financial climate now is quite a bit different in 2011 than it was in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets left Manitoba, Canada for Phoenix, Arizona.
While that aspect can be debated as to whether or not Winnipeg NHL fans will shell out the bucks necessary to keep a team fat and happy these days, one aspect that doesn’t seem to be questioned very much is how the fans will take to a new team. While you can talk to any number of fans in Winnipeg and get euphoric statements confirming they’ll love their potential new franchise, talking to one former Jets player helps you really believe that’ll be the case.
Luciano Borsato played for the Winnipeg Jets for five seasons in the 1990’s before moving on to play in Germany the season when the Jets departed for Phoenix. Now retired from hockey and working as an online marketer, the Canadian-born Clarkson University graduate believes that if the NHL returns to Winnipeg it will be a huge success based on how great it was while he was there.
“I have fond memories of Winnipeg. Like most Canadian kids, playing in a Canadian NHL city was a dream for me. Winnipeggers loved the team and supported us enthusiastically — the playoff white-outs with over 16,000 fans showing their unity all dressed in white would send shivers down your spine,” Borsato said.
“I hope they create that same atmosphere for every game during the regular season as well, as it was a great feeling for the players to see that support. But more than just that, I actually got to know many fans and families in the city and would be invited to their homes, restaurants and businesses regularly. That was my most personal impression of Winnipeg.”
That sort of intimate setting in Winnipeg might give some players reason to pause. After all, Winnipeg is a small city with a population between 600,000 and 700,000 people. When you compare that to Canadian cities like Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver it’s minuscule. Compared to a similar NHL city like Edmonton and it’s right on par.
Can it work though? Borsato thinks that with the way the NHL is set up these days it can.
“Yes, I think it can work, under certain conditions. The biggest factor would be finding wealthy owners willing to not only bring the team to Winnipeg, but be prepared to absorb losses over the years. That seems to have been accomplished with the Thomson family. Due to the fluctuations in the floor of the salary cap since it was introduced, this would be the most important factor from a new owner’s perspective,” Borsato says.
In 2005, the first salary cap was $39 million with the salary floor set just over $21 million. This season, the cap is $59.4 million, with the floor now doubled to $43.4 million. Meanwhile, next season it’s believed that the salary cap will go up over $62 million and bring the floor up once again. With the salary cap tied to revenues it’s a good sign for the league to see they can keep juicing the cap. On the downside, all teams have to spend more money. Having a deep pocketed owner helps solve these issues. As for Winnipeg itself, Borsato’s sold on the fans and the market.
“From what I’ve read, Winnipeg is doing quite well economically and we all hope it continues. With the solid new fan base from the Moose and the excitement of the NHL returning, I’d like to think a new NHL team would be a great catalyst for the city.”
With the serious talk out of the way, the one lingering major debate left hinges on what to call the potential new Winnipeg franchise. We asked Borsato if he’d like to see the Jets name be resurrected or should the new franchise carve its own identity separate from the Jets legacy. His thoughts are most intriguing.
“Personally, yes. It’s nice to say you played in a city and for a team that is currently in the NHL. Having said that, the original Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes franchise would be a separate entity from a modern Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg franchise, with a different set of records, players, etc. As a business, it would make sense for a new name to be chosen, but I, and most of the former players, would be more than happy to see the Jets name back.”
We’ll find out in the coming days and weeks whether or not the new Winnipeg team will be the Jets or the Moose or any number of other possible names, but one thing’s for sure the memories of the Jets and the run they had originally in Winnipeg has everyone remembering the way it used to be fondly.