© Geoff Brookes
Fans of the Winnipeg Jets have a lot in common with fans of the Quebec
The two hockey clubs were original World Hockey Association (WHA) teams, starting in 1972, along with the Edmonton Oilers and the New England Whalers (aka the
The Jets and the Nordiques had several great seasons in the WHA, including a memorable 1977 final where the Nordiques triumphed over the Jets in 7 games. Both teams won WHA championships, with great teams based on speed and skill.
The Jets and the Nordiques have had great European players over the years. The Jets had the Swedes, Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg, during the 1970s WHA years, and then Teemu Selanne in the 1990s. Les Nordiques had the Stastny brothers, Peter, Anton and Marian.
Both teams had lean years in the NHL, and both teams built talented
contenders, after the lean years.
Both cities lost their NHL teams, at just about the same time (1995-96).
Winnipeg saw the return of their beloved Jets in May 2011.
Five years later, there are many indications that Quebec fans will see the return of their beloved Nordiques.
This blog is being written for all those Nordiques fans who are frantically
following every news story this year, looking for any clues as to when, and
how, the Nordiques will return.
In Manitoba, we understand. We’ve lived through that agonizing waiting period, where rumours abound, but
confirmation is nowhere to be found.
In both Winnipeg and Quebec, we are passionate fans who endured the sadness of our teams’ departures, without any prospect of a return.
Now, the tantalizing possibility of the Nordiques’ return is painful for their fans, especially when faced with begrudging acknowledgements, or outright denials.
At least with the Jets, the possibility of the relocation of Phoenix was openly acknowledged, as the NHL used Winnipeg as leverage for a better deal for the Coyotes – even if the possibility of Atlanta relocating was initially disputed by the NHL.
It seems like the NHL saw how it lost “control” of the news story with the return of the Jets, and has vowed not to make the same “mistake” again with Quebec. The potential parallels are fascinating, because both the Jets new ownership, as well as the Nordiques’ potential new ownership, have news media in their business empires. The truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
My message to my friends in Quebec is simple – yes, your Nordiques will return soon!
More importantly – please do not lose your sense of your security in this truth, in the agony of this “before time”. Your Nordiques will return – “soon”.
My evidence for this is not from any private sources, on my part. You have many of these already, and they are all telling you the same thing – that the Nordiques are returning. You have public media telling you this, as well as private individuals with multiple credible sources. I beg you not to question these media or private individuals, in connection with the official denials.
My own conclusions are based on the available facts:
1. Gary Bettman has publicly said that an NHL team needs an NHL arena, solid ownership and supportive fans. Quebec is the only market in the world that clearly has all three of these right now, without already having a team. (Las Vegas’ fan base is still unproven at this point, even if they should obtain a franchise).
2. My understanding is that Quebec has entered into contracts to make upgrades to their new arena to make it NHL-ready. This might seem odd to some readers, who might know that Quebec’s arena was completed just one year ago. But there are final changes that would only be made when the NHL franchise is imminent. The same kind of changes were made to Winnipeg’s MTS Centre in the spring of 2011 – even before the NHL was “officially” returning. On the Jets’ fan website in early 2011, this was very exciting news. Yes, I understand that the public explanation for the Quebec arena modifications is that they are “routine”, but it sounds similar to the MTS Centre in 2011, at least in a broad sense (the technical details may be slightly different).
3. Where there is smoke, there is fire. In addition to the private individuals with sources, public figures such as Vincent Cauchon, Martin McGuire and Dany Dubé have said that a relocation from Carolina to Quebec is being explored and may occur. Others, such as Darren Dreger have discussed the “whispers” of possible relocation. Public media (e.g. Pat Hickey) are reporting the rumours.
But what about the categorical denial from the Hurricanes’ owner, Peter Karmanos? Doesn’t this end the discussion?
You might ask me, “Why would you say ‘no’? Isn’t that a bit pig-headed or obtuse on my part, that I would disregard the owner’s flat-out denial?”
No. I’ll explain.
I’ll accept that Karmanos’ denial may be accurate, in some sense, at the moment that he said it. However, it doesn’t settle the matter forever. At some point in the future, an owner might choose to sell his shares, or a part of them. At some future date, he might agree to move the team to another location. It’s an obvious fact that this has happened before with Peter Karmanos and the Hurricanes, when they moved from Hartford to Carolina. It also happened before, when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg.
“Time Is a variable” (my own expression).
In his May 19, 2011 article in the Globe and Mail, Stephen Brunt broke the news that his sources had told him that the Atlanta Thrashers had been sold to True North Sports and Entertainment (TNSE), that the NHL had unofficially pre-approved the sale “months ago” (per the radio interview on TSN 1290), and that the team would be moved to Winnipeg.
Nevertheless, the denials were immediate and universal, by the NHL and even TNSE. Despite the radio interview with Stephen Brunt on 1290 AM in Winnipeg, radio personalities on that same station downplayed the report in subsequent days, stating that the deal was perhaps (now) being worked on, but was not yet completed. Finally, on May 31, the official announcement was made.
I am not trying to discredit anyone, least of all TNSE, who brought the Jets back to Winnipeg, or Stephen Brunt who bravely broke the news 12 days early. Nor am I trying to discredit anyone today, whether it be Vincent Cauchon or Peter Karmanos. My point is that public statements may be subject to interpretation, depending on how you view the question, or the answer. The answer may be true in some sense, depending on the timing. Or, the answer might simply be required in the circumstances, for practical reasons.
The Stephen Brunt radio interview may be found here (you may have to enlarge your screen to click on the small blue link to the interview on this page):
So, should Nordiques fans lose hope based on Peter Karmanos’ angry denial? No. Does it mean that Carolina won’t be moving to Quebec? Maybe. But it really doesn’t rule it out completely, either. It could still happen.
Another encouraging thought for Nordiques fans from the Winnipeg Jets fans’ experiences in 2010-2011: “eyes in two directions”. This meant that if one possibility was denied (such as the Coyotes), another one might be available (such as the Thrashers). I don’t know if this is the future outcome for the return of the Nordiques, but it’s a theoretical possibility.
So, you might ask, is there anything that I know for certain, or do I have nothing more than “platitudes” for my friends in “la belle province”?
Go back to the three points listed above. Taken together, I believe it is 100% certain that the Nordiques are returning.
I believe that some things are never admitted in public, but I “know”, as a businessman, that QMI would not build *that* arena on a whim.
I believe that the recent rumours have substance, whether all of the details are right (or not). I would be shocked if a businessman like Karmanos wouldn’t at least listen to an offer for his shares (especially when he has moved the franchise before). And if one listens, one may accept.
Does that mean it will be the Hurricanes? I know that there are people (more than one person ) who have sources who say it is the Hurricanes. I have no objective reason to doubt them, or their sources, despite Karmanos’ denial.
If it is ultimately another franchise that relocates to Quebec, or an expansion franchise, does that mean that the sources were wrong? No. It could just mean that unexpected changes arose. For example, some sources attest to a rumour that a press conference was canceled with just 15 minutes notice in 2010, in which the Jets’ return would have been publicly announced – one full year before the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg. Does that mean that the people that said that there would be a press conference were somehow “wrong”? Of course not! It just didn’t happen that way at that time, for reasons that could not be predicted.
Some people may feel that my message to my friends in Quebec is not as encouraging as they might have hoped. I mean this in the most encouraging way possible! You will get your team! As one Nordiques fan and chronicler has stated, “Nous aurons notre équipe!”. You will indeed have your team, and very soon! I may not know exactly how, or exactly when, but I am certain that you *will* have it!
And, as a fan of the Winnipeg Jets since 1972, I really can’t wait to see “our Jets” play “vos Nordiques”, once again!
Best of 7, anyone, for the cup? The Stanley Cup, this time!
Vive les Nordiques en 2016!