Winnipeg fans get good news, bad news

Longing for Las Vegas to land an NHL franchise? Be careful what you wish for.

The Atlanta Thrashers’ move to Winnipeg on Tuesday came with a considerable string attached. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reminded the approximately 750,000 residents of Manitoba’s largest city that it’s now up to them to make the team — win or lose — a success at the turnstiles.

As part of the relocation deal, True North Sports and Entertainment must guarantee a minimum of 13,000 season tickets for a minimum of three years, and in some cases five years for the most expensive seats. Prior forays into new markets, such as Columbus, Ohio, and Nashville, Tenn., had a 10,000 season-ticket minimum with no designated time frame for retaining the seats.

Fans in Winnipeg, who have been without NHL hockey since the Jets relocated to Phoenix in 1996 and became the Coyotes (by the way, how did that move work out?), are inheriting a lousy team — the Thrashers have made the playoffs just once in their 12-year history — but must pay Stanley Cup-contender prices.

The real winners? Atlanta hockey fans, who don’t have to shell out big bucks for a bad team. They can put their money into something more viable, like the Hawks.

■ KEEP THE JETS — The NHL’s return to Winnipeg should also mean the return of the Jets nickname.

Not that they had great on-ice success in Manitoba — the team never won the Stanley Cup and reached the division finals just once (1987). Its best showing as a franchise came in the old World Hockey Association when Bobby Hull led the team to three Avco World Trophy titles.

But there’s still a lot of history there.

One thing for sure, the team won’t keep the nickname Thrashers, which was a reference to Georgia’s state bird.

■ GREEN GUYS GET IN — Two Vancouver fans who dress in green spandex from head to toe and try to rattle the opposition were in attendance at Rogers Arena on Wednesday for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. But they might be shut out for Game 2 on Saturday, as their company, which owns the rinkside seats, didn’t make the tickets available to them.

Chances are Canucks management or some magnanimous fan will get the Green Men into the arena. They’re already planning to be in Boston for Game 3 on Monday.

■ VANCOUVER PIZZA? — There’s a chain of sports bar-style restaurants in Canada called Boston Pizza. But with the Vancouver Canucks facing the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals, British Columbia’s Boston Pizza franchises have decided to change their name to Vancouver Pizza for the next two weeks.

There’s recent precedent for the switch. In April, the Montreal-area Boston Pizzas called themselves Montreal Pizza when the Canadiens played the Bruins in the Eastern Conference playoffs.


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