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TSN Panel: New Winnipeg team faces tough decisions

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TSN.ca Staff
5/31/2011 3:48:39 PM
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Now that the NHL is on its way back to Winnipeg, TSN's panel of experts looked ahead to what issues may face the organization in the near future.

Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie said the team will play in the Southeast Division with Carolina, Washington, Tampa Bay and Florida for at least one season.

"In a perfect scenario, Winnipeg will end up in the Northwest Division," McKenzie said. "If there is no other shifting going on in terms of Phoenix relocating, then you would take one of the teams from the Northwest Division, maybe Colorado, and move them to the Pacific Division, move Dallas into the Central Division and transfer one of Nashville Columbus or Detroit into the East."

McKenzie said it was not yet clear who would be calling the shots in the front office.

"(True North's Mark) Chipman does keep on saying that Craig Heisinger (GM of the Manitoba Moose) is going to be a big part of the organization," McKenzie said.  "Does that mean that Heisinger is going to be the general manager for Winnipeg? Perhaps.  Does that mean that Rick Dudley will be the general manager and Heisinger will be an important part of his team? Perhaps.

"Understand this about the Atlanta configuration. Dudley did not do contract negotiations in Atlanta, so there is a layer of missing management that is not coming from Atlanta to Winnipeg, and maybe Heisinger could fill that void. But if Heisinger was named the new general manager, that wouldn't surprise me, either.

Whoever calls the shots might have difficulty building a team, especially when it comes to signing free agents.

"I think it's going to be an issue, and I don't think that's much in question," Arthur said. "It isn't going to be about free agency per se.  It's going to be about re-signing your own free agents.  In the NHL now, the top players don't get to free agency.  Winnipeg is going to have to do what a lot of the small southern markets did – they are going to have to build through the draft and retain their own players, and the latter element is going to be the trick.

"When I talked to former Jet Bob Essensa, he said Winnipeg felt like home. He said it was the best place he ever played and had a real sense of community. I think that is what the team is going to have to foster and build.  They are going to have to build a family organization where players want to stay."

McKenzie said the first test will be trying to re-sign captain Andrew Ladd.

"His deal with Atlanta came very close to getting done, but they couldn't agree on some final terms," McKenzie said.  "Now that becomes the responsibility of Winnipeg's front office.  Ladd is an interesting case. He's one year away from unrestricted free agency, and is currently a restricted free agent. He's got a great arbitration case if he decides to go that route, and could do very well there. 

"He can essentially decide if he wants to make a long-term commitment to the team now that it is in Winnipeg, and if he does that, it will be a wonderful way to pave the future. But if he decides he would rather play somewhere else, then that sets it off in the other direction."

Andrew Ladd (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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