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McKenzie: Saskatoon expresses interest to NHL for a franchise

Bob McKenzie

3/1/2012 1:57:00 PM

No one is suggesting the NHL is considering relocating an existing franchise to Saskatoon.
 
But it is fair to say there have been expressions of interest from parties in the prairie city to purchase, relocate and house an NHL franchise in Saskatoon's Credit Union Centre.
 
Obviously, if the NHL is faced with relocating another franchise -- those options may have to be legitimately explored in the coming weeks or months with regards to the long-term future of the Phoenix Coyotes -- the most logical landing-spot candidates are Seattle, Quebec City, Kansas City and perhaps Las Vegas.
 
But interested parties in Saskatoon have contacted the league and suggested there are individuals or parties in Saskatoon who would be willing to ante up the required purchase fee while various levels of government in Saskatchewan would make necessary arrangements to expand and make NHL-suitable the 15,800-seat Credit Union Centre.
 
Even though Saskatoon's actual population is around 250,000 -- which at face value would seem to be far too small to support an NHL franchise -- the Saskatoon interests are pitching that an NHL franchise there would be supported by the entire province and it would be a viable operation.

In 1983, the St. Louis Blues almost moved to Saskatoon. Then-owner Ralston Purina were going to sell the franchise to Bill Hunter, who was going to relocate it to Saskatoon. The league blocked the move, took the franchise over when Ralston Purina effectively abandoned it and sold it to Harry Ornest, who kept the team alive in St. Louis.
 
Meanwhile, the NHL continues to focus on negotiations with three groups who have expressed varying degrees of interest in buying the Coyotes from the NHL and working out a deal with the City of Glendale to keep the franchise there long-term. But if those negotiations don't progress in the coming weeks, it's believed the NHL willl have no other option but to begin pursuing a parallel track to look at its relocation options while still trying to make the Phoenix scenario work.
 
Either way, one would assume by the end of the NHL regular season -- in mid-April -- the league will need to know whether it's staying in Phoenix for another year or relocating the franchise. Conventional wisdom is the league can't wait as long as it did last spring when Atlanta was relocated to Winnipeg in a process that started in late April and was consummated in late May. Ownership group True North in Winnipeg had an existing infrastructure in place that permitted a relatively smooth transition at such a late date.
 
But as interested as parties may now be in Seattle and Quebec, for example, none are as fully developed or operationally sound as True North was.

In the meantime, the short-term focus of the league is entirely on trying to nail down a completed agreement to purchase in Phoenix.