One big positive about the possibility of the Phoenix Coyotes returning to Winnipeg is that Edmonton would no longer be perceived by players as the second-least desirable destination in the NHL, which it now is.
Loud and proud Edmontonians don’t like that perception, but civic pride doesn’t make it any less true or any less rampant among NHL players, all of whom get a choice of where they play as unrestricted free agents.
Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, fresh from costing himself millions of dollars in contract money as a pending unrestricted free agent with a Swiss cheese impression against the Detroit Red Wings, stuck the blade into Winnipeg good and deep, then twisted, when talking to reporters after what stands to be the last NHL game in Phoenix Wednesday.
What Bryzgalov, the Knob Hockey hero but series zero, said about the city of Winnipeg was every bit as unflattering as the NHLPA survey of last January in which 20 per cent of 318 players polled rated Edmonton as the place where they’d least like to play. The New York Islanders finished at the bottom of the destination barrel at 27 per cent.
"You don’t want to go to Winnipeg, right?" Bryzgalov said after the Coyotes lost to Detroit. "Not many people live there, not many Russian people there. Plus it’s cold. There’s no excitement except the hockey. No park, no entertaining for the families, for the kids. It’s going to be tough life for your family.
"I’ve been there for just once, maybe twice, when I play in minors. It was really cold," Bryzgalov said. "I used the tunnels between the buildings to get to the arena. Because it was minus 40-something. Real cold."
Winnipeg, like Edmonton, has geography, size and climate going against it. On top of that, Winnipeg has a small building, while Edmonton has an old building. Neither city is seen as a bustling and thriving metropolitan destination compared to Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto or several US markets.
Winnipeg is a damn good hockey town, just like this neck of the woods is. But, if Winnipeg does return to the NHL, it’ll be just as hard-pressed to attract quality free agents as Edmonton has been during its five straight years out of the playoffs and back-to-back 30th-place finishes.
Building a winning franchise will help mitigate the negatives — it works just fine in Detroit — but that, obviously, will take time, whether you’re talking about Winnipeg or Edmonton.
I’d rather spend vacation time, and do, in Scottsdale or Glendale or greater Phoenix than in Winnipeg, but I hope the Jets are back. The NHL needs good hockey towns.
WHILE I’M AT IT
— While I don’t expect him to cough up the Oilers draft list before the scouting staff meets and gets on the same page, I’m going to put in a call to Stu MacGregor in the next few days. Lots of takes on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the other top prospects around here. I want his.
— Does the math still love Dustin Penner more than old school reporters do? I’m not seeing any underlying numbers to mitigate the no-show he’s pulled after a promising start with the Los Angeles Kings. Unsurprising.
— Same thing when it comes to getting a handle on Colten Teubert. I’ll try to get Kevin Lowe’s take on Teubert, although his look at him has been limited by an injury that’s kept him out of the Hamilton series.
— Cameron Abney got an entry-level deal from the Oilers today. Big kid might be a factor in the Oilers bottom-six mix in a year or two if he picks up another step and puts some meat on the big frame of his.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.