JUST SAYING: THIS, THAT AND THE OTHER THING

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.

STRAIGHT TALK

"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.

  • John Chambers

    I left Raleigh, NC to come back to Canada and live in Winnipeg in ’06. After a couple of years enjoying tepid climate, couldn’t have been happier to come home to Canada.

    Mid-sized American cities are strange and uncomfortable. You have to take the Interstate to go anywhere, the average person is a dullard, and the inequity between the wealthy and poor makes me uneasy.

    Professional hockey players who come from Canada typically come from a working- or middle-class background, if not straight from the farm. I remember speaking with a toothless Duncan Keith a couple of summers ago at their family’s Manitoba cottage about how cool it would be to live in Chicago, and was surprised to have Keith reply that he’d much rather play in a smaller Canadian city where the average person was like the people in their family; like the people he knew growing up. Keith, like many NHL’ers, are Labatt-drinkin’, Tim Horton’s eating Canadians just like us … they just make more money than they know what to do with … but it doesn’t fundamentally change the core of who they are.

    It’s different for Czechs, Slovaks, or Russians who have left varying degrees of chaos for the relative stability and prosperity of living in the US. I can see why Bryzzer is such a puss … the appeal of the humble Canadian prairie is easily lost on him.

    But for every prima donna like Heatley, Pronger, Lindros, and the soprano-voiced Bryzgalov, there’s a Selanne, Mike Keane, Bouwmeester, Cammalleri, or Bobby Clarke who will gladly play at home … to proudly demonstrate themselves as the richest guy in town among their Junior-High graduating class. Wouldn’t you rather have those guys win for you anyway?

    • Obviously, you want players who place the highest premium on having a chance to win when they are picking where to to go. If you’re getting those guys, it follows that you’ve got a good team or are well along in the process of building one.

      Assuming there’s four or five or more teams with that chance to win, the other factors come into play — climate, city etc — unless, of course, you’re offering a boatload of extra money to get free agents to come, as was the case with Souray.

      Edmonton is a terrific hockey town and when the team becomes more competitive it will get easier to attract players, but this city will never be on equal footing with many others when it comes to the other factors.

      • John Chambers

        More than players wanting to play for a winner, they really don’t want to play for a loser. That’s why the Isles poll in at 27%.

        As for the 20% that don’t want to play for the Oil – I would bet that a very small percentage of them hail from Western Canada. So what if Nik Antropov doesn’t want to play in E-town? We don’t want him. Guys like that always go play for crappy teams in warm climates where the second biggest reason for signing next to money is annonymity. How do you build a winner with character like that?

        Doug Weight wanted to win in Edmonton. Taylor Hall wants to play here. Eberle does too. Nugent has said he would be honoured to be drafted by the Oil. Tkachuk and Selanne were legendary in Winnipeg … Alexei Zhamnov not so much.

        This thought that a City like Edmonton or Winnipeg can’t attract top talent is a myth. It’s been perpetrated by Lauren Pronger and Dany Heatley as a truth, but in fact it’s not. Once we start winning, Edmonton will actually have a competitive advantage retaining and attracting talent.

        You’re right in saying that competitiveness is the greatest factor. But for every spineless greedbag who’d rather avoid playing for a prairie team, there are all sorts of guys who you WANT to build a team around who would rather be a legend on Whyte Ave instead of a nobody on Peachtree street.

        • You overstate.

          A lot of guys, including “good prairie boys,” wouldn’t be completetely opposed to playing in Edmonton, as in “No way I’m going there.” Still, it’s not as black and white as that.

          Not every kid who grew up on the prairies is a “spineless greedbag” if he opts to play in another city. If everything else is equal — the amount of the contract offered, chance to win etc — in, say, Chicago, Dallas, Vancouver and Edmonton, and the kids says, “I think I’ll go to Chicago,” it doesn’t mean he thinks Edmonton is the armpit of the universe. It just means there are cities many would agree are more attractive places to play. That’s true, whether Edmontonians like to hear that or not. There is a middle ground between Whyte Avenue and a hockey-mad city and Peachtree Street where nobody cares. I’ve seen every city in this league more times than I can remember — downtown, in the arena areas and the suburbs — and I don’t think Edmonton is the worst town, but’s it’s also nowhere near the top of the heap, either.

          • John Chambers

            Robin, there’s no question you can have one hell of a night out in Adams Morgan, and that Georgetown isn’t one of the nicest neighbourhoods on the planet. I would live in DC any day.

            The point I’m making is that Edmonton has a comparitive advantage in attracting talent … for certain players. By comparative advantage, I mean their chance of them landing a quality FA is greater than the league average of 1/30. The unique advantage E-town or Winnipeg has over Anaheim and NYC is that for some players it feels like home. However it will be the last destination of choice for a certain demographic of players.

            Meanwhile, NYC and SoCal have their own advantages … nobody cries about getting traded there. They are an attractive destination for nearly all players.

            Teams that will have a rough time in the long run are the Nashville’s, Columbuses, and Buffalo’s. These places aren’t great cities to live in, and aren’t home to anybody, Ryan Miller notwithstanding.

            However to your original point, well-managed teams like Detroit and Pittsburgh, despite being industrial cities on the downswing, attract players because they win. Once we start to win the bandwagon will be full.

            Edit: “Spineless greedbag” = Dany Heatley. Anybody got a problem with that?

        • Wax Man Riley

          You know John, I think you’re right.

          I have lived in Edmonton most of my life. and like many of you have lived or spent time in other major cities, so you know of Edmonton’s challenges.

          But…

          Given the choice to make $2M in Edmonton, or $2M in a warm sunny place like Tampa Bay ….

          As @Ned Braden put it:

          I was born and raised here but if someone offered me the same money to do the same job and live the same lifestyle in Phoenix, Atlanta, Florida or any place warm and sunny year round I would be out of here in a second!

          But given the choice to play for a contender or play for the history that is Atlanta/Florida/Phoenix….

          I know which one I would pick, and it doesn’t have a green Christmas.

  • Bucknuck

    Another factor for free agents is travel, is it not? Edmonton is a hell of a long way from most of the other teams.

    Winnipeg is a tad closer than Phoenix to Edmonton so I suppose that can’t hurt. It’s another team that is pretty far from the other cities, so that’s not so bad. Of 41 road games I would imagine that Winnipeg would account for 2 of them, so that is a 5% increase in palatable road travel.

  • The players take the bus from the airport to their hotel which is located in our mostly dead downtown, where they stay at either the Hotel Mac or the Westin- which I don’t think either are even 5 star hotels. Then they bus through the crappiest part of town to play in one of the oldest rinks in the league. No wonder the perception of our city is not the greatest.

    Coming soon however, should be a new downtown arena complex and a state-of-the-art Alberta Museum. And with these, more re-development and activity. This should help.

  • Bucknuck

    Bryzgalov may be a good goalie (unless there’s pressure) but this isn’t the first time he’s commented on the Canadian winter. Here’s what he said about Edmonton once upon a time:

  • A few years ago , my son and I went to San Jose to catch an Oiler game in early March. I remember walking around the palm tree lined streets, in shorts, and passing a couple of Sharks walking to the arena a few hours before game time. I’m sure we were the only ones who recognized then, otherwise they were totally anonymous. In that moment I realized if I was a Canadian kid from Moose Factory or some place, and my choice to play hockey for millions was under the magnifying glass in Edmonton where my every move in public is scrutinized and the winters are long and brutal, or California, or some such place where I could make the same money and live a relatively quiet life out of the spotlight, I know where I would go. There are many exceptions, of course. Winning teams tend to appeal to a free agent on the backside of a career spent on non Stanley Cup contender(Marion Hossa, Dan Hamhuis). Money and security appeal to others(do people think Kovalchuk signed in New Jersey for the scenery?) Desirable teams still bump up against the cap, leaving players looking for a fit. If the Oilers start winning and building momentum toward a cup run, free agents will start to listen to the pitch from Oilers management. Nothing succeeds like success.

    • Bingo.

      It’s 2007 or 2008 or 2009 and you’re a free agent. First, you want a chance to win. Second, you want a happening city where the fans support the team and care about hockey but don’t obsess about it.

      Chicago or Edmonton?
      San Jose or Edmonton?
      Vancouver or Edmonton?
      Philadelphia or Edmonton?
      Los Angeles or Edmonton?

  • wrzoller

    RB: I’ll take what 27 did in Edm over a much larger sample size to judge him rather than what he’s done thus far in LA.

    If he still looks this unproductive say 25 games into next season, then I’ll agree with you.

    BTW, are you as unsurprised at how JDD is doing in the playoffs with the Barons?;)

    • No, I’m not.

      Jeff hasn’t been able to narrow the gap between his best performances and his worst. He provides no consistency, and that’s death for a any player looking to establish himself. His top end says NHL starter. His inability to perform at or near that level consistently screams AHL journeyman. As for Penner, we don’t need 25 more minutes, let alone 25 more games, to know exactly what he is — when he feels like being a player, he’s got the ability to be very good but he’s not so inclined nearly often enough. He’s got his money. He’s set.

  • wrzoller

    I go from air conditioned house to my air conditioned car to my air conditioned job. Does Ilya and his family go to the park when the summer heat kicks in? +40′ to +48′ in the summer. Right. Thats where I want to live. There is a reason that Canadians live there only during the winter. Its too darn hot any other time of the year. If you like Desert its the place to live. And when you get the inversions, the pollution from all those air conditioners really increases the quality of life.Dosen’t it? My wife always says that she thinks I am smarter when my mouth is shut. Ilya Bryzgalov might want to take some advice from my wife.

    As far as free agency goes. Who cares. Look at how well that has gone with Edmonton. Build from within. Winnipeg will fill the stands for the next 3 seasons. Sportsnet and TSN will load a brinks truck and drop it off at the front door of the MTS Center for the rights to broadcast the JET’s. CBC will fall over themselves to get them on the scheduel of HNIC on back half of the double header. The rating will be huge. The fans will buy nerchandise by the truckload. And the players will get paid in US dollars. Which is less than the Canadian $$$$.

    • wrzoller

      I’m not sure what your point is. I seriously doubt if any NHL player spends his summer in the desert. I suspect most of them are at their gated golf course communities/summer cottages/helping Dad on the farm/anywhere but Phoenix/Dallas/Nashville etc. The point is, if you only work during the winter, all other things being equal, would you rather work in Phoenix/San Jose or Winnipeg/Edmonton?
      Free Agents have a place – all Stanley Cup contenders sign them. The point is to sign them prudently, when they will be most effective, when your team is at its most attractive, and when all the other pieces are in place, mostly from in-house development.(like you said)
      All that being said, I really hope teams move from the southern US where they are mostly novel, boutique sports with a relatively small core of followers, to places like Quebec City and Winnipeg, where there are more hard-core fans in the average sports bar then there are in the state of Georgia. Plus it’s easier for me to get a hate on for Winnipeg than Phoenix any day.

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    This may well have been talked about before, but I have to say my piece.

    I think the greatest story would be if Selanne RETURNED to Winnipeg. I know every year he contemplates retirement and this year will probably be no different. He is reaching, and some would say past that age, yet his performance at his age has been legendary.

    (to those who might not know this story)
    Teemu Selanne tried really hard to keep the team in Winnipeg when it was leaving. He didn’t just say it, he organized what may have led to local investors raising enough capital to actually keep the team there. As the story goes, that’s why he was traded from the Jets right then and there, despite the fact he was very young and an NHL superstar already.

    He was loved in Winnipeg like no other player, and revered for his loyalty to the city in the crunch time. If he is going to retire in one year’s time, why not go back to where it all began, and finishing the story the right way. That would be an inspiring story for the ages.

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    Bryzgalov makes it seem like they’re dirt-wall tunnels. You can get anywhere you need to downtown through a series of tunnels and skywalks, most of which are lined with shops and restaurants. There’s also a mall underneath Portage and Main.

    It’s not like it’s a freaking coal mine.

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    IF hockey does come back to Winnipeg, the question begs this..would Selanne consider delaying retirement for one more season to top off a great career in where it all began? That being as a member of the Winnipeg Not Yet Determined Team Names?

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    haha Winnipeg sucks worse than Edmonton. Finally something refreshing to hear! A Free Agent slagging a cold depressing northern city and it’s not us!

    Pass me anotha BL. I’m pourin out some malt lika for my boy Bryz’..

  • Mitch

    @Brownlee

    Watching the games tonight, Lindy Ruff and Barry Trotz too great coaches, players always so up and play for them no matter what. You can draft RNH and it will be a great pick just watch Tyler Ennis. I would target these two players if possible, Cody Franson and Ray Emery. I know with Emery that Khabi would have to be moved out somehow.

      • Mitch

        That stuff is in the past with Emery, maybe not so much the health issues, but he looks like the real deal with the ducks. I feel Khabibulin game has really dropped off and the oilers can bury his contract if needed, unless I’m wrong. With Dubnyk yes he’s a up-and-comer but is inconsistant and Emery has something to prove and would be a good fit for 35-40 games and would come at a good price. It’s time to think out of the box, I don’t think that it would be completely outta the question.

        • Mitch

          Players who aren’t here for the long-term are transition players. They are important in the development of a team.

          They are usually veterans who can help younger players develop either by leading by example or by being great pros who know the ropes. Emery fits into neither category — he’s not a great leader and his time as an established goaltender is marginal. Khabibulin is a better teammate.

          You might think otherwise, but I’m telling you there is no reason to bring Emery here. None.

  • Wax Man Riley

    Would the NHL consider suspending the the Coyote franchise for a couple of years? In turn they could grant Winnipeg an expanssion franchise. The players could be dispersed or given free agency. It dosen’t look like the NHL wants to continue with the status quo. Neither does Gary Bettman want to lose that large a market. The City of Glendale and the NHL would then have time to find a new owner who wouldn’t have to deal with all the issues there are now. The expansion money could pay back the NHL owners the money they have lost on the Pheonix franchise. Winnipeg gets a team. NHL gets time to reevaluate the situation in Pheonix and the fans in Pheonix get the promise of a fresh start sometime in the future. Thoughts?