It was learned yesterday by the federal government that the Thunder Bay Event Centre will not be eligible for federal funding, thus scrapping the entire plan altogether. Of course, you can look at the politics of this from the city council being skeptical of the viability of the new arena and how profitable will be– but that is all eased over for now.
For a hockey sense, the main issue this brings up is that it could throw a little bit of a wrench in the plans the Winnipeg Jets may have to place their AHL team in Thunder Bay after the arena was built. Currently, the Jets have moved their AHL team with them into the MTS Centre in the hopes that after a couple years– they could move out to Thunder Bay.
With that plan pretty much out the window, the question is what the Jets will do now with their AHL team; as the idea of holding 41 NHL dates and 36 AHL dates holding up the MTS Centre (not to mention playoffs) may not be the best business wise for True North Sports and Entertainment, as they would probably want other big-time events to come into the arena to play their shows.
Back when the Jets extended their affiliation with the St. John’s Ice Caps, the Winnipeg Free Press had the other options about what the Jets could do when it comes to moving their AHL team closer if Thunder Bay didn’t work out.
True North has said Winnipeg could be an option for the AHL team, at least temporarily in the future, but made no promises further than it was being considered.
Other options beyond Thunder Bay were being explored — some said Fargo and Kansas City were among them — but no apparent or obvious solution has been found.
With Fargo, it is only a two-and-a-half hour drive from Fargo to Winnipeg. The Scheels Arena in Fargo is home to the Fargo Force in the USHL and has a capacity of 6,000. The Force are third in the USHL attendance this season (3,521) and have averaged over 3,500 in the past five seasons. It is easy to get to around the Fargo area and has a professional feel already for a USHL team. Yet, the big question is whether or not it would be viable to give up the Fargo Force, which has low overhead for a junior hockey team– and step up to the plate for an AHL team that could need a heck of a lot more resources in that arena to fulfil the need.
The other option in Kansas City is interesting. The Sprint Center has been standing since 2007 without a primary tenant, even though planners have talked to the NHL and NBA about relocation. One hold-up could be the fact that the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) owns the building and also own the LA Kings. I doubt that the Jets would want to pay the LA Kings ownership group more money in order to house their team in the Sprint Center. It could also be too big for hockey (capacity 17,544), especially when there’s an established ECHL team in the Missouri Mavericks playing 10 miles east.
Of course, there’s always the option of other markets becoming open that are near Winnipeg and some others who may work hard on actually getting something together thanks to Thunder Bay not being in the picture anymore. Not only that, True North could also hold steadfast and think they can deal with two teams in the same arena and be successful. There’s at least two years to figure it out (maybe more or even less), but True North will have to look at all the options to not only have this team be successful, but also close-by for call-ups and the like.