By Scott Billeck – @scottbilleck
Former National Hockey League winger-turned-broadcaster Jeff O’Neill sat in front of a TSN camera Tuesday night and decided to issue the following statement: Nobody wants to play in Winnipeg and nobody wants to sign here. We’ve heard it before. Glenn Healey can’t stop droning on about the same myth.
So nobody wants to play in Winnipeg, Jeff? A bit of an unfounded assertion, no?
Here are some facts.
This past summer Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff signed three of his core players to long multi-year deals: Zach Bogosian, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler all signed for at least five more years, committing their future – their prime years – to the Jets and the city of Winnipeg.
Before that, a certain 30-goal scorer and a Czech-born netminder also signed long-term contracts to stay in the city that “nobody wants to play in.”
Eventually, franchise cornerstones’ Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele will also commit their future to Winnipeg and I doubt it will be reluctantly. O’Neill’s comments came up during a discussion on the topic of Trouba and Scheifele. So being an Ex-NHLer, born in Toronto, O’Neill rips Winnipeg when (a) he knows absolutely nothing about Winnipeg and (b) even less about Trouba and Scheifele. Put a Toronto-born, ex-NHLer on TSN and you have a recipe for stupid.
After all, in recent days, Nic Petan, Ryan Olsen, Josh Morrissey and other prospects have also said, “Hey, I wouldn’t mind playing in a city that is as passionate about hockey as Winnipeg.”
But who cares about them, right Jeff?
Winnipeg has the fan base, the amenities and the type of ownership that attracts players. Especially, smart players. Sure, it’s a small market and the chance for big, corporate advertising deals simply aren’t there, but there are players who thrive in that kind of market.
No, not every player is going to want to play here, but not every person likes milk or cottage cheese.
Obviously, Jeff O’Neill hasn’t been to Winnipeg. If he paid us a visit, actually did some reporting, got down to the locker room and talked to the players he’d learn that they like it here.
But to be fair to O’Neill, he’s not the first Toronto-centric TV talking head to get on TSN and suggest “nobody wants to play in Winnipeg,” and he won’t be the last.