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The Globe and Mail

AHL has a Plan B if NHL team returns to Winnipeg

There's nothing official, not with the Phoenix Coyotes still playing in the NHL playoffs, but signs continue to mount that the troubled club is closer to moving to Winnipeg.

American Hockey League commissioner Dave Andrews said Thursday that he is in discussions with Manitoba Moose owner Mark Chipman about where Winnipeg's AHL franchise could play if the Coyotes relocate to the city.

Andrews said the AHL has had a contingency plan in place since last year, when talk began that the NHL franchise could return to Winnipeg.

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Two or three cities have expressed interest in having a minor-league team, but any move would involve input from the Moose's parent franchise, the Vancouver Canucks.

"We essentially have a Plan A, which has Winnipeg in our league, and we have a Plan B that if they're not in, where we go from there in terms of our schedule and division alignments," Andrews said.

"If an NHL team plays in Winnipeg, the AHL team there will relocate. Whether it'll relocate right away or will be placed on suspension for a year, I'm not sure."

Andrews added that his league is putting off some of its scheduling decisions to see what happens with the Coyotes.

"Part of the plan is not to get too far down the road with our schedule until we know how it's going to play out," he said. "I think it's pretty obvious that we need [this contingency plan]… In my opinion, they will at some point be successful."

Chipman, the chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment, and partner David Thomson have spearheaded the recent efforts to return an NHL team to Winnipeg, an undertaking that gets closer to fruition the longer the Coyotes saga drags on. Thomson, through the family holding company Woodbridge, owns The Globe and Mail.

The NHL currently owns the club and wants to keep it in Glendale, Ariz., but an arrangement to sell - this time to Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer - has stalled again.

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Adding intrigue to the situation, the Winnipeg Free Press reported on Thursday night that True North could put out "a cash call" as early as next week, which would ask for three-year season-tickets commitments for a potential NHL franchise.

The league would then use the response to gauge the financial viability of the team returning to Winnipeg, which lost its franchise in 1996 when it moved to Phoenix.

Andrews said the loss of the Moose would be a blow to the AHL given the franchise has the second-best attendance in the league.

He believes, however, that Chipman would be a good partner for the NHL and that the city can support a team.

"I hope that it works for them," Andrews said. "I really do. Mark would be a terrific addition to the NHL board. He's a first-class guy and a terrific business person and really a passionate hockey person.

"I hope he's able to see it through."

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