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Blasts from the Past

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So far, simply rumors
By Ed Dearden
Tribune Sports Writer

Winnipeg Jets a part of the National Hockey League?

Don't laugh.

Nobody thought that Bobby Hull would ever leave Chicago or that Gordie Howe would ever tear himself away from Detroit but, look what happened.

No, the long weekend heat didn't start the hockey tongues wagging all across North America but a Toronto newspaper story did. The story hinted that with the demise of the Kansas City Scouts, Winnipeg has an excellent chance of skating into the NHL. If not this coming winter, maybe the year after. And, when they say Winnipeg, they mean the Jets.

Attempts to keep the Scouts in Kansas City have all but failed, apparently. The owners of the National Basketball Association K.C. Kings, unable to force city officials there into a final compromise on a lease for Kemper Arena, withdrew an offer to purchase the hockey club.

Sources close to the NHL said the Kings were also turned down by the NHL, which is presently meeting in Chicago.

Why the sudden change of heart by the NHL who not too many years ago voiced (1) that Winnipeg wasn't geographically situated regarding expansion and (2) that they don't have an arena big enough?

Well, time has obviously been a healer and expansion has hurt.

Now, NHL president Clarence Campbell is reported to have said, or other people have said it for him, "that Winnipeg is a great franchise. We'd welcome them."

Again, the subject of the small arena was broached also the fact that the NHL doesn't plow into World Hockey Association territory. In other words, getting into the NHL might be easier than the Jets getting out of the WHA commitments. And, it goes without saying that without the Jets the WHA would be in trouble. Deep trouble.

Interviewed between periods of the Sunday night game in Houston between the Jets and the Aeros, Jets' president Bob Graham said "that he was intrigued with the idea of maybe Winnipeg some day skating in the NHL but that no direct negotiations had been made from Kansas City or the NHL. It's no secret that the size of our arena is a handicap and like the NHL, we don't interfere in dealings with one another's league."

Graham confirmed that all he knows is what he's been told about that aforementioned Toronto newspaper, which prompted numerous phone calls from media types all across the country.

However, when further confronted, Graham said, "we'll always do what is best for hockey in Winnipeg"

When you think about it long enough, the potential is there. The Jets, like Houston and New England, to mention three, are the strongholds of the WHA. But, other franchises like San Diego, Cleveland, Phoenix, etc., are not.

As prospective Avco Cup champions, the Jets have something to sell. They're already included in the top five or six teams in pro hockey and they're also on record that they want to improve their hockey club next season with five or six additions. Whether it be European personnel or whatever.

They've still got the games's No. 1 magnate in Bobby Hull and to finish his career in the NHL may be enough to stall Hull's retirement thinking.

The chance to see the Montreal Canadiens, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Boston Bruins et al would hypo season-ticket sales here and hasten (a) the enlargement of the Arena or (b) the building of a new facility. Both the Jets and the NHL would be prepared to take a financial loss for a couple of winters if future arena plans were solidified.

It's been said before that Winnipeg has to be prepared for the future. Whether it be a merger between the two leagues - now somewhat remote - a better WHA, international hockey or an NHL franchise.

The door's open.

As for the Scouts, who obviously weren't prepared, they'd die a natural death like the Denver Spurs and the Minnesota Fighting Saints.