NHL schedule makers have created an itinerary for the 2010-11 season that includes a team based out of Winnipeg.
The schedule is a contingency plan as the future of the Phoenix Coyotes remains undecided, according to numerous media sources.
A Winnipeg team would play in the Northwest Division, forcing Colorado to shift to the Pacific Division, according to Darren Ford, who has maintained a close watch on NHL dealings since launching his website, jetsowner.com, in 2003.
"They can't be sitting around just thinking about us. They need to already have it in place," he said about the NHL's contingency plan.
"Winnipeg, obviously, is very different geographically than Phoenix. That changes all 29 teams' flights and schedules," Ford added.
"If [NHL schedule makers] thought this was going to happen, it had to be in place."
The rumour mill has been running in high gear about the NHL's possible return to Winnipeg since last week, when talks to sell the financially troubled Coyotes to Chicago sports tycoon Jerry Reinsdorf fell apart.
Arizona losses mount
The NHL, which bought the team out of bankruptcy last fall, is seeking a buyer for the franchise, which has failed to turn a profit since it moved from Winnipeg - where it played as the Jets - to Glendale, a suburb of Phoenix, following the 1995-96 season.
The team lost an estimated $20 million to $25 million US this season alone.
Ice Edge Holdings, a consortium of Canadian and American business people that failed in a previous attempt to purchase the Coyotes, re-entered the picture last week after Reinsdorf backed out because the City of Glendale would not meet his demand for more than $45 million a year in subsidies.
However, negotiations broke off Monday after Ice Edge and the city couldn't agree on an arena lease deal.
There have been reports that if an owner can't be found to keep the team in Arizona, the NHL will instead move quickly to finalize a sale to Toronto-based billionaire David Thomson and Mark Chipman, chairman of Winnipeg-based True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd.
Thomson and Chipman are partners in True North, which owns the 15,000-seat MTS Centre and the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.