SBD/December 8, 2010/Franchises

Thrashers Become Focus Of Relocation Talks At NHL BOG Meetings

Thrashers Only Averaging 11,789 Fans Per Game At Philips Arena This Season

The NHL BOG meetings concluded yesterday, and by the end of the meetings the "focus of relocation chatter had shifted" to the Thrashers from the Coyotes, according to David Shoalts of the GLOBE & MAIL. When reporters "raised the struggles of the Thrashers, who are once again near the bottom of the NHL in attendance (an average announced crowd of 11,789) and whose owners are looking for new investors," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "grew dismissive." Bettman: "Too much is made about franchise issues at a particular point in time. Our goal is to keep all our franchises where they are. That's always been our goal and that's what we try to do." But Shoalts notes "even those at the top of the NHL recognize the problems" with the Thrashers. The team has "endured a long and bitter feud among its ownership group -- which is still not settled -- and it has never been a consistent draw in Atlanta." With groups in Winnipeg and Quebec "stalking the Thrashers, talk of relocation is growing." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in a recent interview with Winnipeg's Sports Radio 1290 indicated that relocation is a "possibility if things cannot be turned around," though he "clarified his remarks at the Florida meetings, saying he did not mean a move 'is imminent.'" Thrashers President Don Waddell "insists the league will not allow a move." Waddell: "We deal with it as it comes up and it's been coming up for three years now. It won't be the last time for sure" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/8). Waddell yesterday also "spoke of the Thrashers' efforts, unsuccessful so far, to draw new investors, and its continuing struggles at the gate in what he called 'a difficult market.'" Waddell said, "If we get through the holidays and it doesn't pick up, you can call me again" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/8).

INVESTOR HUNT: In N.Y., Jeff Klein notes some "financially challenged" NHL clubs "continue to seek investors with mixed success, reinforcing the impression of a two-tiered league." Blues Owner Dave Checketts said that partners "would be brought in to offset the reduced involvement" of private equity firm Towerbrook Capital Partners, which has a 75% stake in the club. Checketts added the new partners would add their stakes "early in the new year." Meanwhile, Sabres Owner Tom Golisano "would not say whether he has entertained a bid for the club" from East Resources President & CEO Terry Pegula, who did not attend the BOG meetings (N.Y. TIMES, 12/8).

WARNING SIGNS? THE HOCKEY NEWS' Ken Campbell wrote "two red flags came up big-time in this corner, as we learned more about" prospective Coyotes Owner Matthew Hulsizer at the BOG meetings. The first was that Hulsizer "has a net worth somewhere in the neighborhood" of $300M, which "might sound like a lot of money to you and me, but it's a pittance by NHL standards." Campbell: "The last thing the NHL needs in Phoenix is an owner and a bunch of fellow investors who could develop a case of the shorts." The "second red flag came when Hulsizer talked about the prospect of being an NHL owner by saying, 'I'd love to join the club.'" Campbell wrote, "A quote like that tells me this transaction has 'vanity purchase' written all over it" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 12/7). Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote the "answer is an emphatic 'no'" to the question of whether anyone thinks "there is a snowball's chance in, well, Phoenix in mid-July that an NHL team is going to up and move anytime soon." Burnside: "It is not going to happen. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman tells us it's not going to happen, and history tells us he is right." No NHL team "has relocated in more than 14 years" (ESPN.com, 12/7).

ISLAND RESCUE: In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote it is time for Bettman to "declare the Islanders are in a State of Emergency and the NHL will simply not allow the current ownership to maintain the franchise as currently neglected." Owner Charles Wang "is not getting his Lighthouse" development, but that "does not give him the right to act as the equivalent of a slumlord for the remaining four years of his team's lease at Nassau Coliseum." The product on the ice is "shockingly inferior," and Wang, "once perceived as a savior, has all but disappeared from public view." Brooks wrote Bettman "always talks about the league's commitment to its current markets except when he talks about the Islanders, and then he talks about the commitment to Wang." Brooks: "The league seems to stand behind Wang and not the Islanders. Memo to Bettman: One should not be confused with the other" (N.Y. POST, 12/5).

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