SBD/May 17, 2011/Franchises

Atlanta Spirit, True North Negotiating Possible Sale Of Thrashers

NHL reportedly working on schedule drafts for both Winnipeg and Atlanta

The Atlanta Spirit officially is "in negotiations with Canadian-based True North Sports and Entertainment involving the sale of the Thrashers, which, if completed, would send the hockey franchise to Winnipeg," according to a source cited by Chris Vivlamore of the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. The parties "have not entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement and they have not reached a deal." It is "not known how long the sides have been negotiating." However, the "fact that talks are underway could mean the Thrashers' relocation to Manitoba perhaps as soon as next season." A source said that a meeting "was held Monday between team officials and a prospective buyer interested in keeping the team in Atlanta." But "time appears to be running out on that possibility" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 5/17). Thrashers President Don Waddell yesterday said the team is exploring "all options" for new owners (AP, 5/16). In Winnipeg, Gary Lawless reported the NHL is "working on two schedule drafts for next season -- one with Winnipeg and another with Atlanta." True North is "approaching its internal deadline and while they could stretch things a bit its unlikely they'll allow this to drag into June" (WINNIPEGFREEPRESS.com, 5/16). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts notes it is "not known if the sale can be completed in time to realign the conferences and divisions" for next season. The "most likely candidate to move east is the Predators, who could take the Thrashers' spot in the Southeast Division." The Winnipeg team could join the Northwest Division, with the Wild moving to the Central Division to replace the Predators (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/17).

BEGINNING OF THE END? In L.A., Helene Elliott wrote, "It's becoming clear that no one can or will step up to buy the Thrashers and keep them in Atlanta, which Commissioner Gary Bettman would prefer for the sake of U.S. TV markets and American advertising money" (LATIMES.com, 5/16). In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz wrote under the header, "Door Isn't Closed But Thrashers' Picture Still Gloomy" (AJC.com, 5/16). Also in Atlanta, Mark Bradley wrote, "The endgame has surely begun. It’s sad, yes. Given the way this franchise has been run, it’s also inevitable." He added, "Where the Spirit failed was in its basic commitment to hockey. The Spirit was made up of businessmen from three cities, most of whom preferred basketball. In the Spirit’s corporate eye, the Thrashers were always going to be the Hawks’ little brothers. Had the hockey club been well-run, that might have been OK. But the hockey club was adrift, and ownership didn’t much care" (AJC.com, 5/16).

NO WHERE ELSE TO TURN: In Toronto, Damien Cox writes, "While the 1997 expansion plan that added Nashville, Columbus, Minnesota and Atlanta to the league might not be a total failure, it certainly didn’t strengthen the league at all. All four clubs lose money, and only the Blue Jackets have the same owner as they started with." It was a "rash, foolhardy attempt to bloat the league to 30 teams, and it has ended up being a negative, not to mention a drain on league coffers through revenue sharing." Moreover, "not a single new market has opened up its doors to the league since, unless you count Kansas City." For three decades, the NHL governors "could always count on there being new cities out there willing to build arenas and pay expansion fees, but that well has run dry" (TORONTO STAR, 5/17).

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