According to Chris Vivlamore of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Atlanta Spirit, owner of the Thrashers and the Hawks, have begun negotiating with True North Sports and Entertainment of Winnipeg about the sale of the Thrashers.
The deal, which has not been completed yet, would move the team to Winnipeg, where the defunct Jets played until 1996 before moving to the desert in Phoenix. The talks have been on-going and if they materialize into an agreement, the Thrashers could very well relocate to Manitoba, maybe as soon as next season.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly has yet to confirm the above rumor, but he said last week that he can’t guarantee the Thrashers will play in Atlanta next season.
Technically, NHL owners do not have to seek league approval to sell a franchise. However they would have to get permission to negotiate with a party interested in relocation. Once an agreement in principle has been reached, the NHL’s Board of Govenors would be asked to judge the acceptability of the new ownership.
NHL bylaws demand that a team owner looking to relocate his club submit a written application to the NHL commissioner by January 1st of the year preceding the suggested move — “unless a majority of the team agrees to a later filing date.” This means the NHL board of governors would have to approve the move of the Atlanta franchise to another city before the league releases its 2011-12 schedule, which is usually done shortly following the end of the playoffs.
The Atlanta Spirit has been trying to sell the franchise for a very long time to local interests, but they haven’t been able to do it so far, and the clock is ticking. The purchase price for the Thrashers has been reported to be at around $110 million and the NHL would receive a relocation fee from the sale (most likely around $60 million) for a total price of $170 million.
That doesn’t mean it’s a certainty that the Thrashers will move to greener pastures before next season, as we witnessed with the Coyotes, who were all but certain to move until the city of Glendale, Arizona (home of the Coyotes), stunningly agreed to pay $25 million to the NHL to keep the team in the desert for at least one more season.
Despite this breather, the future is bleak for the Coyotes, especially with the lack of interest to keep the team locally. The whole Matthew Hulsizer saga has been going on for months now, but the team and this prospective buyer have yet to reach an agreement because a local watchdog has blocked the deal citing that Glendale is paying Hulsizer with $100 million in bonds without proving a roughly proportional economic value in return.
That situation has raised questions about the two-fold of the NHL regarding the two franchises above. First, Gary Bettman has done everything in his power to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix over the past few years, while he doesn’t seem to care much about the situation in Atlanta. Some say the Thrashers’ fight has been private compared to the public combat for the Coyotes, but I highly doubt the NHL can afford two take control of another NHL franchise.
The transfer fee of $60 million would help the league recover part of its losses in the Coyotes and the move to Winnipeg would bring more stability to the league, especially with shaky financial situations in Dallas, Columbus, Florida and Phoenix.
Should the sell be approved by the league and the team move to Winnipeg, the divisions outlook for next season would likely be the following:
The most logical move would be to slide Winnipeg into the Northwest Division and take the place of the Colorado Avalanche. This would create a geographical rivalry with the Minnesota Wild and the three other Canadian teams in the West (Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary). Colorado would then jump to the Pacific Division where they would take the spot of the Dallas Stars. The Stars would then slide into the Central Division where they would take the place of whichever team between the Red Wings, Jackets, and Predators is heading East.
The problem with the first two teams is that moving them to East would not only disturb the Southeast Division, but all of the Eastern Conference. As a result, the most logical step would be to move the Nashville Predators in the Thrashers’ spot. This would create natural rivalries with their southern counterparts in Tampa Bay, Florida and Carolina. That move coupled with sliding Dallas into the Central Division where they could reinvigorate rivalries with Detroit and Chicago would give the NHL some dynamic divisional battles.
At this point, all the above is just pure speculation but I hope this gives you a clearer picture of what the NHL would be like should the Thrashers move before the puck drops in October.
Don’t hesitate to give me your opinion on the situation and the divisions re-alignment in the comment box below!
About the Author: Working as a freelance sports writer and translator, Fred, 33, graduated from Laval University in Quebec City, earning a bachelor of translation in 2002. An avid fan of the Northeast division teams, he's also a long time fan of the Washington Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens. Fred also speaks fluently French and Spanish. http://twitter.com/FredPoulin98 www.traductions-quebec.com