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Could the Thrashers be on the Move?
- Updated: May 17, 2011
In some news that has been brewing behind closed doors for some time now, the possible relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Canada has some momentum according to recent reports by various media. The two sides have not entered into an exclusive negotiating period nor has a deal been reached. But where there is smoke, there is fire.
TSN and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported today that Atlanta Spirit LLS is in negotiations to sell and relocate the team to True North. True North’s plan is to relocate the team to Winnipeg, Manitoba. This move is similar to when the Atlanta Flames relocated to Calgary, Alberta in 1980.
Under current rules, NHL owners do not have to get league approval to identify potential buyers and work out an agreement to sell their 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 league’s Board of Governors would be asked to judge the acceptability of the new ownership.
It is widely believed that the two sides are quickly trying to work on the move, as various deadlines regarding next season are right around the corner including the 2011-12 schedule being released traditionally during the Stanley Cup Final and division realignment logistics. True North attempted to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes over the course of the last five months, but those plans failed when the city of Glendale ponied $25 million to cover operating costs of a team that the NHL owns. The part of the process where there has to be Board of Governor approval for a team to relocate is why the move isn’t as quickly to happen as one thinks.
The chatter in Detroit sports talk radio is that it could be Detroit’s chance to finally move to the Eastern Conference. The Red Wings log more air travel miles than any other team as they and the Columbus Blue Jackets are the two franchises located in the Eastern Time Zone playing in the NHL Western Conference. Red Wing fans say the move could improve television ratings and pump more money into local bars and restaurants as they are more likely to go to a bar to watch a 7:30 road game on a weeknight versus a 10:00 or 10:30 p.m. game on the west coast when they have to work the next morning. The Red Wings and their fans at home were sparred the late starts in the recent playoff series versus San Jose, as Game 5 and Game 7 in California were played at 9:00 p.m. Detroit time.
The move could also reignite historical rivalries with Toronto and Montreal, teams they do not have the opportunity to play twice a season due to the current NHL schedule format where every team will play in every arena every-other-season at the latest. But do not be surprised if it is the Nashville Predators who will move to the Southeast division, while the Winnipeg franchise will play in the Central division despite geographically being closer to the Northwest division teams.
True North owns the AHL Manitoba Moose, as well as the 15,000 seat MTS Centre, an arena that opened in 2004. Besides being located in a small market that had less appeal to the NHL TV revenues like Phoenix had, the inability to build a new arena to replace the aging Winnipeg Arena were reasons the Jets left for the desert in 1996. A source within the NHL told The Sporting News that the Thrashers were losing $20 million per season and are last in the league in ticket revenues.