Atlanta Thrashers, Not Coyotes, Appear Headed to Winnipeg

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Owners Looking to Sell To Winnipeg Group

The ownership group, Atlanta Spirit, LLC., have recently opened negotiations with True North Sports about the possible sale of the Atlanta Thrashers franchise.  The sale of the Thrashers to True North Sports, a Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, based group would then move the team to Winnipeg for play as soon as the 2011-12 season.  The cost of the deal is rumored to be $110 million for the team and a $60 million relocation fee that is paid to the NHL.  If the sale and move are completed, the team has been rumored to be rebranded as the Manitoba Moose.

Bryan Vickroy

The Atlanta Spirit, LLC. group has been trying to sell all its assets for a number of years now, but have been unsuccessful for numerous reasons.  Some of the biggest reasons included infighting among members of the ownership group and a lawsuit in which Atlanta Spirit sued its own lawyers over the contracts written up by the firm.  In the end, the Thrashers continued to lose, and lose money.  However, the Hawks recently began winning games, and became a desirable product to fill the arena again.  That leaves the Thrashers without an interested owner in Atlanta.  Over the last few months, very little progress has been made to find local ownership for the team to keep them in Georgia.  Even former Atlanta Braves ace Tom Glavine got involved with trying to keep the team in town.  If the Thrashers leave Atlanta, it would be the second franchise to leave town and head to the plains of Western Canada.  The Atlanta Flames moved from Atlanta to Calgary in 1980.

dustin byfuglien

The biggest problem with finding someone to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta is Phillips Arena.  The Atlanta Spirit group wants to keep ownership of Phillips Arena now, and the team would be forced to pay rent to the group for game nights, but also would not earn any money off concessions or other arena revenue streams. For a franchise who has trouble drawing fans into games, bleeding money with no revenue sources would be a death sentence.  So in recent days, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has given the green light for Atlanta Spirit to seek a sales partner who is interested in buying, not necessarily keeping the team around.  Enter True North Sports.

True North Sports recently tried to buy the Phoenix Coyotes from the NHL and return them to Winnipeg as their former namesake, the Winnipeg Jets.  However, Bettman and friends were able to convince the city of Glendale to put $25 million in bonds for the team to use this upcoming season.  The passage of legislation essentially guaranteeing the league free money put off any idea of the Coyotes leaving Arizona, if only for one more year.  True North then quietly waited around for permission from Bettman to move in on Atlanta.

The price tag for the franchise is reportedly $110 million dollars.  Another $60 million must be paid to the NHL for a relocation fee.  If the team moves, it could set multiple events into motion.  The first would be the name of the franchise.  Because this team isn’t the original Jets franchise, the ownership group doesn’t want to use the name again.  Other reasons include the league owning the trademark to the Winnipeg Jets logo and name, as well as other teams who have Jets as part of their name.  True North currently owns a minor league franchise who plays at MTS Centre in Winnipeg.  This team is called the Manitoba Moose.  The rumored plan is to have that franchise moved to another city, possibly Saskatchewan, and the NHL franchise will absorb the Moose moniker.

 

manitoba moose the sports bank hockey

Another troubling problem is that of division realignment.  The Thrashers are currently in the Southeast division of the East.  Moving to Winnipeg would put them squarely into Western Conference territory, and in need of a new division.  While the team might play one season in the current alignment due to the short turnaround in events, the team is expected to eventually be placed into the Northwest division with fellow Canadian franchises Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary.  The shift in landscape would cause not only some teams to shift divisions, but a team to transfer conferences, a la the Milwaukee Brewers in 1998.  For an in depth look at the possible division realignments, and how I think the NHL landscape should properly look, check out my NHL Division Realignment article.

 

 

bryan vickroy

 

Bryan Vickroy has an addiction to hockey, and is willing to partake in all its forms.  He is skating extra shifts for The Sports Bank, covering the Minnesota Wild, the NHL, and NCAA hockey all year long.  Look for new articles throughout the week.  He can be followed on Twitter at @bryanvickroy.  If you’d prefer to speak in more than 140 characters at a time to him, he can be reached at bryan.vickroy@gmail.com .

 

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Comments

  1. No one wants Winnipeg’s new NHL team to be the “Moose”. That’s a horrible, bush-league name.

    Expect the name of the team to be the “Falcons”, as to honour the 1920 Winnipeg Falcons who won Olympic Gold.

  2. paulmbanks says

    or after the NFL team of the city they are fleeing…the south is not hockey country, why doesn’t the NHL realize this?

  3. bryanvickroy says

    True Sports North owns the rights and logo to the Manitoba Moose. It would be nice to get a new name, especially since the Moose name already was in Minnesota before the Wild came back. The idea of keeping the Manitoba Moose brand would be to keep the current fan base and hopefully expand from it.

  4. bryanvickroy says

    Paul, you’re right. The NHL doesn’t really belong below the Mason Dixon Line, but the weird thing is.. they win more frequently than the traditional powers. Carolina has a Cup, Tampa has one and possibly a second at the end of this season. Atlanta was the only Southeast team that never had a deep playoff run. Even the Panthers made it to a Cup Final during the Year of the Rat

  5. A couple of things, Saskatchewan isn’t a city – it’s a province. And the other thing is that I don’t think they need to keep the Moose name in order to generate interest. Minor league team to major league – get it?

  6. bryanvickroy says

    Correct, as all proper geographers like myself should know. But they don’t know if the team would go to Regina or Saskatoon. I don’t think they need to keep the Moose either. I personally would like to see a new name given. I’ve been mulling over a couple in my head, but so far I like the Winnipeg Voyageurs.

  7. There are some strong rumours floating around that the Manitoba Moose will be moving to St. John’s, Newfoundland to play out of Mile One Centre for the 2011-12 season. St. John’s was the former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs farm team.

  8. bryanvickroy says

    I’ve heard rumors for them to got to just about every province. I tend to think they’d stay closer to the region, as they would either still remain a Vancouver farm club, or possibly even the Winnipeg franchise’s new feeder club.

  9. bryanvickroy says

    Globe and Mail is reporting that a deal is done and that the move appears “imminent”

  10. bryanvickroy says

    Finally, after a couple weeks of talk and hype, teh deal is done. The NHL is officially, coming back, to Winnipeg!

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