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May 12, 2011 :: 1:30pm ET
Thrashers targeted as next relocation option
Focus shifts to Atlanta, as city of Winnipeg becomes desperate to land NHL franchise

TORONTO, ON -- The topic of relocation in the NHL has been so heavily focused on the Phoenix Coyotes lately, that most of the attention has steered clear of Atlanta.

The Thrashers are in, for lack of a better term, trouble. When your owners come out and declare a "sense of urgency" to find new partners or a new ownership group, you know the franchise's current situation isn't in the best shape. When your owners come out a couple of months later and reiterate their "sense of urgency" to find new partners or a new ownership group, you know the team's on the brink.

So, we all know the Thrashers need help, or they'll be skating in another barn to open the 2011-12 season. But before you get your hopes up, city of Winnipeg, understand the NHL will do everything in its power, and search for every possible alternative, to keep the team in Atlanta.

With the Phoenix Coyotes out of the running, for at least another season, Winnipeg and True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd. have shifted their focus to the Thrashers. Several groups, some local, have expressed their desire to purchase the team and keep it in Atlanta, but so far, none of them have been able to come to terms on a deal.

"We are continuing to seek solutions for the Thrashers," Thrashers co-owner Bruce Levenson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution yesterday. "I will not comment on any speculation."

That may not be what Thrashers fans want to hear, but that's the only real update the team's current ownership group have provide.

Earlier today, Greg Brady (co-host of the morning show on Sportsnet Radio's Fan590 in Toronto) caused a little commotion when he tweeted: "Spoke to an Atlanta Thrashers player via text message. He's been told to expect a major announcement regarding franchise relocation..."

Since the spotlight was placed directly on the Thrashers about two hours ago, other members of the Thrashers deny being told the team is moving.

While we all love a little drama, maybe the player jumped the gun? Or, maybe the team told the rest of its players and staff to keep their mouths shut and deny, deny, deny?

Everyone's now mum on the situation, having contacted a few Thrashers' personnel within the last two hours.

Adding fuel to this fire was a story printed before the tweet-heard-around-the-hockey-world. In this morning's Journal-Constitution, city officials appear to be bracing themselves for the possibility of a Thrashers move.

"We are aware that the ownership of the Thrashers is having difficulty and they may leave," Reese McCranie, spokesman for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, told the newspaper. "The Mayor has had robust discussions with business leaders in the metro region (who might) potentially buy or join a team of buyers to keep the Thrashers here.

"He has gone through extraordinary lengths to ensure that the Thrashers can stay in Atlanta, but at this moment there is not a deal on the table that we can present."

McCranie also indicated that the city has not been approached by the NHL about making a financial deal such as Glendale's deal to keep the Coyotes in town for another season. However, even if Atlanta was presented with such an option, the city would not consider it.

So what about this "major announcement?"

After connecting with NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly earlier, he told me via email that "any talk of a 'major announcement' being planned or having been scheduled are false."

While the NHL has bought some extra time to solve the Coyotes' woes, the League is now in a position to place more emphasis on the Thrashers. That isn't to say they weren't a priority before, as several high-end NHL executives told me they've been working steadily with the Thrashers for some time.

Added Daly: "We are working closely with the Thrashers' ownership to clarify the situation going forward."

And that's about the most significant update we've received from the NHL surrounding the future of the club in recent months. Having a better and updated understanding of the current ownership group's need to sell the organization or obtain new partners will determine how quickly the "moving" process becomes realistic.

I'm not doubting that members of the team have been given a heads-up about the possibility of a move. It's the responsible thing to do. But that doesn't mean relocation, which requires League and Board of Governors approval, is imminent.

As Winnipeg waits -- on the border of patiently -- the League's priority is to keep its existing franchise in their current locations. Upon the expulsion of every possible alternative, only then will the NHL allow any of its clubs to relocate. As for True North, they remain the League's backup plan.

David Pagnotta is the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Period Magazine.
His columns appear every weekly on TFP.
Follow David Pagnotta on Twitter




Pagnotta Archives:
Feb. 28, 2011 Deadline Disaster?
Feb. 21, 2011 The storm before the storm
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