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May 16, 2011 :: 11:23pm ET (Updated: 11:51pm ET)
Thrashers move could mean more changes
If the Thrashers move to Winnipeg, the NHL could see a few teams shift divisions

TORONTO, ON -- Phoenix is so passé! Moving? Bah, we'll worry about that a year from now. Until then, the sexy relocation banter around the NHL surrounds the Atlanta Thrashers.

And for good reason.

It doesn't look like the NHL will be able to put up as big as a fight to keep the Thrashers in the ATL, and you can't really blame them (sorry, Thrashers fans). In Phoenix, there was local government support and a few interested parties willing to purchase the team and keep them in Arizona.

That's just not the case in Atlanta, as the local government won't chip in and there haven't been any parties willing to step up, open their wallets, and keep the Thrashers from moving.

How can you fault the NHL, given the scenario? From a business standpoint, they're stuck. And believe me, the thought of relocating an NHL franchise makes NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman sick to his stomach. But, as of now, unless someone steps up large, the League might not be able to save this club from moving.

And for those asking "what happened to that group you said wanted to buy the team and keep them in Atlanta?" Well, that was a realistic option, but as discussions began to include the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena, which Atlanta Spirit, LLC operates, the price kept going up and became "unrealistic," according to the person leading that group.

So, as Atlanta Spirit works towards finalizing a contract with True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd., believed to be worth around $165 million to $175 million -- $60 million of which goes to the NHL in relocation fees -- let's assume a deal gets done and there's NHL hockey in Winnipeg when they drop the puck on the 2011-12 campaign.

What happens then? Well, the NHL is working on two schedules for next season so they can be prepared for either scenario. If Winnipeg gets its team, they'll move to the Western Conference, leaving a void in the East and causing the NHL to eventually finalize a plan to realign some of the divisions.

Now, I say "eventually" because such a move might not come into play right away. According to a league executive, the NHL could wait at least one full season before it decides to move other teams around. Why? Well, in the event the Coyotes dig themselves a deeper hole and are forced to relocate (Quebec City? Kansas City?), the NHL would have to go through that process for a second-straight year, which it may want to avoid.

But, we'll cross that bridge when the time comes.

For now, should the Thrashers move to Winnipeg, becoming the Manitoba Moose, according to the CBC's Elliotte Friedman, a team from the Central would shift to the Southeast.

And no, I'm not talking about the Nashville Predators, though geographically that makes sense.

Granted, things could change, but it appears the Columbus Blue Jackets are poised to make their way down to the Southeast, which is believed to be a temporary solution (though likely long-term, providing the Coyotes or the Islanders another team don't move).

As much as the Detroit Red Wings want to head back to the Eastern Conference, that doesn't look like an option, right now, or in the near future.

With the Blue Jackets heading to the Southeast, the Jets/Moose/whatever would actually jump into the Northwest, moving the Minnesota Wild to the Central.

It's not set in stone just yet, and there's still a timing concern from True North and Entertainment, but if all the right pieces fall into place, we could see this sequence of events take place as early as June, though likely to be announced following the Stanley Cup Final.

Why the Blue Jackets?

Well, for starters (actually, this is the main reason), the NHL has a lot invested in the Red Wings and its West Coast counterparts. Plain and simple, they draw. Fans in Dallas, Colorado, Anaheim and San Jose want to see the Wings in action. Detroit won't shift to the East for a few years, at least.

As for the Predators... well, yeah, fans like seeing Chicago and Detroit come to town, but they'd definitely come out to see Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, too.

To be frank, with the Predators on the up-and-up (higher attendance, more local and corporate support, and a lot of buzz finally surrounding the club), the Blue Jackets need it more. They had a horrible year in the seats, they're losing a boat load of cash, and while the fans are in the city (I can definitely attest to how wild and loud Blue Jackets fans can get), having only made the playoffs once in franchise history has hurt them.

Moving Columbus to the East allows for new intrigue. More Ovechkin (6 times a year!). More Crosby (4 times!). More Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins. The Blue Jackets will try to win over the fan base by sticking to a higher payroll this summer, but a move to the East creates new marketing initiatives that could help point the franchise in the right direction.

David Pagnotta is the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Period Magazine.
His columns appear every weekly on TFP.
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Pagnotta Archives:
May 12, 2011 Thrashers targeted as next relocation option
Feb. 28, 2011 Deadline Disaster?
Feb. 21, 2011 The storm before the storm
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