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Atlanta Thrashers appear bound for Winnipeg

May 16, 2011 |  9:39 pm

Thrashers_300Winnipeg’s chances of regaining an NHL franchise appeared bleak last week when the City of Glendale, Ariz., came up with $25 million to keep the Coyotes for another season.

But the Atlanta Thrashers, long beset by ownership problems and management’s inability to put a competitive, playoff-caliber team on the ice, could be sold and moved to Winnipeg to play there as soon next season and increase the number of Canada-based franchises to seven.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the team’s owners, collectively known as the Atlanta Spirit, are in talks with a group that’s eager to buy the franchise and move it north. Here’s columnist Mark Bradley’s summation on where the Thrashers went wrong, and he makes some strong points.

The Winnipeg Free Press reported the NHL is devising two schedules for next season -- one that would have the Thrashers in Atlanta and another if the team relocates to Winnipeg, which might also result in realignment of the current divisions.

The NHL usually releases its schedule for the subsequent season in mid-June so there isn’t much time to move the chess pieces around the board, work out available dates in multi-purpose arenas and give teams ample time to book charter flights and hotels for next season’s travel.

There’s also the matter of relocating the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose, which has been the primary tenant of the new MTS Centre. The arena, built in downtown Winnipeg to replace the old Winnipeg Arena, has a relatively small capacity of just more than 15,000 for hockey.

The Jets left Winnipeg for Phoenix in 1996. A lack of corporate support hurt the Jets during their later years but pent-up demand could compensate for that. Warm-and-fuzzy feelings generated by the return of the NHL could sour if ticket prices are scaled too high or if the team isn’t any good.

Though it’s tough to predict what the NHL will do it’s becoming clear that no one can or will step up to buy the Thrashers and keep them in Atlanta, which Commissioner Gary Bettman would prefer for the sake of U.S. TV markets and American advertising money. But it might be time for players to dig out the heavy sweaters for those trips to Winnipeg. 

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--Helene Elliott

Photo: Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, checking Ottawa winger Erik Condra, and the Thrashers might be leaving Atlanta for Winnipeg in the near future. Credit: Dale Zanine / US Presswire

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