Nik Antropov

Atlanta owner says if things don’t improve, Thrashers could be on the move

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You would think with the Thrashers being a playoff contending team this season that attention and ticket sales would improve in Atlanta. They play an entertaining brand of hockey with a pair of electric personalities in Dustin Byfuglien and Evander Kane and most of all they’ve been able to win more often than not.

Instead, the Thrashers have the third worst attendance in the league filling up just 70.4% of Phillips Arena to the tune of an average crowd of 13,056. Atlanta isn’t always known as a great sports town and support for teams like the Braves, Falcons, and Hawks have always been mercurial. Thrashers owner Michael Gearon understands this and is trying to be pro-active about lighting a fire under the fans and inspiring them to come out to games and get more local corporate support behind the team.

Problem is, he’s opted to go about doing so in a the threatening, doom and gloom kind of way rather than a positive spin as Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shared today.

Atlanta Spirit co-owner Michael Gearon said there is now a “sense of urgency” to find additional investors or a buyer willing to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta. If the ownership group does not get additional financial help in the near future the franchise could be sold and moved to another city.

“If we are faced with that as the only alternative, that’s what’s going to happen,” Gearon told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an exclusive interview Tuesday. “I don’t think there is an ability to stomach another $20 million in losses. We just can’t do it.

“The reality is we need fans showing up and we need investors, or a primary investor.”

An owner pleading with the locals to help him out so he doesn’t suffer more multi-million dollar losses. It’s a situation we’ve gotten to be too familiar with thanks to the ongoing saga in Phoenix with the Coyotes and former owner Jerry Moyes. This stuff with Atlanta has been bubbling for a while as the Atlanta Spirit group continues to drown in litigation with former ownership partner Steve Belkin.

Atlanta Spirit has been trying to sell the Thrashers for six years, starting almost immediately after purchasing the team, according to the Jan. 21 lawsuit filed in Fulton County Superior Court against Atlanta law firm King & Spalding.

The group filed a $200 million malpractice lawsuit against the firm saying a “fatally flawed” and “botched” contract written to buy out former partner Steve Belkin prevented a Thrashers sale in the nearly five years it took to settle that suit in December.

Before the current litigation, the Atlanta Spirit stated publicly for the past two years that it was looking for investors for the Thrashers, Hawks or both franchises. According to the lawsuit, ownership reported more than $130 million in operating losses since 2005. The Thrashers value also has dropped by more than $50 million, the document says.

With that sort of mess on their hands, Gearon coming out and saying that if things don’t improve soon, things will be dire for the team and their future in Atlanta will be in peril.  It’s the sort of thing we’ve gotten used to hearing from owners looking for financial help to get their way. Moyes tried it in Phoenix and Mario Lemieux did something similar when negotiating for a new arena in Pittsburgh. In Mario’s case he won out and CONSOL Energy Center was built. For Moyes, he had his team bought from him by the NHL rather than getting to escape by selling the team to Jim Balsillie.

For Atlanta, circumstances are a bit different as their ownership situation is a mess with the ongoing court stuff and the seeming overall disinterest from the people in Atlanta on the whole. Atlanta does have a sect of very loyal and loving fans, but branching out beyond those few thousands has been the struggle all along in such a hot-and-cold sports town like Atlanta.

Of course, when you come out all guns blazing to call attention to something you find to be a problem, you’re going to get noticed. This afternoon, Gearon was on local Atlanta radio with John Kincade to talk about his comments and hit the gas to backpedal away from a lot of his initial thoughts.

Apparently Gearon didn’t realize that all of Canada is eager to get a struggling American NHL team back in their own hands. Gearon spun things a bit more level-headed-like on the air today as Laura Astorian of SBN Atlanta summed up.

Most pointedly, Kincade asked Gearon if he could guarantee that the team wouldn’t be moving, and the response was a stock answer about dedication to the team. The best quality quote, though, is this one:

“I’m not hitting a panic button here and I apologize if it came out that way. I want to set the record straight and get the fans and community on board with us.”

Less doom and gloom, more rah-rah stuff. You can’t help but think that Gearon got a phone call from the league office in Manhattan asking him to be a bit more careful talking about a team that’s already got attendance issues and is in the midst of a playoff race. The last thing the NHL wants to deal with is financial fires on both sides of the country and while the situation in Atlanta is bad, they’re nearly out of the woods with Phoenix so having this come up now is wildly inconvenient both in how the league wants to handle things and how the perception of the league is amongst the masses.

It would be the NHLs luck though to have things get close to finished with one problem team only to have another rise up and grab all the attention. Here’s to hoping things don’t get that ugly in Atlanta.

Shane Doan wasn’t pleased with the Martin Hanzal trade

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Shane Doan has in the past been critical about some of the trades the Arizona Coyotes have made.

He did so again on Sunday, seemingly in disbelief that the Coyotes traded Martin Hanzal to the Minnesota Wild.

In March of 2015, the now 40-year-old forward, who has played his entire career with this franchise despite all its financial and arena turmoil, voiced his displeasure when Arizona dealt defenseman Keith Yandle.

“It was not my idea, not my ideal situation,” he said at the time. “There’s no one that’s 38 years old that thinks it’s a good idea, ‘Let’s rebuild.’”

The Coyotes entered Sunday with 49 points and well out of a wild card spot. They are selling, in a rebuilding phase and Hanzal’s name had been tied to trade speculation for months.

The Coyotes were in action versus the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. Standing in the dressing room and still trying to capture his breath, Doan addressed the Hanzal deal with Todd Walsh of Fox Sports Arizona.

“It’s really hard. Obviously he’s a huge part of our team and someone that you get to play with for 10 years, you appreciate and understand how valuable and how you can’t really replace him,” said Doan, before the frustration really began to appear.

“The fact we just continue to seem to go — I don’t know, it’s hard to understand exactly. I mean, you understand people’s hands are tied and you just don’t get it.”

Meanwhile, Doan is on a one-year contract and his future with the club has also been talked about recently.

However, Coyotes GM John Chayka reiterated to reporters that Doan has not asked for a trade.

Blackhawks continue red-hot streak with win over Blues

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It’s been quite a month for the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks on Sunday concluded their schedule for the month of February with a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues, and their recent surge over the last few weeks has put them right into the thick of the fight for first place in the Central Division.

They now trail Minnesota by only a single point, although the Wild — they were busy Sunday, acquiring Martin Hanzal from Arizona — still have three games in hand.

Still, the Blackhawks are heating up ahead of Wednesday’s trade deadline. They have now won nine times in their last 10 games and that includes a pair of victories against Minnesota. The fight for this division is basically now solely between these two teams.

Meanwhile, the Blues had enjoyed instant success after making their coaching change at the beginning of this month. But they have now lost three straight and on Tuesday will play Connor McDavid and an Edmonton Oilers team that is looking to remain in contention for the Pacific Division lead.

The Blues, who fell behind early and then fought back to tie the game before the deciding Artem Anisimov goal, still hold a wild card spot, but they sit only three points above the L.A. Kings for that final spot.

Anisimov scored the winner for Chicago. He buried a beautiful cross-ice pass from Artemi Panarin late in the third period to give the Blackhawks the lead. Patrick Kane had a two-point night while logging more than 21 minutes of ice time — more than any other Chicago forward.

Big win in the Big Apple for Blue Jackets

COLUMBUS, OH - DECEMBER 20:  Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrates after scoring a goal during the second period of the game against the Los Angeles Kings on December 20, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg each scored twice to lead the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Sunday.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 28 shots to tie his career high with his 32nd win. Josh Anderson also scored and Oliver Bjorkstrand had two assists to help the Blue Jackets win for the fourth time in five games.

Columbus won for the second time in two days after its bye week and moved past the Rangers into third place in the Metropolitan Division.

The Blue Jackets won three of five in the season series – including both games at Madison Square Garden – after losing seven straight meetings coming in.

Rick Nash scored a tying goal for the Rangers early in the first period. Jesper Fast scored in the final second, and Henrik Lundqvist finished with 26 saves.

New York lost for just the third time this month (9-2-1) and had its four-game point streak snapped (3-0-1). The Rangers, who came in 5-0-1 in their last six at home, were playing for the fifth time in six days – with the previous three games going beyond regulation.

With Columbus leading 2-1 after one period, Lundqvist made a nice stop on a breakaway by Atkinson to keep it a one-goal game just past the 9-minute mark of the second.

However, seconds after Nick Holden made a sliding save of Zach Werenski‘s shot at an open net with Lundqvist out of position, Wennberg scored off a rebound of a shot by Bjorkstrand for his second of the game and 12th of the season to make it 3-1 at 9:47.

Atkinson got his second of the game and career-high 29th at 4:12 of the third. He took a pass from Brandon Dubinsky, skated in and beat Lundqvist on the stick side. Atkinson also tied his career high of 53 points set last season.

Anderson scored from in front in the final minute for his 14th, and Fast scored just before the final buzzer.

Wennberg got the Blue Jackets on the board 1:02 into the game when he deflected David Savard‘s shot down out of the air and past Lundqvist for his 11th.

The Rangers tied it when Nash received a no-look pass from Jimmy Vesey and fired it from the right circle over Bobrovsky’s glove at 4:07. Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella challenged for offside, but the goal stood after a review.

Columbus went ahead 2-1 with its second power-play goal in 14 games. With the Rangers’ Adam Clendening off for roughing, Atkinson wristed a shot from the center point past Lundqvist at 6:47.

Nick Foligno was sent off for holding with 2:47 left in the first, putting the Blue Jackets short-handed for the first time in three games. Bobrovsky stopped great power-play chances for Brandon Pirri and Mats Zuccarello.

Columbus’ Brandon Saad was awarded a penalty shot when he was held before he could get a shot off during a short-handed breakaway in the final minute, but Lundqvist deflected his attempt away.

A ‘number of concerns’ about Jonathan Quick led Kings to pursue Bishop

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Dean Lombardi revealed that he and Steve Yzerman had been working on a deal for Ben Bishop for about two or three weeks.

On Sunday, a deal between the Kings and Lightning was finally completed and it had basically everything to do with Jonathan Quick. Speaking in a conference call, Lombardi, the Kings general manager, noted a “number of concerns” for Quick coming back from a 59-game absence because of a groin injury before finally returning to game action Saturday.

Quick, 31, was impressive in a win over the Anaheim Ducks, but Lombardi and the Kings just could not be sure about how he would fare in the stretch drive after coming back from such a lengthy time away, and were therefore set on acquiring another No. 1 goalie.

“You’re never sure how well a guy who’s been out this long — is he going to have his ‘A’ game, so to speak, or not? These type of injuries, which are fairly serious, the history of comebacks can go either way,” said Lombardi.

“On the other hand, we all know Jon’s a tremendous athlete. He’s one of the top goaltenders in the game and most importantly he’s one of the game’s top competitors. So you certainly don’t worry about Jon … once he passes the mental part that ‘I’m capable of doing athletically what I have in the past’ that he’s going to be able to give it his all.”

The Kings, currently three points out of a playoff spot in the West, are in a stretch of three games in four nights.

Bishop is expected to join the team for the morning skate tomorrow. Lombardi even mentioned that coach Darryl Sutter had actually planned on playing the newly acquired netminder Monday versus the Wild. That is still to be determined but it’s likely Bishop plays one of the Kings’ next two games. They’re in Calgary on Tuesday.

The condensed schedule over the next few weeks was another factor in making the trade for the Kings. They just simply don’t want to wear Quick down.

“This is not an insurance policy,” said Lombardi. “There’s not a lot of room here for error. We just want to take that out of the equation by making sure that we have a No. 1 goalie in there every night.”

Bishop is a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The Kings have Quick under contract until 2023 at a cap hit of $5.8 million.

While Lombardi didn’t completely rule out the chance of re-signing Bishop — “You never say ‘never,'” he said — bringing in a player on an expiring contract was something the Kings were willing to do in this case.

“If not, we’re comfortable with what we had to pay to give ourselves a chance here to get in. After that, as we know, anything can happen,” he said. “The focus was on getting the best goalie available.”

The Kings face other issues. You could argue more pressing issues.

Sure, they made a move they believe will strengthen the goaltending position. But they’re also 25th in scoring, averaging just 2.44 goals-for per game. They had a nice third-period outburst Saturday, but for the most part, goals have been hard to come by for L.A.

“There’s players that will freely admit right to you that they’re capable of producing more. We don’t want to lose our defensive identity. We’ve got two of the best goalies in the league there now,” said Lombardi.

“Now when we get into the other team’s end … we’ve got to bear down.”