Nik Antropov

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

5 Comments

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.

To be young: Coyotes to hire 26-year-old as GM, give Tippett more say

Arizona Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett watches his team play the Detroit Red Wings during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015.  (AP Photo/Jose Juarez)
AP
Leave a comment

It sounds like the Arizona Coyotes’ youth movement won’t merely be seen on the ice.

ESPN’s Craig Custance reports that the Coyotes will promote 26-year-old assistant GM John Chayka to GM. The team teased a major press conference for Thursday, when that news is likely to be made official.

The presser could be useful for more than the usual quotes and mission statements, as the Coyotes seem like they may parallel the Toronto Maple Leafs in combining an experienced executive, a young up-and-coming thinker and a more empowered head coach.

Dave Tippett is expected to have more of a say in personnel decisions while the Coyotes hope to bring in a Lou Lamoriello-type to assist Chayka, according to Custance.

(Custance’s ESPN Insider article [subscription required] goes in much greater depth, including a comparison to the NBA’s Golden State Warriors rather than the Maple Leafs.)

It’s possible that Dallas Stars assistant GM Les Jackson might come in to help Chayka, although an earlier report suggests that Jackson might stay in Dallas.

Multiple reporters including Puck Daddy’s Josh Cooper back up Custance’s report.

Considering Chayka’s age – he’s primed to become the youngest GM in NHL history – it’s no surprise that people are churning out jokes.

(This post’s author comes with six more years of [life] experience and a resume stacked with impressive video game and fantasy hockey team-building, by the way.)

Marc Crawford coaching in Detroit? Hey, could happen…

Marc Crawford
Getty Images
1 Comment

Former Avs bench boss Marc Crawford was one of the central figures in the legendary Detroit-Colorado rivalry of the 90s, largely remembered for his screaming match with (well, more like screaming match at) Scotty Bowman.

With that in mind, consider what MLive wrote on Wednesday with regards to Detroit’s search for a new assistant coach.

GM Ken Holland declined to reveal which candidates he and Jeff Blashill have contacted about replacing Tony Granato, who left the Wings for the University of Wisconsin job.

But Holland did say “we lost a guy with a lot of experience in [Granato],” adding, “we want to replace him with someone with a lot of experience.”

MLive then went on to publish a list of potential candidates… starting with Crawford.

Based on the criteria Holland wants, Crawford makes a lot of sense. He’s got a truckload of experience — 15 years in the NHL, to be exact — won a Cup with the Avs, and his 549 wins put him 18th all time.

Crawford also wants back in the NHL.

He left Swiss League club Zurich this offseason after a successful four-year stint — which included the 2014 league title — to try and land a gig. Per the Ottawa Sun, he’s already interviewed for the vacant Sens position.

And per MLive, Crawford said he’s willing to take an assistant’s position if he can’t become a head coach.

That last bit of information is key. The coaching market is flush right now as Bruce Boudreau, Mike Yeo, Bob Hartley, Travis Green, Paul MacLean , Randy Carlyle and Kevin Dineen are all considered viable and quality candidates.

Thing is, there are only a handful of jobs available.

Calgary, Anaheim and Ottawa are entirely vacant, while Minnesota is still unclear with what it wants to do with interim bench boss John Torchetti.

Add it all up, and Crawford’s NHL return might have to come by way of an assistant’s position.

But in Detroit?

Sure, it might look weird.

It also might fit the bill.

Report: AHL’s Portland Pirates moving to Springfield

Portland Pirates goalie Mark Visentin makes a save during an AHL hockey game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (AP Photo/The Citizens' Voice, Andrew Krech) MANDATORY CREDIT
AP
2 Comments

Looks like the AHL isn’t finished shuffling around teams.

From the Portland Press Herald:

The Portland Pirates are leaving Maine.

Mitch Berkowitz, chair of the board of trustees for county-owned Cross Insurance Arena, confirmed Wednesday afternoon that “the Pirates will be headed to Springfield” Massachusetts, but that he did not know further details.

The city of Springfield has been searching for a team to replace the AHL Falcons, sold last month – although yet to be approved – to the parent Arizona Coyotes, who announced plans to move the franchise to Tucson.

The Pirates are the AHL affiliates of the Florida Panthers. They’ve been in Portland since 1993, when they started out as the Capitals’ farm team and were coached for a number of years by Barry Trotz.

Travis Green: ‘I think I’m ready’ to coach in the NHL

AP
AP
1 Comment

Travis Green has never coached in the NHL, not even as an assistant.

But a lengthy career as a player, followed by success as a head coach in the WHL and AHL, has left him feeling prepared to take the next step.

“I think I’m ready,” Green told Postmedia yesterday. “Every job in the NHL is worth its weight in gold, and I would have 100 per cent interest at options with every team in the league. You hope all your qualities are enticing for one of them.”

After the Flames fired Bob Hartley yesterday, many are wondering if Green could be a candidate to take over in Calgary. Other head-coaching vacancies exist in Anaheim and Ottawa, and potentially Minnesota.

For the past three seasons, Green has been the head coach of the Utica Comets, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks. Last year, the Comets made it all the way to the Calder Cup finals, an accomplishment that Green found particularly rewarding since “it wasn’t like we had an all-star team.”

While some GMs won’t risk hiring a coach without any NHL experience — they’d prefer a guy who’s been there before and knows what to expect — it’s worth noting that Jon Cooper didn’t have an NHL track record before he took over in Tampa Bay, and he’s done OK. Heck, Dave Hastol hadn’t even coached professionals before he landed the job in Philadelphia, and the Flyers seem pretty happy with him.

Green is under contract for one more season in Utica, but reportedly has an out-clause to pursue an NHL job.

Related: Will the Sens take a run at Kevin Dineen?