With the excitement of tonight’s Game 7 in San Jose you’d imagine that most hockey fans would be locked in on talking about that and worrying about the action on the ice. That’s not always the case, however, when the talk of relocation when it applies to the City of Winnipeg in discussion about either the Phoenix Coyotes or now the Atlanta Thrashers.
Today’s talk from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly about how he couldn’t guarantee the future of the Thrashers in Atlanta all while speculation picked up surrounding the possibility of David Thomson’s True North group from Winnipeg purchasing the Thrashers and moving them north. Atlanta government officials saying they wouldn’t fight if the team wanted to leave town doesn’t help matters either especially given how nervous fans are in the south about keeping the team.
With the Coyotes now locked into another season in Glendale thanks to the City of Glendale picking up the check for another $25 million in losses, fans in Winnipeg eager to see the NHL return there are getting anxious, and for good reason. The NHL is clearly keeping True North and Winnipeg on standby should something, anything, come apart in Atlanta and if that move does happen this summer it might be the best news possible for fans in Arizona and the City of Glendale. It’s not that Coyotes fans should be rooting for the Thrashers to be bought and moved out of town, it’s just that they might not have to worry about relocation for a long time if it does.
Should True North get the OK to buy the Atlanta Thrashers, all of a sudden interest in the Coyotes as far as a local interest versus a Canadian one disappears. The NHL and the City of Glendale would then, likely, have all the time they would like to work out a deal with Matthew Hulsizer or Jerry Reinsdorf if you buy into rumors of his possible return to the situation. Both sides could then do their jousting with the Goldwater Institute without the pressure of an imminent deadline of being sold off to an outside interest looking to relocate the franchise. Unless a new arena is built in Quebec City or a buyer materializes looking to buy and move the team to another American city (take your pick of Portland, Las Vegas, or Kansas City) there’s no one looking to push the issue in Glendale.
Without that outside pressure, the NHL and Hulsizer are free to work things out at their speed. The catch here is that it would also reduce the pressure on the City of Glendale to cover the special kind of ransom for losses they’ve now decided to pay two years running to keep the team in place.
After all, if there’s no one looking to move the team out of town, how can the NHL ask the city to cover losses for them while it’s on the league to find a buyer for the franchise? The NHL would go from the saviors of the franchise to the villains soaking the city for money for the team. That’s not good for business when the NHL wants to hang on to Phoenix as a market.
Obviously the NHL wants its cake and to eat it too by getting a new owner for the team and one that’s committed to keeping them in Jobing.com Arena. However, if the “nuclear option” of having True North buy the team and moving them back to Winnipeg is eliminated by them buying Atlanta, the NHL will finally start truly feeling the stress of what it means to own a financial loser of a team.
After all, if you’re putting 29 owners on the hook for anywhere from $30 million-$40 million in losses per season, you’re going to have some contentious Board of Governors meetings. It’s not an ideal situation for the NHL by any means, but for the fans in Glendale and elsewhere in Arizona that have been looking for a peaceful offseason, seeing another team suffer the fate they’ve been looking to avoid for the last two years might be the only way to make it happen.