Report: Atlanta Spirit,True North negotiating deal; Thrashers could relocate to Winnipeg

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The rumors have been flying for quite some time now, but it seems like there’s fire to back up all that smoke. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Chris Vivlamore reports that the Atlanta Spirit and True North are indeed negotiating a deal that could relocate the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg.

Vivlamore points out that a deal hasn’t been completed and it is unclear how long the two sides have been negotiating, but it’s possible that the Thrashers could be relocated in time for the 2011-12 season.

The factors described in the report itself aren’t exactly “new.” After all, Joe already took a look at what the NHL’s divisional realignment might look like if the Thrashers moved to the ‘Peg. That being said, this not-quite-confirmed story that appeared in The Atlanta-Journal Constitution gives more concrete credibility to the rumors.

“I have never confirmed nor denied specific parties we have been talking to in regards to a possible sale of the Thrashers,” Atlanta Spirit co-owner Bruce Levenson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday.

Typically, confidentiality agreements are signed between parties in negotiations which would prohibit Atlanta Spirit ownership from identifying suitors.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, reach via e-mail, said there was “nothing I’m prepared to say at this point.” A True North Sports and Entertainment spokesperson had no comment.

Jeff Schultz expanded on the subject in a column for the AJC, pointing out that the outlook is grim but the move isn’t set in stone, either. Schultz mapped out three scenarios that could keep the Thrashers in Atlanta.

♦ 1.) A financial angel falls out of the sky. But thus far, no prospective owner has come forward with both a stated desire to buy the team and proof of his financial worth.

♦ 2.) Something falls apart on the Winnipeg end (with True North), or from the league’s perspective (other owners may be uncomfortable with the fact new local ownership for the Coyotes still isn’t assured).

♦ 3.) Bettman effectively stalls and gives the Atlanta franchise a one-year stay of execution, telling Levenson and the Spirit that the franchise can’t be moved for next season. It’s not believed the Atlanta Spirit could just walk away from the hockey team and throw the keys to the league. So it’s not certain what would happen if Bettman disallowed a move right now and the Spirit resisted.

While this situation doesn’t technically need to be resolved at a specific point, the league needs to put together a schedule for the 2011-12 season soon. Considering how antsy the Spirit is to get rid of the team (to be fair, they’ve reported losses in the $130 million range), they want to sell the Thrashers as soon as possible.

In other words, this story could develop really quickly.

Again, no deal is official yet. That being said, Thrashers fans must accept the possibility that their team really might move to Winnipeg this summer.

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.

 

After ‘great’ senior year, Pens sign Union standout Taylor

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Pittsburgh wasted little time in getting Jeff Taylor in the mix.

Taylor, the Union College senior defenseman who had his collegiate career end over the weekend, signed a two-year, entry-level deal on Monday, and also inked an ATO to join the club’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Taylor, the club’s seventh-round pick in 2014, enjoyed a career year at Union, helping the Dutchmen advance to the NCAA Tournament by setting career highs in goals (9) and points (33) in 38 games.

Back in December, Pens assistant GM Bill Guerin spoke glowingly about Taylor’s last collegiate campaign, saying he was in the midst of a “great” senior season.

“This is a kid we’ve been looking forward to getting since we drafted him,” Guerin said, per the Post-Gazette. “I remember his first development camp, everybody was like, ‘Oh, wow, look at this kid. He can move the puck, he can skate, he’s quick. He thinks the game well.’ And it hasn’t stopped.

“He’s an undersized guy, but he has the ability to get himself out of trouble because he’s got great feet and he thinks the game well.”