Thrashers update: Local interest exposed, True North seeks Winnipeg’s help with debt

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The latest round of news revolving around the potential relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers reveals some not-so-great reports for both sides. Unfortunately for Thrashers fans, the outlook continues to be pretty grim on their end.

Many Thrashers fans attached some hope to a potential new local owner nicknamed “The Balkan.” That previously shadowy figure was revealed to be Detroit-arena venture capitalist JB Smith. Smith is reportedly interested in a package deal that would include the Thrashers, Atlanta Hawks and Phillips Arena. Unfortunately, various reports indicate that he might not have the cash to swing such a deal.

Beyond that, there is the rather thorny issue that the Atlanta Spirit group allowed San Diego Padres owner John Moores an exclusive window to buy the Hawks and Phillips Arena without the Thrashers. That same report indicates that Moores and the Atlanta Spirit still have a way to go to make a deal in that area, if it even gets done.

Based on recent evidence, it sounds like it would be awfully difficult to find a viable owner to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta, at least in time to satisfy the Atlanta Spirit group. Keep in mind this situation is still far from decided, though.

The last bit of news is that True North is asking for some government help to free up money to buy the Thrashers. True North hopes to free up debt from running the MTS Centre, the building that would house the relocated and re-named Thrashers. The difference is that it looks like local government will cooperate with True North, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. That stands in contrast to Atlanta’s perceived indifference toward keeping the Thrashers from moving.

Here’s the lowdown on True North’s negotiations with the city of Winnipeg, via the Winnipeg Free Press.

True North, which owns the MTS Centre, is looking to the province to help it manage the debt load it carries on the downtown arena in order to free up money to help pay for the relocation of the NHL team to Winnipeg.

A source said that request from True North is being studied by the province and in all likelihood will be accepted. The value of the request, or if it involves a low or no-interest loan, is not known.

“The building is a public asset,” said a source explaining why the province is interested in an arrangement that sees aid go to the MTS Centre. “It will never move.”

Keeping with previous patterns, signs point to the Thrashers moving to Winnipeg, but there are still a lot of moving parts involved right now. As always, we’ll keep you updated, as there could be quite a few twists and turns left.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”