Thrashers Future Hockey

It’s official: Atlanta Thrashers to be sold to True North Sports and Entertainment, moved to Winnipeg

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After 15 years without the NHL, what was once thought of as a lost hope for fans in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada is finally becoming a reality.

True North Sports and Entertainment has called a joint press conference with the NHL for noon Eastern time to announce the agreement between True North and the Atlanta Spirit Group to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers and relocate the team to Winnipeg. True North is spearheaded by Mark Chipman and David Thomson giving the franchise a pair of very wealthy and very financially stable owners, something the Thrashers haven’t had in at least four years.

While this is just an agreement between the two sides, the final approval must be given by the NHL Board of Governors on June 21 when they gather to meet. It’s expected that the sale will be approved quickly and officially putting the moving trucks on their way to central Canada.

Relocation is something we haven’t seen happen in the NHL since the Hartford Whalers moved to North Carolina so you’ll have to forgive everyone if this move opens up a lot of old wounds. The Thrashers move to Winnipeg will likely mean the team won’t be called the “Jets.” There’s much speculation roaming around that the team will continue to carry the moniker of the AHL team that’s been in Winnipeg for the last few years and go by the name Manitoba Moose. We’ll likely find more out about that today. We’ll also be criticizing True North for that should it come to pass.

The team is also likely to stay in the Southeast Division this year and for one season, teams in the Eastern Conference are going to be hazed with at least two trips to Winnipeg. The divisional rivals of the Thrashers will get to experience the joys of mid-winter Winnipeg three times during the year. This also means that Winnipeg will be hitting the road a lot and none of those trips will be like the relatively short one they can look forward to in two seasons that would see them travel six hours south to St. Paul, Minnesota. Instead, Winnipeg will by flying south and east a lot. Perhaps they should name the team the Jets just for irony’s sake.

Then there’s the whole part of this that centers around NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Bettman pledged countless promises to help keep the Coyotes in Arizona, even making sure the NHL protected the team by buying it out of bankruptcy from Jerry Moyes. The Thrashers have been dealing with an ownership boondoggle for the last few years without so much as a pat on the back to support them in their efforts.

After all, Bettman went and found Jeff Vinnik to purchase the Lightning away from the nightmare pair of Len Barrie and Oren Koules as they were busy turning Tampa Bay into a nightmare scenario. He also stuck up for Nashville when Jim Balsillie was trying to work his money magic there and Boots Del Biaggio was scamming his way into a minority ownership with the team as well. As far as we know, none of that kind of help came along for Atlanta and their horrible ownership by Atlanta Spirit Group. For all that Bettman’s done to try and expand the NHL’s grip into new, non-traditional hockey markets his failing in doing something to ensure a team stays in Atlanta will be criticized. Seeing the Thrashers be the team that moves out of the south and into Winnipeg just makes the situation all the more twisted.

How things will differ in Winnipeg from Atlanta, the answer is simple. Fans in Winnipeg have been bottled up for years since seeing the Jets flee town and the support they’ll give to their new team will be unlike anything the Thrashers ever saw in Atlanta. That’s a good thing for them and for the players who have been playing in front of quiet arenas most of their careers in the south. They’re also going to sell a lot of tickets at the MTS Centre. While the building will be the smallest in the league, they’re likely going to sell out everything – something they couldn’t do in Atlanta.

It’s a sad day for any team that relocates because it means there are fans being left behind that loved a team that won’t have it anymore. While we’re happy for those fans in Winnipeg that had their hearts ripped out 15 years ago, we’re sad for those in Atlanta who did love the team and the game. Those fans are the ones getting royally boned over because now they’ll see their former team move somewhere else with a new, rich owner who’ll lavish them with the attention they wished they would’ve gotten in the first place in Atlanta.

Report: No buyout for Girardi, but Rangers willing to trade almost anyone

FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2012, file photo, New York Rangers' Dan Girardi looks on during an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia. The Rangers say they have agreed to terms with Girardi on a multiyear contract extension, taking the key defenseman off the trading block and keeping him away from unrestricted free agency. The deal was announced Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
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From Larry Brooks at the New York Post:

The Post has learned the Blueshirts do not intend to buy out the remainder of Dan Girardi’s contract, which has four years remaining at an annual $5.5 million cap charge.

In addition, sources report management has not requested the alternate captain to waive his no-move clause (which will be replaced by a modified no-trade following 2016-17). Further, no such request is expected.

So Girardi will be back with the New York Rangers next season. That’s what Brooks is reporting.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be significant changes to the roster. According to Brooks, the Rangers are “prepared to listen to offers for everyone,” save for Henrik Lundqvist, Brady Skjei and Pavel Buchnevich.

That includes Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes, each player’s availability, of course, will be dependent upon the exchange rate in return. But nothing is off the table. And the Wild are believed to have serious interest in native Minnesotan Stepan.

We told you it could be an interesting offseason in the Big Apple.

Related: AV concedes the Rangers had a ‘puck-moving’ problem

Chris Phillips, a former first overall draft pick, announces retirement

Chris Phillips
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Chris Phillips, the first overall draft pick in 1996, has retired after 1,179 NHL games, all of them with the Ottawa Senators.

“Chris’ trademark leadership, determination, hard work, and resilience as a hockey player gave our city and our fans the opportunity to witness an impressive 19 year journey in the National Hockey League,” said Sens owner Eugene Melnyk in a release. “Chris’ commitment to our team and our city places him among one of the greatest players to don a Senators uniform. He will forever hold a special place in the history of our hockey club.”

Phillips, 38, will remain with the Sens in a front-office role.

The 38-year-old defenseman was a pending unrestricted free agent; he didn’t play at all in 2015-16 due to a back injury.

Phillips’ last game was on Feb. 5, 2015.

The timing of the Gudbranson trade was…interesting

Florida Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson (44) gets up from the ice after being pushed in the second period during a preseason NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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It seems like only yesterday that the Florida Panthers were raving about Erik Gudbranson.

Except it wasn’t yesterday.

It was earlier this month.

“Guddy has taken a big step for our team this year,” coach Gerard Gallant said, per the Sun Sentinel. “He’s very confident, moves the puck real well and is a big part of our blue line.”

“He’s really going to be a special player for a lot of years in this league and hopefully for a lot of years with the Panthers,” said veteran d-man Brian Campbell.

Now, Florida had just signed Gudbranson to a one-year contract extension, so of course there was raving to be done.

But it still surprised many when he was traded to Vancouver yesterday.

For example:

Not that Gudbranson was given away for nothing. The return the Panthers got from the Canucks was considerable. Jared McCann could be a top-six forward one day, and there was more.

“The fact we were able to add draft picks this year, second and fourth round, 33 and 93, we felt gave us two picks that we got back that we lost on the trading deadline,” general manager Tom Rowe told reporters.

Rowe also conceded that trading Gudbranson was a “very, very difficult decision.”

The timing, though.

The timing was pretty hard to ignore.

Rowe, of course, was just named Florida’s new GM. He replaced Dale Tallon, who was “promoted” (or demoted, depending who you ask) to the role of director of hockey ops.

It was all part of a big, managerial shakeup — one that was driven in large part by analytics:

Would you be surprised to learn that Gudbranson did not have a particularly high Corsi?

From Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com:

Panthers

Now, we’re not saying the Panthers made this trade solely because of advanced stats. When there’s a salary cap, difficult decisions need to be made. Gudbranson will need a new contract next summer, and he won’t be cheap to re-sign.

Added Rowe: “The way [Michael Matheson] played in the playoffs and at the World Championship for an outstanding Canadian team really gave us more of a comfort level to do this.”

Still, it was only two years ago that Tallon was saying Gudbranson was “likely going to be the captain of our team some day.” And it was only a few weeks ago that Tallon called Gudbranson “an important part of our young core who has continued to develop into a reliable, physical presence on our blue line and a strong leader in our locker room.”

So yeah, whether or not you like the deal for the Panthers, it’s more than fair to wonder who, or what, was the driving force behind it.

One thing’s for sure — the Panthers are going to look very different on the back end next season. Gudbranson’s gone; Willie Mitchell is unlikely to be back; and Campbell is an unrestricted free agent who may test the market.

In the playoffs, no defenseman played more for Florida than Gudbranson. After him, it was Campbell.

Related: People are wondering — do the Florida Panthers know what they’re doing?

Some tough decisions await the Blues

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Yet again, the St. Louis Blues failed to achieve their ultimate goal.

And boy does it hurt right now.

“We’re all hurting,” coach Ken Hitchcock said last night after getting eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

“You don’t want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now.”

Indeed, GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make this offseason.

At the top of the list is whether to bring Hitchcock back. Yes, the Blues did better than 26 other teams, and yes, they finally got past the first round. Still, there are people who believe this will be it for the head coach, that a new voice could help. Overall, Hitchcock has done a great job in St. Louis. But then, so did Todd McLellan in San Jose. Sometimes, change can be good.

Then there are the unrestricted free agents. Both captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer need new contracts. The former is 32, the latter 30. The former had seven goals in the playoffs, the latter eight. How much money will they want? How much term? The second question might be the most important.

On the back end, it’s Kevin Shattenkirk that will garner the most attention. He’s signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Just 27 years old, and considering the demand for what he does, he’ll be very expensive to keep. And with the emergence of Colton Parayko, trading Shattenkirk could probably be justified, especially if the return is good. A team like the Boston Bruins might be willing to pay up.

Right now, the pain is still fresh for the Blues.

“It’s so hard to win in the league right now,” said Hitchcock. “It’s so hard to win a series. So hard to just get in the playoffs. When you get this far, you get this close, you think you got the opportunity.”

The challenge for Armstrong will be to give his team another opportunity next season. And with the draft less than a month away, all these tough decisions will need to be made very soon.