Bettman says Atlanta franchise “wasn’t economically viable”

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One of the biggest complaints from Thrashers fans throughout the relocation process has been the perplexity around the sale of their franchise. While the NHL appeared to do everything in its power to ensure another season for the Coyotes in Arizona, the same dogged determinate was noticeably lacking in Atlanta. From an outsider, the road from sale, to purchase, to relocation seemed like a rushed affair that was little more than an afterthought. Once the city of Glendale stepped up to save the Coyotes for another season, the attention turned to Atlanta—and the deal was done before you could say “relocation fee.”

Today Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal Constitution had a length interview with the NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman regarding the sale and subsequent relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers. The great piece talked about the city of Glendale, the differences between the two situations (Coyotes vs. Thrashers), and any possible future for the NHL in Atlanta. Here are some of the highlights from Vivlamore’s interview with Bettman:

“In this case, the franchise wasn’t economically viable. We are not happy about it. The litmus test is: Does someone want to own the franchise? The Raine Group and current ownership were completely unsuccessful in their efforts to find a local buyer.”

(snip)

We had high hopes in 1997. This is obviously not the result we envisioned or we wouldn’t have come. How we got to this position involves a number of issues and that’s why we find ourselves in the current situation.

(snip)

We haven’t moved a franchise in 14 years. I think every other league has relocated a team in that span. Sometimes, as much as you hate to do it, it’s a reality. I don’t think it is a black eye on the league. I don’t think it’s a black eye on Atlanta.”

In classic Bettman form, he was able to answer just about every single question without really saying much of anything. He was willing to admit that Atlanta Spirit contributed to the team’s failure in Atlanta—but also stressed that there were a variety of reasons the team was sold to True North. Most importantly, he mentioned that the Atlanta Spirit Group had hired a firm to actively seek a buy for the franchise; since the Coyotes had not hired a firm pre-bankruptcy and were now owned by the league, they were looking for ownership groups on the team’s behalf. Some fans in Atlanta will say the team never truly looked aggressively for a local ownership—but the chance remains there were no qualified parties that were interested in the area.

Obviously, any league trying to exude stability will be hesitant to approve relocation. But as Bettman correctly states, they aren’t the only sports league that has seen teams move from city to city recently. Fans are quick to point out that the Thrashers and Coyotes are sunbelt teams that have struggled at the box office and to take root in the community. But for teams like Phoenix and formerly Atlanta, there are also success stories like the Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes. Both have good attendance, are successful on the ice, and have seen hockey grow at the grassroots level in their markets. Atlanta’s major problem is that Atlanta Spirit Group didn’t help to grow the sport in the local market. Forget the team—they didn’t promote the sport.

As usual, the fans who believed in the sport (and their team) are the ones who lose in the deal. The fans who bought in to the idea that hockey could work in Atlanta, the ones who bought the tickets and merchandise; the fans who contributed the money that helped keep the team afloat for 14 years—the people who cared. Those are the people who lose when a team is relocated. For the rest of the sports fans in Atlanta, life goes on like nothing happened. In a way, they’re validated for never getting into the temporary,

Willie Desjardins to coach Team Canada at Olympics

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The past two Winter Olympics, Team Canada has been coached to gold by Mike Babcock, currently the NHL’s highest-paid bench boss.

But the 2018 Olympics in South Korea will be a very different animal. The NHL is not sending its players this time. When the Games are on, Babcock will be busy with his Toronto Maple Leafs.

So, today, Hockey Canada announced that Willie Desjardins, recently fired by the Vancouver Canucks, will be the head coach of the two-time defending gold medalists. Desjardins will be assisted by former Team Canada head coach Dave King, as well as Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

Sean Burke, who rose to prominence as a goalie in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics — which didn’t feature NHLers, either — will be Canada’s general manager. Burke will be aided by Martin Brodeur.

“This is an exciting time for Hockey Canada and for our National Men’s Team program, and it will be an exciting season for Canadian hockey fans,” said Tom Renney, Hockey Canada’s CEO. “The goal is always to field the best possible team in all upcoming competitions, including this February when we hit the world’s biggest sporting stage in Pyeonchang. The faces on our Team Canada rosters may be different than in previous years, but the expectations will be the same; with the addition of Sean, Martin, Willie, Dave, Scott, and Craig, we have assembled some of the best hockey minds out there to help us meet those expectations of on-ice success.”

Today’s announcement is yet more evidence, if you still required it, that the NHL isn’t bluffing about not sending its players to South Korea.

In an email to The Hockey News, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly refuted a report out of Russia that suggested the league had a backup schedule with an Olympic break in it.

“There is not an alternative schedule,” Daly wrote. “Having NHL Players participate in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games is not an available option. All of the international federations are planning appropriately for constructing teams that will not include NHL players. I anticipate there will be federation announcements in the coming days that should eliminate any and all continuing doubt or skepticism about the issue.”

The NHL released the 2017-18 schedule a month ago.

Related: Tampa awarded the 2018 All-Star Game, further dampening Olympic hopes

Preds expect answer from Fisher next week

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We should find out next week if Mike Fisher is going to retire or keep playing for the Predators.

Fisher, Nashville’s 37-year-old captain, is an unrestricted free agent. He confirmed last month that he was considering retirement. But first, he needed some time to think.

Yesterday, Preds GM David Poile said he expected an answer soon.

“I’m hoping to talk to him later this week to see where he’s at,” Poile said, per The Tennessean. “I’d say by next week, we should have an update.”

Fisher had 18 goals and 24 assists in 72 games last season, but then had just four assists in 20 playoff games as the Preds reached their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

If Fisher re-signs, he’ll likely be in the bottom six next season, with Ryan Johansen and newly signed Nick Bonino expected to center the top two lines. Fisher could even be the fourth-line center or a winger, allowing the likes of Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons, and Frederick Gaudreau to take on bigger roles.

But for Fisher, hockey isn’t everything, and after more than 1,000 games in the NHL, he may simply opt to hang up the skates.

“Everyone wants to win in this game, no one probably more than me,” Fisher said. “But there’s other things. At the end of the day, this is a game. It’s an important part of my life, but it’s not everything.”

Related: Predators take Stanley Cup loss with grace and optimism

Habs sign Mark Streit — is he Markov’s replacement?

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The Montreal Canadiens have signed 39-year-old defenseman Mark Streit to a one-year contract worth a reported $700,000.

This will actually be Streit’s second stint with the Habs. He started his NHL career in Montreal, all the way back in 2005.

Streit split last season between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In the playoffs, he only appeared in three games for the Penguins, all of them in the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa when Justin Schultz was hurt.

What the Streit signing means for Andrei Markov remains to be seen. Streit, like Markov, can run a power play, so it’s tempting to conclude that Streit is Markov’s replacement.

That being said, almost all of Streit’s contract could be buried in the AHL if necessary, so that conclusion may be premature. This could even be a move by GM Marc Bergevin to gain leverage and convince Markov to sign.

Markov, 38, remains an unrestricted free agent. The Canadiens want him back, but only at a certain price.

Devils give Mirco Mueller two-year extension

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The New Jersey Devils have signed defenseman Mirco Mueller to a two-year contract extension with a cap hit of $850,000.

Mueller, a first-round draft pick of the Sharks in 2013, has only played 54 NHL games, scoring two goals with four assists. In June, after spending most of 2016-17 in the AHL, San Jose traded the 22-year-old to the Devils.

In New Jersey, Mueller should get a good chance to crack a rebuilding roster.

“Mirco is adding another piece to what we’re trying to build here,” Devils coach John Hynes said, per NJ.com. “He’s a young player, he can play with pace. He’s a very good skater. He’s got size, which is something we need on the back end. He makes a good first pass. He allows you to get out of your own zone because he can break out, he can end plays defensively, get possession, make the pass to be able to transition yourself out of defensive situations.”

The Devils have also re-signed goalie Scott Wedgewood and forward Joseph Blandisi.