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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,

Goalie nods: Bolts start struggling Vasilevskiy ahead of struggling Bishop

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 06:  Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning switches with Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 during a break in play in the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Two of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 6, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Since returning from injury, Ben Bishop has allowed 10 goals on 96 shots — an .896 save percentage — and was hooked on Saturday in a 5-3 loss to the lowly Coyotes.

So it’s not a huge surprise that Tampa Bay will start Andrei Vasilevskiy tonight, when it takes on the ‘Hawks in Chicago.

But it’s not like Vasilevskiy’s rolling at the moment.

The young Russian is winless in his last six outings, posting a 3.93 GAA and .877 save percentage. Perhaps head coach Jon Cooper was impressed with Vasilevskiy’s relief appearance over the weekend — he stopped all six shots faced in Arizona — or perhaps Cooper just flipped a coin.

As Brough wrote earlier, it’s crunch time for the Lightning right now. The club’s in desperate need of wins, and it’s estimated the Bolts will have to win around 21 of their final 34 games in order to make the playoffs.

If the goaltending doesn’t improve, it ain’t gonna happen.

For Chicago, Corey Crawford gets the start.

Elsewhere…

— The Red Wings will continue to ride Jared Coreau, who is 5-1-2 since his recall from AHL Grand Rapids. Coreau will face Tuukka Rask, who starts for Boston after leaving Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh with a migraine.

— After Jeff Zatkoff failed to impress in his start last night, Peter Budaj returns to the Kings’ net. The host Devils will go with Cory Schneider, who returns from a two-game absence (illness).

— Good matchup in Brooklyn. Thomas Greiss, the NHL’s reigning second star of the week, will start for the Isles, who play host to Sergei Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets.

— As we wrote about yesterday, Jake Allen‘s mental reset will continue as Carter Hutton gets the start in Pittsburgh. He’ll be up against Matt Murray, who’s coming off a 44-save win over Boston on Sunday.

Braden Holtby gets the night off for the Caps, who wills tart Philipp Grubauer in Ottawa. The Sens will go with their workhorse, Mike Condon, who makes his 27th appearance of the year.

Brian Elliott started last night, so Chad Johnson goes for the slumping Flames in Montreal. He’ll be up against Carey Price, who is slumping himself. Price has lost three in a row, and five of his last six.

— The Preds have a good record with Juuse Saros (5-3-1) this year, so they’ll go with him tonight as they host the Sabres. For Buffalo, Robin Lehner is back in after making 36 saves in a win over Montreal over the weekend.

— No confirmed netminders from either side in tonight’s Sharks-Jets game from Winnipeg.

Devan Dubnyk returns to the net for Minnesota, after Darcy Kuemper gave him Sunday night off. Dubnyk will be up against Kari Lehtonen.

Pre-game reading: Do the Leafs still need a No. 1 defenseman?

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— Up top, watch NHLers auditioning for their roles in Sunday’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles. (Personally, we think Evgeni Malkin showed more range in that old car dealership ad, but he was pretty good in this too.)

— Do the Toronto Maple Leafs still need a No. 1 defenseman? And if so, would they trade young William Nylander to get one? Pierre LeBrun tackles a topic that won’t go be going away anytime soon. The Leafs are a good, young team with tons of talent up front, but when most people look at their blue line, they see the need for at least one more top-4 d-man to join Morgan Rielly, Nikita Zaitsev and Jake Gardiner. (TSN)

— In a potentially related story, if the Canucks are going to make a trade, it’s likely they’ll move a defenseman for help up front. We’re not sure if Erik Gudbranson would be of any interest to the Leafs, but he might be of interest to some team, and the situation on Vancouver’s blue line has definitely changed in the last year. (Daily Hive Vancouver)

— The oral history of Fox’s glowing puck is a fun read. Here’s Brian Burke on the prototypes they tested: “I remember one of the first tests was in Boston. One of these pucks went into the crowd, we had to race over to them with some volunteer and say, ‘Here, we’ll give you another puck, and we’ll give you a T-shirt.’ The first two or three guys were like, ‘F— you. I’m keeping this puck.’ I think we lost $1,200 in that first game.” (Sports Business Journal)

— Sounds like deputy commissioner Bill Daly had a good trip to China, where the NHL soon hopes to hold some preseason games. “It seems that the NBA, having brought games over there, has been a game-changer over there as far as basketball is concerned. Now everybody is excited about the prospect of NHL teams coming over. So, we’re obviously trying to make that happen as soon as possible. We’re still holding out hope it can happen (this year) but if that doesn’t happen I expect it’ll happen the following year.” (Postmedia)

— A profile of 96-year-old John “Chick” Webster, believed to be the NHL’s oldest ex-player. Webster lives in a small Ontario town called Mattawa, where he’s been known to make cracks like, “I don’t even buy green bananas at my age.” Webster played 14 games for the Rangers during the 1949-50 season. (boston.com)

Enjoy the games!

Deadline target Streit says ‘it’s too early’ for extension talks in Philly

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 09:  Mark Streit #32 of the Philadelphia Flyers completes a pass against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 9, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
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Yesterday, we touched on the dynamic at play between Buffalo and veteran captain Brian Gionta.

Today, a similar situation to discuss — but it’s in Philly, and involves alternate captain Mark Streit.

Streit, 39, is in the last of a four-year, $21 million deal with a $5.25M cap hit. Like Gionta, he’s a pending UFA and — also like Gionta — has a limited no-trade clause (Streit can list 10 teams he’d accept a trade to.)

Like the Sabres, the Flyers are in a tricky spot.

Right on the wild card bubble, they’re cognizant that a veteran presence like Streit — who has 17 points in 35 games, averaging 19:43 per night — would be valuable come playoff time.

But if Philly falls out of playoff contention, Streit would undoubtedly be an asset worth flipping at the deadline. It’s something the team is surely aware of.

The Swiss rearguard has more than 30 games of playoff experience and, as we’ve seen at previous deadlines, the return for rental defensemen can be high.

More on this situation, from the Burlington County Times:

So if the Flyers were to keep him past the deadline and offer him a new contract, would he be willing to stay?

“At this point, I just want to play and I want to make it into the playoffs with the Flyers,’’ the Swiss native said. “That’s on my mind. I love it here, love playing for the Flyers.”

The subject of a new contract is tricky because the Flyers are currently right on the bubble for a playoff spot.

There’s really no point in opening contract negotiations if he’s only going to be here another five weeks, is there?

“Not yet, it’s too early,’’ Streit said. “I’d like to stay here. I’ve been part of this organization for four years now. I love the guys, I believe in the group.”

Flyers GM Ron Hextall told the Times he hasn’t made any decisions on his UFAs, adding he’s in no rush to sign them.

There’s actually quite a lot of business for Hextall on that front — in addition to Streit, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz, Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth are all up on July 1 — so it’s not surprising he’s taking a wait-and-see approach.

As for Streit, he said he’d like to stick in Philly beyond this year… and, per the Times, even joked with reporters that he’d love to sign another four-year deal.

We assume he was joking, anyway.

Sens nab Wingels in trade with Sharks

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 25:  Tommy Wingels #57 of the San Jose Sharks looks to pass the puck while covered by Artem Anisimov #15 of the Chicago Blackhawks at SAP Center on November 25, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The Ottawa Senators have acquired forward Tommy Wingels from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for two AHL forwards, Buddy Robinson and Zack Stortini, and a 2017 seventh-round draft pick.

The Sens announced the trade via Twitter. As part of the deal, the Sharks will retain 30 percent of Wingels’ $2.6 million salary this season. The 28-year-old is a pending unrestricted free agent. His total cap hit is $2.475 million.

Wingels has just five goals and three assists in 37 games this season, and his average ice time under head coach Pete DeBoer had fallen from 13:38 last season to just 10:03.

Perhaps he’ll find a bigger role now under Guy Boucher. Wingels is expected to join the Sens tomorrow in Ottawa.

In a press release, Sharks GM Doug Wilson called Wingels “a valuable member of our franchise for many years, a phenomenal teammate and a true role model on and off the ice for our organization and the NHL.”

Wilson added, “As a team evolves and younger players push for roster spots, unfortunately tough decisions have to be made. We wish Tommy and his wife, Molly, nothing but success in the future.

“We also want to welcome Buddy and Zach to our organization. They add size and depth to our reserve list and we look forward to having them in San Jose.”