Even after being eliminated from playoff contention, the Atlanta Thrashers were given the chance to make an indirect impact on the postseason by playing against the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers, two East bubble teams that were desperate for points. While there won’t be any immediate drama in their season-ending Sunday game against the Pittsburgh Penguins since the playoff seeding has already been determined, the game could have special meaning for Atlanta anyway.
The reason is simple: it might just be the last game the Thrashers will play in Atlanta.
About 30 years after the Atlanta Flames ditched Georgia to become the Calgary Flames for the 1980-81 season, Chris Vivlamore wonders if the Thrashers could face a similar fate.
In case you haven’t been following the NHL’s many ownership sagas, the two biggest (or at least most immediate) crises involve the situations faced by the Thrashers and the Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes’ “Will they stay or go” soap opera keeps spinning with odd twists and convoluted schemes to keep the team from relocating, with the situation looking murky at best.
Meanwhile, the Thrashers’ own fate hangs in the balance, as the Coyotes’ most likely relocation target would be its former host city in Winnipeg. Vivlamore reasonably discusses the fact that the Thrashers’ own leverage — and likelihood for relocation — will increase if the Coyotes stay put.
Either way, there are also options in cities such as Quebec, Kansas City and more.
Yet much like the situation in Phoenix, the Atlanta Spirit ownership group would prefer to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta if possible. Along with owning the Thrashers, the Atlanta Spirit also owns the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and Phillips Arena (the home for both teams). Logically enough, Vivlamore explains that many interested parties discussed the idea of acquiring all three assets.
Before and after the statements, several entities, groups and individuals expressed interest in buying all three properties from the Atlanta Spirit: the Thrashers, Hawks and Philips Arena. One potential buyer has met with officials from the NHL and NBA. Some have expressed interest in only the Thrashers. Some have inquired about buying just the Hawks and the arena. There have been non-disclosure agreements signed between the interested entities and the investment company, the Raine Group, hired by the Spirit to search for potential buyers or investors.
However, there have been no serious negotiations beyond that preliminary step to date.
“Nothing is imminent,” co-owner Bruce Levenson told the AJC on Friday. “We continue to be involved in the process of sharing information with potential buyers about their interest in Atlanta. It is an ongoing process.”
Several people familiar with the situation confirmed that the process has not moved past that stage. There is a big difference between expressing interest and having the financial ability to reach an agreement. The possibility of the sale of all three properties, the most likely scenario for the Thrashers to remain in Atlanta, has been described as “one in a million” and “one percent.”
(Cue Jim Carrey’s “So you’re saying there’s a chance?” from “Dumb & Dumber” if you would like.)
Overall, there seems to be just as much doom and gloom surrounding the Thrashers’ chances of staying in Atlanta as there is with the Coyotes in Phoenix, but it’s important to note that the timeline might be a little fuzzier. It’s quite possible that the Atlanta Spirit won’t be happy with a limited window to negotiate since the Coyotes situation clouds the picture, thus creating a potential “lame duck” season in 2011-12.
There’s also the chance — albeit limited — that the team might just stay in Atlanta.
Obviously, at this point, it’s too early to say. We’ll keep you up to date about their ownership situations progress (or stalls) as next season approaches.