Report: Atlanta Spirit,True North negotiating deal; Thrashers could relocate to Winnipeg

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The rumors have been flying for quite some time now, but it seems like there’s fire to back up all that smoke. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Chris Vivlamore reports that the Atlanta Spirit and True North are indeed negotiating a deal that could relocate the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg.

Vivlamore points out that a deal hasn’t been completed and it is unclear how long the two sides have been negotiating, but it’s possible that the Thrashers could be relocated in time for the 2011-12 season.

The factors described in the report itself aren’t exactly “new.” After all, Joe already took a look at what the NHL’s divisional realignment might look like if the Thrashers moved to the ‘Peg. That being said, this not-quite-confirmed story that appeared in The Atlanta-Journal Constitution gives more concrete credibility to the rumors.

“I have never confirmed nor denied specific parties we have been talking to in regards to a possible sale of the Thrashers,” Atlanta Spirit co-owner Bruce Levenson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday.

Typically, confidentiality agreements are signed between parties in negotiations which would prohibit Atlanta Spirit ownership from identifying suitors.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, reach via e-mail, said there was “nothing I’m prepared to say at this point.” A True North Sports and Entertainment spokesperson had no comment.

Jeff Schultz expanded on the subject in a column for the AJC, pointing out that the outlook is grim but the move isn’t set in stone, either. Schultz mapped out three scenarios that could keep the Thrashers in Atlanta.

♦ 1.) A financial angel falls out of the sky. But thus far, no prospective owner has come forward with both a stated desire to buy the team and proof of his financial worth.

♦ 2.) Something falls apart on the Winnipeg end (with True North), or from the league’s perspective (other owners may be uncomfortable with the fact new local ownership for the Coyotes still isn’t assured).

♦ 3.) Bettman effectively stalls and gives the Atlanta franchise a one-year stay of execution, telling Levenson and the Spirit that the franchise can’t be moved for next season. It’s not believed the Atlanta Spirit could just walk away from the hockey team and throw the keys to the league. So it’s not certain what would happen if Bettman disallowed a move right now and the Spirit resisted.

While this situation doesn’t technically need to be resolved at a specific point, the league needs to put together a schedule for the 2011-12 season soon. Considering how antsy the Spirit is to get rid of the team (to be fair, they’ve reported losses in the $130 million range), they want to sell the Thrashers as soon as possible.

In other words, this story could develop really quickly.

Again, no deal is official yet. That being said, Thrashers fans must accept the possibility that their team really might move to Winnipeg this summer.