Report: Atlanta Thrashers’ move to Winnipeg is a done deal (Updated with denials)

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The Atlanta Thrashers will indeed move to Winnipeg. That’s the report from Stephen Brunt of The Globe & Mail, although many people are denying it … including NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

If this report is accurate after all, then True North Sports and Entertainment succeeded in their goal of bringing an NHL team back to the former home city of the Winnipeg Jets. Brunt reports that an official announcement will be made on Tuesday and that Bettman will travel to Winnipeg to hold a press conference on that matter. That report also indicates that True North targeted the Thrashers all along, even though the Phoenix Coyotes grabbed most of the focus regarding relocation.

If Brunt’s report is true, there won’t be much suspense about the NHL Board of Governors approving the sale since they already “quietly approved the sale and transfer of the team” months ago.

The relocated Thrashers team would play at the MTS Centre, the current home of the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. It’s unclear if the team’s mascot will change, although rumors indicate that True North would prefer not to use “Thrashers.”

Update: To little surprise, many outlets are reporting denials to this original report. TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution are among the respected reporters who said it isn’t official. Jeff Marek spoke with True North, who denied the report.

Another update: There’s at least one person backing up Brunt’s report: Nick Kypreos confirmed that the deal is done.

OK, so we know that the relocation is far from official, but let’s take a quick big picture look at the impact of the move if it does happen.

One second chance comes to an end while another begins …

We’ll get deeper into the bigger issues when (or if) this becomes official, but the interesting thing about this news is that it involves two markets getting second chances to make an NHL team work.

The city of Atlanta already saw one NHL team relocate to another market as the Atlanta Flames became the Calgary Flames in 1980. Even if people blame faulty ownership in both situations, it’s tough to imagine the city getting another NHL franchise anytime soon. Meanwhile, Winnipeg lost the Jets in 1996 when the team left for Phoenix to become the Coyotes during a tough time for the Canadian dollar.

Despite similar end results, the two markets are very different. Atlanta is a large American city that might not take to hockey off the bat while Winnipeg is a Canadian market that hopes to make up for its relatively small market with sheer puck passion. Ultimately, my guess is that the team’s new ownership and the quality of the city’s support will determine if this move will be a success. (If it actually happens, of course.)

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Again, we’ll keep an eye on any reports that might refute Brunt’s piece, but the smart money is on this being true. Stay tuned for more news and analysis in the near future.