North Sports & Entertainment was the only serious bidder for the Thrashers, who had been on the block for a couple years. After the ownership group sold 13,000 season seats in a matter of a few days, the approval by the NHL at a meeting in New York appeared to be just a formality.
“We deeply regret that Atlanta’s ownership was unable to secure local partners after exhausting every option and alternative,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “At the same time, we are delighted that NHL hockey is returning to Winnipeg and to a fan-base that already is showing so much support for its team. We congratulate Mark Chipman, David Thomson and True North on their patience, their preparation and their professionalism, and we look forward to the start of a new era for the franchise.”
As The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Chris Vivlamore reports, the meeting took place not far from where Atlanta --- which had lost already lost the Flames to Calgary --- was awarded the expension franchise a dozen years ago.
The official end of the Thrashers came in a hotel conference room at the Westin at Times Square – almost 1,000 miles from the city where the team spent 11 seasons. The vote of the league’s governing body came four days shy of the 14th anniversary of a similar meeting in New York, just 12 blocks away, when Atlanta was awarded an expansion franchise. Atlanta was a shoe-in for one of four new teams, along with Columbus, Minnesota and Nashville, because its bid included solid ownership in Turner Broadcasting/Time Warner, the nation’s largest television market without an NHL team and a new arena. The Atlanta Spirit began looking to sell the Thrashers soon after buying the franchise, part of a purchase from Turner that included the NBA’s Hawks and the operating rights to Philips Arena. Reported losses of $130 million over six years, dwindling attendance and the failure to make the playoffs in 10 of its 11 seasons were major issues. As the search for an owner willing to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta failed, the Atlanta Spirit opened negotiations with True North. The deal was completed in less than a month after the NHL approved the start of talks.
“It’s pretty emotional,” Thrashers president Don Waddell said. “You know it’s coming and you try to prepare for it but this is the final straw that broke the camel’s back. We have to find the positives and move forward but it’s difficult.”
Winnipeg will play in the Southeast Division --- along with Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay and Washington -- next season. The NHL will undergo realignment before the 2012-13 season.
The Winnipeg franchise next must pick a team name and tap a new coach.
The NHL holds the rights to the Jets --- which adorned Winnipeg’s previous NHL franchise before it moved to Arizona and became the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996 --- and there’s been a major push in Manitoba to bring back that name back. new Winnipeg GM Kevin Chevelday is currently in the process of hiring a new coach since Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay will not be retained.
-- A.J. Perez
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