Posted on: June 15, 2011 3:13 pm

Report: Talks continue between Hulsizer, Coyotes

When True North gave up its chase of the Coyotes and bought the Atlanta Thrashers, Phoenix’s ownership situation was put in the background. But there’s still no guarantee the team is staying in the desert beyond next season.

But Matthew Hulsizer is still trying to change that. The Arizona Republic reports that negotiations are still going on between the city of Glendale and the prospective buyer from Chicago with offers going back and forth all the time.

Brad Goldberg, the spokesman for the Hulsizer group, told the paper “The goal is still to find a way to keep the Coyotes in Arizona forever."

You might remember that Hulsizer and Glendale apparently had a deal for him to buy the organization, but a local watchdog group threatened to sue the city for its role in the sale, which would have called for Glendale to help Hulsizer cover the NHL’s asking price. That put things back in limbo.

The city did buy another season in the desert for negotiations when it agreed to pay $25 million in the Coyotes’ operating costs (read: losses) for next season. But beyond that, there are no guarantees and relocation would be back open for discussion if no deal is reached in that timeframe.

"There's not a day that goes by that this isn't worked on by all parties involved in an effort to come to a resolution," Glendale spokeswoman Julie Frisoni said.

-- Brian Stubits

Category: NHL
Posted on: June 2, 2011 5:13 pm
Edited on: June 2, 2011 5:39 pm

Winnipeg franchise will have to wait on a name

Winnipeg’s new NHL franchise reportedly won’t get a name until after the team completes its season ticket drive.

The CBC reports officials at True North Sports and Entertainment, the ownership group that purchased the Atlanta Thrashers, has discussed what to call the franchise, but spokesman Scott Brown said an announcement would take away from season seat sales:

"We want people to stay focused on the process of getting the 13,000 and getting the franchise secured because if we don't get to the 13,000, then the signal that sends to the larger hockey community is not necessarily a positive one," he said.

Ticket-holders and corporate partners of the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose are being given the first chance to buy seats before sales are opened to the general public on Saturday.

Fans wanting the most expensive season tickets will have to commit for five years while those looking for cheaper seats must sign up for a three-year term.
True North aims to reach the 13,000 mark before the NHL Board of Governors meeting on June 21, where the sale of the team could be finalized. As of the latest count on Thursday, 4,170 seats had been sold. 

-- A.J. Perez
Posted on: May 31, 2011 6:07 pm
Edited on: May 31, 2011 6:16 pm

Thrashers Prez: Winning would have changed things

The most recent failure of the NHL in Atlanta went beyond the fact it was a non-traditional hockey market where lawsuits among the team’s ownership group were about as harmful as the exodus of star players like Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk.

“There is no doubt that if we had more success, we would have had a better turnout at the gate,” Thrashers president Don Waddell said in a conference call with reporters hours after the sale of the franchise to a group from Winnipeg was announced on Tuesday. “If we had duplicated (the success) the year after we won the division and went to the playoffs, I thought we were set up to continue to try to build the momentum in the marketplace. But that didn’t happen.”

Waddell’s tenure with the Thrashers extends even before the team’s inaugural 1999-2000 season and he spent all but the last 13 months as the team’s general manager with a couple stints as interim coach. The team only reached the playoffs once (2007) in its existence and never had back-to-back winning seasons.

“When you look back at things, when you win more you are going to get more people excited,” Waddell said.

Hockey in Atlanta never took hold, as was the case three decades when the Flames left town for Calgary. It didn’t help that the infighting among the ownership group, known as Atlanta Spirit, led to a lawsuit didn’t win it much goodwill in Georgia. That lawsuit was settled on December, but a separate suit against an Atlanta law firm filed in January disclosed the team been on the block for five years --- something the Thrashers organization had previously denied.

Waddell said he’d been contacted by about 20-plus groups who expressed interest in purchasing the Thrashers and keep them at Philips Arena, but none had the financial backing that would meet league approval.

“We had a lot of people trying to put groups together and seek investors,” Waddell said. “There were only a handful who had the resources to qualify to buy the franchise. We didn’t have one offer that was even worth talking about.”

The closest the team got to a sale before Tuesday’s deal came down took place in 2009, Waddell said.

“It was difficult to find a buyer who wanted to buy a team when (the Thrashers’ owners) were in a current lawsuit,” Waddell said. “I can tell you two years ago that were close to purchase agreement with a potential buyer. At that time, they got scared away because of the lawsuit. It was something people didn’t want to be a party to. “

Hossa, arguably the biggest star in Thrashers history, was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in February 2008 after Atlanta fell out of the playoff picture. The New Jersey Devils acquired the other cog from the Thrashers’ lone playoff team before the 2010 trade deadline.

The Thrashers, one of the youngest teams in hockey, were in the playoff picture for much of this season before they faded. Waddell is proud what he will leave the Winnipeg Jets, Manitoba Moose --- or whatever the franchise will be named --- well-stocked, even if he won’t be joining them. His contact with the franchise concludes when sale is approved by the NHL Board of Governors, who will meet in three weeks.

Despite another failed attempt in Atlanta, Waddell said hockey could still work in the market. Maybe.

“I still believe it could work under the right situation,” Waddell said. “The fans we had were very passionate. We just could never reach that population, that extra amount of people, to make it work here.”

-- A.J. Perez

Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: May 31, 2011 12:32 pm
Edited on: June 1, 2011 6:11 am

It's official: Thrashers on way to Winnipeg

NHL hockey is back in Winnipeg.

True North Sports and Entertainment completed a purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers early Tuesday morning and will move the franchise to Manitoba. The transaction still needs to be approved by the NHL Board of Governors, although that could come as early as their next meeting on June 21.

“As we have said repeatedly, we don’t like to move franchises,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a news conference at the MTS Center on Tuesday. “But sometimes we simply have no choice.”

Winnipeg lost the Jets to Phoenix in 1996. The Thrashers are the first NHL team to relocate since the Hartford Whalers moved to North Carolina in 1997. This is the second time Atlanta has lost an NHL franchise; the Flames moved to Calgary in 1980.

It's not clear yet what the team will be called. True North will pay $170 million to complete the transaction, which includes a $60 million relocation fee that is distributed among the other 29 franchise.

“A name has not been chosen,” said True North Chairman Mark Chipman “We know that subject is of great interest to the community, but we have not fully engaged it yet. It’s obviously one of the first orders of business that we will turn ourselves to now. We will do so very thoughtfully and should have some news on that in the very new future.” 

STUBITS: Who will move in realignment?

True North Sports president Jim Ludlow said the team aims to sell 13,000 tickets by the Board of Governors meeting in three weeks and introduced a website to take the orders. The base price for tickets range from $39 to $129 per game, comparable to ticket prices in Ottawa and Edmonton.

“I think it would be a good idea to tell the Board of Governors as quickly as possible that there is nothing to worry about here,” Bettman said. “The economics or running a franchise, particularly in this building and this market, require the support of having the predictability that season-ticket holders will give you.”

Chipman said while the 13,000-seat, season-ticket threshold hasn’t been imposed by the NHL, “it’s an objective we both think is necessary and achievable”

Thrashers co-owner Bruce Levenson said an agreement to sell and move the team isn’t ideal, but was the only path after an ownership group willing to keep the team in Atlanta could not be found.

“Our objective was always to find a solution to keep the team in Atlanta, and we spent a considerable amount of time, effort and resources trying to do so,” Levenson said in a news release. “This is not the outcome we wanted and it’s extremely disappointing that a buyer or significant investor did not come forward that would enable us to keep the team in Atlanta.”

Times are much different now -- not only for downtown Winnipeg, but the league --- than they were when the NHL left town.

“We were extraordinarily unhappy when we left in ’96,” Bettman said. “We had no choice. That’s why with the celebration here there is obviously regret what’s happening in Atlanta. To be able to come back to place we know loves NHL hockey (and) to be able to do it in a city that has changed, a collective-bargaining agreement that has leveled the playing surface, with this building and this ownership. These were factors that didn’t exist in ’96. To be able to come back and right a wrong is an extraordinary thing.”

A couple Tharshers players took to Twitter to thank Atlanta Tuesday afternoon. 

"Thanks again. I will miss the great people and city of Atlanta," wrote Thrashers left winger Evander Kane.

"Our time was short Atlanta but thanks to all the fans and their support," Thrasher right winger Blake Wheeler wrote.

-- A.J. Perez

Photo: Associated Press
Posted on: May 31, 2011 12:18 pm
Edited on: June 1, 2011 6:16 am

Winnipeg aftermath: Who will move in realignment?

The easy part of the relocation is done (well, not easy for Atlanta, but you get the point). Now it's time to figure out what happens next, specifically the relocation issue.

As of now, all indications point to the Winnipeg Jets (that's what we'll use until we know the nickname for sure) staying in the Southeast Division for one season. It's too late in the process of getting next season's schedule laid out to realign the divisions. The Jets will be doing some serious flying.

But that's all short-term. Of course the Jets aren't going to stay in the Southeast permanently. It seems natural to put Winnipeg in the same division as the other Western Canadian teams -- Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. To do that, there will be some collateral damage.

It starts with booting a team from the Northwest, the most likely candidate being Colorado. The Avalanche get booted to the Pacific Division, sending the Stars into the Central. Alternatively, Minnesota could head to the Central, but it doesn't seem to be quite the geographic fit that would result from Colorado moving. Either way, a new team is entering the Central Division and that brings up the biggest question of all: Who moves East?

More on relocation

It's no secret Detroit wants to be in the Eastern Conference. The organization and its fans -- who have a Facebook page dedicated to changing conferences -- have been very vocal about their desire to switch conferences, citing less travel, less road games in the later time zones (Detroit is one of two teams in the West sitting in the Eastern time zone), and renewing rivalries with Original Six foes Toronto, Montreal, Boston and the Rangers.

“Fingers crossed, toes crossed, saying prayers,” Red Wings senior vice president Jimmy Devellano said about a possible move.

"I've gone on record saying we'd prefer to be in the East, but I haven't heard anything and I'm just worrying about putting together our team for next season," GM Ken Holland said on Monday.

The Red Wings have long held the belief they had a promise from the NHL that they would be the next team to go East. Oh, if it were only that simple.

Yes, it makes sense to move the Wings to the East. But it also makes sense to move Columbus. Same goes for Nashville.

The problem for Detroit is it might be too valuable to move. Nobody in the Western Conference would want to see the Wings fly away -- well, maybe from a competitive standpoint -- because of the draw they are at the gate. They have as big of a fan base as you'll find in the States. Bottom line: it's guaranteed to be a big crowd on the road. The foes in the West don't exactly want to see that disappear.

Plus we have a little imbalance issue by swapping Atlanta for Detroit. You are sending a team that has made the playoffs once in its history to the West for a team that has made the postseason 20 consecutive seasons. You could make the argument that the conferences need a little balancing anyways, that the West has been the better half top to bottom for a few years, but that's a significant upheaval.

But let's have some fun here. Let's imagine a Detroit move to the East happens. You likely aren't going to send them to the Southeast, so some shuffling will be needed. Most likely scenario would be putting the Wings in the Northeast with Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Buffalo, dropping Boston into the Atlanta spot and moving either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia to the Southeast. Surely you see the downsides in that. Bruins-Habs in separate divisions? Breaking up the Keystone State rivals? Really, there's no way that makes much sense to put the Wings in the East while keeping important battles going without just dropping them in the Southeast -- which, again, makes little sense.

So it might still happen, but I'm thinking sorry Detroit, you're stuck where you are.

Geographically speaking, the simplest solution seems to be putting the Predators in the Southeast to fill Atlanta's spot. Everybody else in the East stays the same. But, despite its location being so far East, Nashville doesn't sit in the Eastern Time zone. Columbus does. And the Blue Jackets would prove a pretty comparable swap franchise-wise with the Thrashers.

In the end, while Detroit can hope and pray, Columbus and Nashville will be the odds-on favorite to swap conferences, with my thinking it will lean toward Columbus. But Detroit has a whole season to politick.

-- Brian Stubits

Posted on: May 30, 2011 12:19 pm
Edited on: May 30, 2011 5:42 pm

Reports: Thrashers move likely announced Tuesday

We might finally be at the end of the Thrashers-to-Winnipeg drama.

According to Sportsnet in Canada, the deal to relocate the franchise will likely be announced on Tuesday, a day before the Stanley Cup Final gets going. If there is no announcement on Tuesday, however, the chances of it being made public during the Finals aren't great. Gary Bettman would have zero interest in any news overshadowing the biggest series of the hockey schedule. But perhaps it could be announced on an off-day. It's not ideal, but then again the possible move will still be hanging over the NHL regardless.

Per TSN's Bob McKenzie, the lawyers representing the group from True North Sports have signed off on the deal, so they're just waiting on the Atlanta lawyers to do the same.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told the Associates Press he couldn't say if the sale could be announced as soon as Tuesday, but "It's certainly possible something will be finalized this week."

Of course, the deal would still have to be approved, but with the way NHL officials have been talking about the Atlanta relocation issue, you have to imagine it would be smooth sailing to acceptance.

All along the people in Atlanta have been hopeful they could keep the Thrashers in town, but it's looked less and less likely by the day. There just hasn't been a bidder that has come forth who was able to offer what True North can.

-- Brian Stubits

Posted on: May 26, 2011 1:10 am
Edited on: May 26, 2011 8:26 pm

Daly: Group interested in having NHL in Seattle

Looks like there's another city trying to get its hands on an NHL franchise.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told a Seattle television station there is a group from the area that has contacted the league about getting a team in town.

“We’ve had discussions with a group in Seattle,” Daly said. “Certainly [there are] people who are interested in having NHL hockey in Seattle. I would rather not get into specifics to be fair to that group, or the process.”

Right now there are two organizations seeking new ownership. One appears to be spoken for already -- Atlanta, by a group from Winnipeg -- but the Coyotes are still on the market. They won't be vacating Arizona yet as the city of Glendale agreed to cover much of the operating costs to keep the team in place for another season while the ownership search continues.

Of course, as Daly admits, the biggest hurdle of all for a team in Seattle is the lack of a suitable arena. That fact is what led to the NBA's Supersonics moving to Oklahoma City. Key Arena, long the home for the Sonics, isn't suitable for enough seats for the NHL. It had a long-time tenant in the Western Hockey League's Seattle Thunderbirds -- who have a great logo, in my humble opinion -- but there are only 10,000 or so unobstructed views. Plus, the place is old, by arena standards.

For this reason alone, relocation to the Puget Sound area isn't feasible at the moment. To do so, the fight for a new arena in Seattle or the surrounding area -- neighboring city Bellevue has been thrown out as an option -- would have to resume. It did not go very well for Sonics ownership last time, finding the state unwilling to commit much in the way of public funds. There is also a group interested in bringing the NBA back to town, so possibly the two groups, assuming they aren't the same, could join together and try to secure a new building.

The other cities that have long been mentioned in grabbing NHL teams are Hamilton, Ontario (Jim Balsillie), Quebec City, whose fans have been seen at Islanders games in old Nordiques jerseys, and Kansas City, which has a brand new arena without a main tenant.

The NHL seems like it would be a good fit in the Seattle metro area -- the 13th largest television market in the United States. There would instantly be a natural rivalry with the Canucks as Vancouver is about two hours up I-5. It is a cold-weather city that has long shown support to minor league teams not only in Seattle, but in nearby Tacoma and Everett, too. Plus it's a sports market that has shown well, with the city's support of the MLS Sounders as Exhibit A.

The city has long had ties to hockey but has never made its way into the NHL. For an explanation of the history of hockey in Seattle and why the biggest league has never made it to town, take a read here.

Little known fact: Did you know the first team from the USA to win the Stanley Cup was the Seattle Metropolitans in 1917?

-- Brian Stubits

Category: NHL
Posted on: May 19, 2011 10:42 pm
Edited on: May 20, 2011 3:25 am

No deal in place yet to sell, move Thrashers

The Thrashers aren’t headed to Winnipeg -- at least just yet.

Multiple sources told CBSSports.com Thursday night a report that a deal is in place to sell and move Atlanta’s NHL franchise to Winnipeg is at best premature. One source with knowledge of the negotiations said talks between Thrashers ownership group, Atlanta Spirit, and Winnipeg’s True North Sports and Entertainment have progressed, but not to the point where both sides had an agreement in place.

The Globe and Mail reported that an agreement had been reached by the two sides Thursday. Winnipeg --- which lost the Jets to Phoenix in 1996 --- would again be home to NHL hockey. The newspaper reported that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman “is expected to travel to Winnipeg to make the news official.”

Scott Brown, a spokesman for True North, said in an e-mail that the report "is not accurate."

The Thrashers, however, remain on the block and it doesn’t look like a viable ownership group willing to keep the team in Atlanta has emerged. Atlanta Spirit and True North have been in talks for several days and it looks like the Winnipeg group looks to be the frontrunner.

True North had sought to acquire the Phoenix Coyotes, but Glendale (Ariz.) officials opted to pay the league as much as $25 million to cover the operating costs for the 2011-12 season. The group’s attention then reportedly turned to the Thrashers.

Bettman said in a radio interview Wednesday that he was “not aware” of any imminent deal to sell the Thrashers.

"There has been so much speculation,” Bettman said during the first intermission of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on TEAM 1040-AM on Wednesday night. “How many people in your line of work were reporting the Coyotes were going to Winnipeg? Where is that coming from? It’s made up. It didn’t happen. The minute the Coyotes made it clear it clear they’re staying, we’re on to Atlanta.”

On his weekly radio show Thursday night, The Associated Press reports Bettman reiterated no deal has been made to move the Thrashers to Winnipeg, saying "I can tell you that with certainty."

-- A.J. Perez

Photo: Getty Images
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com