It is unclear this morning if the Thrashers have been granted permission by the NHL to begin negotiations with True North Sports and Entertainment, the entity that would purchase the franchise and move it to Winnipeg, or if those talks have already begun.
However, it does appear the situation is headed in that direction. All attempts to find a buyer with the intention – and wherewithal – to keep the franchise in Atlanta have not moved past the preliminary stage. After signing a non-disclosure agreement for an initial look at team financial records, a prospective buyer must provide proof of the financial assets to complete a sale. No interested party has done so to this point. Time is running out.
As I was told and reported this week, things could move quickly in regard to a sale and relocation. Although, contrary to reports, it won’t get done by this weekend.
There is also no timetable on the possible completion of a deal with True North. It is also not known if such an agreement could be reached in time for next season. The structure for a deal could be in place as True North had first hoped to acquire the Phoenix Coyotes, owned by the NHL, until a resolution was reached to kept the team in Arizona for another season earlier this week. The Glendale City Council voted to pay $25 million to the NHL for operating expenses to keep the team at least for next season.
NHL bylaws require that an owner seeking to relocate a team submit a written application to the commissioner by Jan. 1 of the year preceding the proposed move — “unless a majority of the [clubs] consents to a later filing date.” That clause and caveat leave open the question of whether a move, if a deal is reached, would be for the 2011-12 or 2012-13 season.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking on NHL Live radio Thursday, said the situation in Phoenix differs from Atlanta.
“With respect to any other franchise, it comes down to ownership,” Bettman said. “It’s the reason we ended up leaving Quebec City and Winnipeg. Those teams moved when nobody wanted to own the club there anymore. If you get to that position, where somebody is not prepared to own the club anymore and you can’t find a new perspective purchaser, then you are really between a rock and a hard place.
“We know that the current ownership of the Thrashers has been trying for a long period of time to try and sell the franchise and they haven’t been able to do it. … If they can’t find local ownership, then we might all have to deal with that. But I know they have tried very hard and I assume that they continue to try very hard.”
Bettman echoed deputy commissioner Bill Daly’s statements to the AJC’s Jeff Schultz earlier in the day and would not guarantee that the Thrashers would be in Atlanta next season. Bettman said questions about the team’s future were not his to answer and referred them to team ownership.