Negotiations between the Atlanta Spirit and True North Sports and Entertainment continued over the weekend as a deal to purchase and relocate the Thrashers to Winnipeg moved closer.
As of Monday, lawyers for Atlanta Spirit, True North and the NHL were still exchanging drafts and deal terms but a deal was not finalized. Monday was Queen Victoria Day in Canada, a bank holiday, which prevented the completion of some details.
The deal could be finalized later this week. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the AJC Monday, via e-mail, that “it’s safe to say there will be no announcement on Tuesday.”
Also, the last remaining hope of a buyer willing to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta appeared to have ended. The final prospective buyer, in negotiations with the Atlanta Spirit, with such an intention is no longer interested in pursuing a sale. According to a person familiar with the negotiations, the potential buyer is “probably, but not completely” out of the picture.
True North is led by Winnipeg businessman Mark Chipman and billionaire David Thomson and owns Winnipeg’s arena, the MTS Centre, and the American Hockey League team that currently plays there, the Manitoba Moose. The group turned its attention to the Thrashers after a deal, with public money, was reached to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Arizona several weeks ago.
Key issues between the Atlanta Spirit and True North, such as price, are believed to be settled. The price is believed to be $170 million, with $110 million going to the seller and $60 million to the league as a relocation fee.
Many issues beyond price are part of such deals, such as financing and the commitments the buyer must make to the league going forward.
Even a signing of a definitive agreement would not be the final step in the process: The deal would have to be approved by the NHL Board of Governors before it could close.
Atlanta Spirit and True North opened negotiations in mid-May, shortly after the city of Glendale, Ariz., committed to cover up to $25 million in next season’s losses of the Coyotes, who otherwise would have likely moved to Winnipeg.
The Coyotes’ surprising one-year reprieve in Arizona made Winnipeg a relocation option for the Thrashers, whose owners had made it clear the franchise was in dire difficulty. The Thrashers’ owners had said they were unwilling to keep funding the team’s operating losses, pegged at around $20 million per year in court documents, and had been unable to find a qualified buyer to assume the losses in Atlanta.
The Atlanta Spirit has been looking for a buyer or investors for the Thrashers for several years, although the group has only had clear ownership since December after officially buying out partner Steve Belkin. Co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. told the AJC in February that there was a ‘sense of urgency’ to find a solution for the financially struggling franchise and that relocation was a possibility.
The NHL Board of Governors, which consists of one representative from each team, would have to vote to ratify a sale and relocation. A 75-percent vote is required to approve a new owner, and a majority vote is required to approve a relocation.
Atlanta would lose its NHL franchise for a second time. The city lost the Flames to Calgary in 1980.