Chris Mason feels for Thrashers fans. The goaltender – and the rest his teammates – are in the same place.
While the Atlanta Spirit and True North Sports and Entertainment continued negotiations Tuesday on a deal that would sell and relocate the Thrashers to Winnipeg, Manitoba, fans and players wait for official word about the team’s future.
“Everybody is feeling different things,” Mason told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday. “Everybody is in limbo. I keep getting phone calls [about various news reports]. It’s unnerving. You don’t know what’s going on and you can only wait and see how it all plays out. … You’ve got guys sitting here not know what is going on.
“The people getting shafted are the fans. No matter how much they want to keep the team, they don’t have a say in it.”
Mason said despite lagging attendance, he felt support from Thrashers fans.
“I definitely felt the support,” Mason said. “At games and especially when we were out talking to fans at events. You know there are die-hard hockey fans in Atlanta. It’s hard to maintain the interest when you don’t have success, especially from the casual fan. … One trip to the playoffs is not enough. If you win more people will come. In my opinion, that has a lot to do with the numbers.”
Mason, a Red Deer, Alberta native, said he would like to experience playing in a Canadian market, but not at the expense of Atlanta.
Mason said he did not feel Thrashers ownership was 100 percent behind the franchise. He cites how the team responded at the trade deadline as it made a push for the playoffs.
“I don’t think we were given a legitimate chance,” Mason said. “We made a couple of good moves for [Radek Dvorak] and [Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart] at the deadline. But it wasn’t enough. We were such a young team. It’s hard to make the playoffs. We believed we could win but sometimes you need someone who can score an extra goal or two or help on the power play. Our management was hampered by budget. It’s still hard to make the playoffs even if you have the money to spend. When you don’t have it, it’s even harder. You see it every year. Good teams don’t make the playoffs. A couple of more pieces and we could have been in.”
Talks between The Atlanta Spirit and True North continued Tuesday but no deal was reached. Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz told the National Post he expects news soon. “We certainly do believe it’s going to happen very shortly within the next couple of days,” Katz said. “We certainly do believe that.”
The two sides opened negotiations this month after Glendale, Ariz., made a commitment to cover up to $25 million in next season’s losses of the Coyotes, who otherwise likely would have moved to Winnipeg. The Atlanta Spirit has been looking for a buyer or investors for the Thrashers for several years. Co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. said in February that there was a sense of urgency to find a solution for the struggling franchise and that relocation was a possibility.
Meanwhile, Thrashers officials continued business as usual Tuesday with scouting meetings held.
Reed: ‘We will get through it’
Mayor Kasim Reed said Tuesday while it will hurt to lose the Thrashers, the city of Atlanta will move on.
Speaking to reporters, Reed said: “I think any time we lose a major sports franchise it is tough. It’s going to hurt the city, but we are going to withstand it just fine. We will get through it. We have a lot of positive things going on in the sports franchise space that I think we will be announcing pretty soon that will offset it a bit.”
Reed said he has tried to help the team find new ownership willing to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta. He has previously stated there would be no public money used in such an effort.
“The Thrashers, as you know, are in an extraordinary position because of the amount of losses that are associated with the team,” Reed said. “So we have not yet seen a path where we can reverse those losses fast enough. If you talk to the Atlanta Spirit ownership, they will share the same thing. It’s not a lack of the city being willing to step up and do something about it. It is a partner with deep enough pockets to be willing to sustain pretty significant losses. We have not yet had any of the individuals in our community who are prepared to take that on. But it has not been for lack of trying, believe you me.”
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