Door isn’t closed but Thrashers’ picture still gloomy

This photo of Michael Gearon (left) and Bruce Levenson would suggest Thrashers' owners have been behind the team 100 percent. Pictures can be deceiving. (AJC photo)

This photo would suggest Michael Gearon (left) and Bruce Levenson have been passionate and dedicated owners of the Thrashers. Pictures can be deceiving. (AJC photo)

So now we can officially move one aspect of the Thrashers’ potential franchise relocation from the logical rumor to the fact category.

The AJC has confirmed that Thrashers’ ownership is in negotiations to sell the team to True North Sports and Entertainment, which would move the franchise to Winnipeg. While the negotiations have long been assumed, this is the first time somebody familiar with the NHL process has confirmed talks actually are taking place.

Does this mean the Thrashers’ move to Winnipeg is a done deal? No. Fact is, the Phoenix Coyotes’ move to Winnipeg seemed certain until the city of Glendale, Ariz., stunningly agreed to pay $25 million to the NHL — effectively funding the team — for at least one more season. But the odds still heavily favor the NHL losing its NHL franchise for the second time.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said via email to our Chris Vivlamore, “Nothing I’m prepared to say at this point.” But this is the same Daly who last week said, “I can’t guarantee” that the Thrashers will play next season in Atlanta.

Since I wrote last week that the NHL appeared to be abandoning Atlanta, unlike its very public and passionate stance to save Phoenix, league commissioner Gary Bettman has been catching some heat. USA Today, among others, weighed in with a similar perspective.

One other factor in the Thrashers’ favor is Bettman’s clear dislike for part-owner Bruce Levenson and the rest of the Atlanta Spirit group. He would prefer not to simply allow a sell and franchise move, whereby the Spirit profits. Bettman and the league understand that the Atlanta market has failed is largely because  because of the way the franchise has been run.

But in the end, there likely are only a few scenarios in which the Thrashers will stay in Atlanta:

♦ 1.) A financial angel falls out of the sky. But thus far, no prospective owner has come forward with both a stated desire to buy the team and proof of his financial worth.

♦ 2.) Something falls apart on the Winnipeg end (with True North), or from the league’s perspective (other owners may be uncomfortable with the fact new local ownership for the Coyotes still isn’t assured).

♦ 3.) Bettman effectively stalls and gives the Atlanta franchise a one-year stay of execution, telling Levenson and the Spirit that the franchise can’t be moved for next season. It’s not believed the Atlanta Spirit could just walk away from the hockey team and throw the keys to the league. So it’s not certain what would happen if Bettman disallowed a move right now and the Spirit resisted.

There is no official time table on this. But given logistics and the fact next season’s schedule generally is released during or just following the Stanley Cup finals, there needs to be resolution soon.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

175 comments Add your comment

ChippersLoveChild

May 16th, 2011
1:34 pm

Sad, sad day.

Video: Call Out The NHL Owners

May 16th, 2011
1:38 pm

Please forward this video – share it on facebook – embed in sites.
You can help:

Video: Atlanta Thrashers Sale and Relocation Misconceptions: There are numerous misconceptions about the situation surrounding the Atlanta Thrashers possible relocation to Winnipeg. This video covers misconceptions about attendance, how long the team has been for sale, and the NHL’s efforts to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta. If you think you know the situation in Atlanta, you may be surprised what you find.

http://www.keepthethrashers.com/videokeepthrashersreally.html

What else is new?

May 16th, 2011
1:39 pm

Sports fans in Atlanta get screwed over once again by bad ownership.

Good Job Boycotters

May 16th, 2011
1:41 pm

The ASG stinks – agreed, but the boycotters just boycotted our team out of town.

Great job from all that said the Thrashers were not in trouble. They are gone.

We will never get a team back.

Matt from MN

May 16th, 2011
1:41 pm

I am furious and resigned to the inevitable screwing over of the NHL fans in this town, yet again. What a joke. We’ve had this franchise since 1999, missed an entire season due to lockout and have been cursed with the WORST ownership group in the history of sports. Those who say the fans have not supported this team are deluded. We were patient during the building years and our payoff has been to see this franchise treated as an “after thought” and run with a payroll BARELY at the league minimum.

I’m never setting foot in Philips again, so long as ASG owns that place.

Bryan G.

May 16th, 2011
1:42 pm

We have a hockey team?

[...] Journal Constitution:  Door isn’t closed but Thrashers picture gloomy.  I don’t see anything falling apart from True North’s position but I could see the [...]

tonyb

May 16th, 2011
1:46 pm

Jeff, we all seen this coming. It started several years ago. You heard the rumors. You reported this several months ago. This has been planned for some time. What a sad way for the NHL to leave the city. What a sad day for Thrasher fans…a very unappreciated yet dedicated fanbase.

We deserve better.

Matt from MN

May 16th, 2011
1:47 pm

Happy now “S-Bag” and all the other trolls who called for boycotts?

Hey Marcel

May 16th, 2011
1:48 pm

What else is new?

May 16th, 2011
1:39 pm
***********************************
I concur………………

ChippersLoveChild

May 16th, 2011
1:34 pm
Sad, sad day.

I concur…………….

rm

May 16th, 2011
1:53 pm

nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey good bye… Sad, but saw this coming for a long time.

PopeyeTheSailorMang

May 16th, 2011
1:58 pm

The fix has been in on this for awhile.

Mr. Phil

May 16th, 2011
2:00 pm

Look I love and support everything Atlantan. Unfortunately, hockey is not and never will be an Atlanta thing. So I not only don’t care the Thrasher’s are or might leave, I welcome the idea as someone who did not want them here to begin with. Same goes for the last fifty attempts to shove hockey down our collective throats. No thanks, good riddance.

Coach Cool

May 16th, 2011
2:01 pm

Don’t want to hear any “Now we get the Knights” or other such LOSER drivel.

ATL loses the Flames.

ATL loses the spring race @ AMS.

ATL loses the Thrashers.

The “fanbase” of ATL sports should be ashamed and REAL FANS should NOT accept getting minor league sports.

If you want minor league, move to Richmond. Or Charlotte.

Thanks for your support.

Mike Phelan

May 16th, 2011
2:01 pm

They don’t have to “walk away and hand the keys to the league”, they could declare bankruptcy, as did the Coyotes owner in 1998. This would cause massive problems for the NHL including loss of prestige, lowering franchise values and the possibility of Balsilie scooping them and taking them to Hamilton on the Leafs turf. Team is gone. Sayonara.

Atlanta Spirit is the anti-christ

May 16th, 2011
2:03 pm

Good point Jeff! I had thought that maybe we could be saved from the Mayflower truck by the BOG who are uncomfortable owning Phoenix. And would prefer to rid themselves of the Yotes before allowing AS to sell to Winnipeg. While the relocation fee would help what do they do with Phoenix next year when there is no buyer and the tax payers so no more. QC?

Rich T

May 16th, 2011
2:04 pm

I’d like to say it was nice while it last, but that wouldn;t be true since ASG mostly made it a chore to be a fan.

The fact they couldn’t find anyone local to make it happen says a lot about how devalued this franchise was, thanks to ASG’s mismanagement. Had they at least put enough effort behind this team to make it attractive to fans to continue to support it, investors may have come a bit easier to find.

I think it’s safe to say the hockey fans of this city will have to relocate to ever have a home team again.

Mr_Poopypants

May 16th, 2011
2:05 pm

My letter to Gary Bettman:
Hopefully this subject line isn’t already in the “mark for deletion” bin, but I am writing again to plead on behalf of Atlanta NHL fans facing the loss of yet another NHL franchise. I appreciate your statement last week confirming my suspicions that folks are just making stuff up. Supposedly Winnipeg is driving hard to grab my team and shuttle them up north. I have several points:

1. Atlanta has not had quality ownership for 8 years.
2. Other NHL cities have had the benefit of the NHL fighting hard to keep them in their cities.
3. Atlanta deserves just as much effort.
4. The NHL has invested a large amount of money keeping the Coyotes in Phoenix. Please don’t try to recoup those expenditures to the detriment of Atlanta fans.
5. No threats of boycotts. Just a heartfelt plea to keep my Thrashers in Atlanta.
6. If you build it, we will bring our friends back. We have never left.

Erick Malmstrom

DG

May 16th, 2011
2:08 pm

Atlanta fans get screwed?

Sorry guys but this team sees no more then 6k a night. The stands are constantly empty which is why this team loses money. Good or bad ownership, if the fans are not there, then the team fails.

Ask Glendale, the only reason Gary worked this hard on them is because he was FORCED to buy them through bankruptcy .. and then the city is paying 50 million. Its moronic because they will eventually move anyway.

Theres a reason no one wants to put their own money into teams like the Thrashers and Coyotes … because the support simply isn’t there.

This Has Been In Works for Some Time

May 16th, 2011
2:08 pm

Read this (link below) – the ASG has most likely known Winnipeg was their way out for some time.

http://www.keepthethrashers.com/winnipeg.html

Stu

May 16th, 2011
2:09 pm

If Atlanta actually does move, what kind of a mess has the NHL left themselves in Phoenix? The league is stuck owning the team until they can find someone to offload it to (which may or may not happen) and have lost their only definite out. Glendale isn’t going to support them another season if they can’t get an ownership deal done and they don’t have great options in other areas aside from Quebec City but they won’t be ready for a team until the arena is finished. Assuming Atlanta actually moved to Winnipeg, would the NHL continue to operate the Coyotes after next season or fold the team if they can’t find an owner? I would have thought they would want to offload the team they own before letting any others move. Then at least they aren’t assuming the financial risk of a team losing $30-40M/year. I’d be surprised if they actually let Atlanta move before the Phoenix situation is more clear. Unless they’ll let the Coyotes go to Balsille after all.

G52PIM228

May 16th, 2011
2:10 pm

The entire concept of the NHL agreeing to put a team back in tiny loserpeg is NOTHING but comedy..

Brett

May 16th, 2011
2:10 pm

ASG = Sorry B@#T@RDS! You’ll never get any of my money again! I guess the pompous and entitled Canadians will get their team! Winnipeg should send the ASG a nice thank you for the gift they’re about to receive!

DG

May 16th, 2011
2:13 pm

guys … its simple math .. the team was not supported .. at all. This is why they lost so much money … has nothing to do with Canadian/American …. San Jose, Tampa, Nashville, Carolina, they ALL support their teams.

Atlanta, Glendale, Florida (Sunrise) do not. Thats why they bleed money. This is why no one wants to pay with their own money to own these teams.

Why is this so hard to understand?

Matt from MN

May 16th, 2011
2:18 pm

@DG-way to get your “facts” completely wrong! Try looking at the attendance for the Thrash from 1999 to the time they made the playoffs in 2006-2007. Since then attendance has, admittedly, decreased but I submit that’s due to incompetent ownership and management. We supported the team through the “building years” and have gotten indifferent ownership trying to pass of a team made “on the cheap” to the fans.

jtfalcfan

May 16th, 2011
2:19 pm

For those blaming consumers for “boycotting” a bad product…. what the hell is wrong with you people?

An entire city populus is supposed to fork over hard-earned money in this economy for a bad product ownership itself has admitted to not caring about?

Whack jobs you are. Go find your priorities. I’ll pay for a product that produces and cares about it’s consumers – quite frankly there are much more issues to worry about than this nonsense.

For those actual Thrasher fans who AREN’T delusional…. this stinks royally. There was no doub’t in my mind when ASG bought them that the team was in trouble. It was obvious from day one that they could care less about hockey and quite frankly bot the NBA and NHL should be ashamed of letting this ownership mess sully their reputations and integrity.

Turd Ferguson

May 16th, 2011
2:24 pm

DG…. Who wants to waste their hard earned money on a team with idiots running it? Thats the simple math. Figure that out.

DG

May 16th, 2011
2:25 pm

Matt … if the building was full then they were drastically discounted tickets … this team has lost money repeatedly … and thats with a low payroll … so how are they losing money if the fans are showing up in droves and paying NHL prices???

It’s simply impossible.

Matt from MN

May 16th, 2011
2:25 pm

1999 avg attendance 17,206
2000 avg attendance 15,263
2001 avg attendance 13,368
2002 avg attendance 13,476
2003 avg attendance 15,121
2004 lockout
2005 avg attendance 15,550
2006 avg attendance 16,229

Bobby G

May 16th, 2011
2:26 pm

Matt from MN…that was my point exactly…I love the locals who say it can’t work in Atlanta…well it did…ASG is nothing but a joke and if this actually goes down I will be pissed when Kane, Burmestrov and Buff hold the cup high in the next 3 years…mark my words

DG

May 16th, 2011
2:28 pm

again, if its not NHL prices … there is no point. The Yotes had 16k plus .. at 9-29 dollars a ticket .. think you could make money like that?

Thats the point .. there are markets that will PAY the NHL price points … and then there is places that won’t. Unfortunately Atlanta is on that list of wont’s.

How else do you explain the money lost? Their operating costs are that much higher then the rest of the league?

Thrashersfan

May 16th, 2011
2:29 pm

Matt from MN

May 16th, 2011
2:31 pm

2007 avg 15,824
2008 avg 14,626
2009 avg 13,607
2010 avg 13,469

Loss of Hossa after 2007-2008 season

Loss of Kovy after 2009-2010 season

Jeff Schultz

May 16th, 2011
2:34 pm

Tonyb — Thanks. Some things I would prefer to have not seen coming.

mark louis

May 16th, 2011
2:35 pm

The worst part of all this is that the morons of Atlanta Spirit will still own the Hawks & likely use the money from the Thrashers sale to keep them. So they’ll be killing 2 sports in the city.

Matt from MN

May 16th, 2011
2:35 pm

How many “stars” has ownership, be it Turner/Time Warner and then ASG, just let leave or been “unable to sign”? Savard, Heatley, Hossa, Kovy, etc. Where has the commitment to hockey by ownership been? If owners are not committed, why should fans support a sub-par product. We did that for the first 5 seasons and got a “taste of success” which has not been followed up on and we are expected to accept a payroll at the league minimum?

Jeff Schultz

May 16th, 2011
2:36 pm

To All — Don’t blame any of this on boycotting fans. Fans have a right to demand a good product before they pay their money. This is not the fault of fans, regardless of whether they show up or not. This is the fault of ownership and management for years of an inferior product.

G52PIM228

May 16th, 2011
2:37 pm

Those 13,000 numbers in attendance remind me of the old Winnipeg jokes..

8500 for a playoff game now THAT is DISTINCTLY loserpeg..

CoffeehousePorcupine

May 16th, 2011
2:37 pm

if you Keep the thrashers afloat Somebody will lose money in 2011-2012, But Winnepeg Nor any other city wont set the world on fire either. What needs to happed is the team needs to go on Hiatis for a while, in other words, they still exist, but they have no players, no coach, no ticketholders, no area, no jerseys, No Anything ! and the NHL Moves forward in 2011-12 with 29 active teams and 1 inactice team you 2011-12 record 0-0-0 for 0 pts

Jerry Seinfeld

May 16th, 2011
2:40 pm

No offense guys but the only time the fans showed up to watch this team was to boo Kovalchuk when the Devils came to town.

NHL2DAPEG

May 16th, 2011
2:42 pm

My guess is when the 19th richest man in the world wants to join your club you’re likely going to try and make it happen! Sorry Atlanta I think you deserve a team more than those quackers in Arizona. They will regret what they have done soon enough. Beware G52!
Why not call up Hulsizer and see if he wants to move to Atlanta!

EA

May 16th, 2011
2:43 pm

Jeff, keep us informed. You have kept your articles to solid reporting, not speculation.

save them

May 16th, 2011
2:44 pm

i like how non fans say the team wasn’t supported. what do you know? you weren’t a fan, these worthless owners and bad management all the way up into last year made it impossible to shell out money for this team. we’ve had nothing to cheer for but a team ran into the ground, a team with mostly bottom feeder players and a putrid GM who finally got a promotion of all things allowing Rick Dudley a pr oven winner to come in and try and work a miracle in one season as the GM. we got screwed, if any of you frauds watched this team from day 1 like i have, you’d know all of this. we’ve had terrible ownership in legal battles and Don Waddell. they killed hockey in atlanta, not the real fans or even you douches posing as fair weather braves / falcons fans talking about a sport you don’t watch or understand.

G52PIM228

May 16th, 2011
2:46 pm

“My guess is when the 19th richest man in the world wants to join your club you’re likely going to try and make it happen!”

You are an idiot, that is why they gave Baldsilli such a warm reception… The NHL is concerned about long term league growth and not consoling scored fans of the team formerly known as the Jets..

NHL2DAPEG

May 16th, 2011
2:46 pm

And that keep the thrashers vido SNL Really!?! thing is ripe with contradictions, twisted opinions and speculation.

AtlFlamesFan

May 16th, 2011
2:48 pm

Jeff, you are correct. Those who boycotted are not to blame. Your K&S lawsuit story ( http://blogs.ajc.com/jeff-schultz-blog/2011/01/21/atlanta-spirit-lied-to-us-about-thrashers-go-figure/?cp=7 ) proved what was suspected from the beginning; that ASG never intended on keeping the team. They only wanted the Thrashers for their assets. Any extra ticket revenue would not have made a differnce and instead, increase their stake in the Hawks.

[...] Schultz expanded on the subject in a column for the AJC, pointing out that the outlook is grim but the move isn’t set in stone, either. Schultz [...]

NHL2DAPEG

May 16th, 2011
2:48 pm

Balls willie is not even on the radar! I’m not sure the NHL can afford to wait for the so called long term growth that they hope materializes in non traditional hockey markets. Found an owner yet G?
Yotes are moving to QC it’s inevitable. Master plan of Gary!

AtlFlamesFan

May 16th, 2011
2:51 pm

One more item. I expect that ASG turns around and sells the Hawks and Philips op-rights. Of course, they could have sold all 3 together, but by splitting them up and relocating the Thrashers, they make a huge windfall profit.

Winnipeg = Poverty

May 16th, 2011
2:59 pm

Atlanta Spirit really needs to look within the U.S. to find an ownership that will pay them a handsome return and that will in turn keep out the very silly idea of Winnipeg in the NHL and thus keep all the U.S. NHL owners happy. Winnipeg: Too small to be called a city but too big to be called a village.