Somebody who I trust — because he has been telling me that the Thrashers probably are going to wind up moving to Winnipeg for almost two years now — offered something else recently.
While it’s almost certainly too late to stop the train to Manitoba, Gary Bettman’s disdain for Bruce Levenson and the Atlanta Spirit is so great that wants to make it hurt financially for the Spirit.
I know. The last thing you really want to do right now is choose sides between Bettman and Levenson. Can they run into each other head first?
But if you’re looking for one microscopic scintilla of a possibility that the Thrashers’ move gets momentarily derailed, here it is: Bettman may be playing hardball. He not only wants the $60 million relocation fee that the NHL is mandating from True North Sports and Entertainment, he may want a share of the $110 million reportedly going to the Spirit for the purchase price.
Again, the possibility of this financial tug-of-wear stopping the Thrashers’ move to Winnipeg remains a long shot. (The Globe and Mail has reported it’s a done deal, although all parties are denying it.) But it’s worth noting that all franchise purchases — and certainly relocations — must be approved by NHL’s Board of Governors.
In short, Bettman has the hammer here.
Ken Campbell of The Hockey News has posted a blog outlining the exact thing I just addressed. But he takes it one step further, writing that not only is Bettman seeking a share of the Spirit’s possible $110 million, but Levenson is countering by seeking a share of the NHL’s would-be $60 million.
From Campbell’s blog:
What still has to be determined, according to a source, is how much of that purchase price goes to the Atlanta Spirit, a group that is hardly dealing from a position of strength when it comes to selling the team. …
Apparently, [Levenson] wants a bigger piece of the purchase price and is trying to get a portion of that $60 million from the NHL. It’s believed the league, meanwhile, not only wants the $60 million relocation fee, but a portion of the $110 million purchase price. In fact, there’s a possibility that the Atlanta Spirit might end up with only $80 million to $100 million of the purchase price. It should be noted that the relocation fee for the Thrashers seems to have come out of nowhere. There was no relocation fee when the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993, when the Quebec Nordiques moved to Colorado in 1995, when the Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix in 1996 and when the Hartford Whalers relocated to Raleigh, N.C., in 1997.
And the NHL is completely in the driver’s seat on this one. … In reality, Levenson is faced with the prospect of taking what the NHL lets the Atlanta Spirit have or absorbing crushing losses for at least one more season.
Thrashers fans: Your best hope is that neither side backs down and this goes on so long that it will be too late to move the team this year. But don’t count on it.
By Jeff Schultz