Conflicting Reports Say The Atlanta Thrashers May (Or May Not) Be Moving To Canada

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The Toronto Globe and Mail reported last night that a group from Winnipeg has reached an agreement to buy the Atlanta Thrashers and move them to Canada.The Thrashers, True North Sports and Entertainment (the potential buyers), and pretty much every hockey journalist who doesn’t work for the Globe and Mail, all denied that a deal had been reached.

The paper also reported that the NHL secretly pre-approved the sale and relocation last month, pending the details between True North and the current owners, Atlanta Spirit LLC. The NHL denied that story.

So what’s going on? Well, the Thrashers are definitely for sale (as are Atlanta Spirit’s other team, the Hawks) and negotiations have been taking place. All the denials indicate that the deal is not finalised, but it’s only a matter of time before they are sold.

Ken Campbell of The Hockey News says the current owner and the NHL are fighting over the reported $170 million purchase price, which includes a $60M relocation fee, so it does look increasingly like Winnipeg is going to get a team again. It’s a question of if, not when.

The other question is: Why Atlanta? The Phoenix Coyotes (who used to be the Winnipeg Jets) are in just as bad of shape attendance-wise and even worse financially, yet the league has bent over backwards trying to keep them in Arizona.

They already blocked a sale to RIM executive Jim Basillie, who wanted to take them to Ontario, and funneled millions to the City of Glendale to try to convince them to keep the franchise in Arizona. They managed to scare up a buyer in Matthew Hulsizer, but have apparently have no such luck with a local owner in Atlanta.

There will be a “save the team” fan rally in Atlanta on Saturday, but it’s anybody’s guess as to how many fans will care enough to show up. If they leave, it would be the second time an Atlanta hockey team has become a Canadian hockey team. The Calgary Flames nickname made more sense when they were based in “Hotlanta.”

Still, the reports of the Thrasher’s demise are not true … yet.