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Could Sunday’s game against the Penguins be the Thrashers’ last one in Atlanta?

Apr 9, 2011, 11:40 PM EDT


Even after being eliminated from playoff contention, the Atlanta Thrashers were given the chance to make an indirect impact on the postseason by playing against the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers, two East bubble teams that were desperate for points. While there won’t be any immediate drama in their season-ending Sunday game against the Pittsburgh Penguins since the playoff seeding has already been determined, the game could have special meaning for Atlanta anyway.

The reason is simple: it might just be the last game the Thrashers will play in Atlanta.

About 30 years after the Atlanta Flames ditched Georgia to become the Calgary Flames for the 1980-81 season, Chris Vivlamore wonders if the Thrashers could face a similar fate.

In case you haven’t been following the NHL’s many ownership sagas, the two biggest (or at least most immediate) crises involve the situations faced by the Thrashers and the Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes’ “Will they stay or go” soap opera keeps spinning with odd twists and convoluted schemes to keep the team from relocating, with the situation looking murky at best.

Meanwhile, the Thrashers’ own fate hangs in the balance, as the Coyotes’ most likely relocation target would be its former host city in Winnipeg. Vivlamore reasonably discusses the fact that the Thrashers’ own leverage — and likelihood for relocation — will increase if the Coyotes stay put.

Either way, there are also options in cities such as Quebec, Kansas City and more.

Yet much like the situation in Phoenix, the Atlanta Spirit ownership group would prefer to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta if possible. Along with owning the Thrashers, the Atlanta Spirit also owns the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and Phillips Arena (the home for both teams). Logically enough, Vivlamore explains that many interested parties discussed the idea of acquiring all three assets.

Before and after the statements, several entities, groups and individuals expressed interest in buying all three properties from the Atlanta Spirit: the Thrashers, Hawks and Philips Arena. One potential buyer has met with officials from the NHL and NBA. Some have expressed interest in only the Thrashers. Some have inquired about buying just the Hawks and the arena. There have been non-disclosure agreements signed between the interested entities and the investment company, the Raine Group, hired by the Spirit to search for potential buyers or investors.

However, there have been no serious negotiations beyond that preliminary step to date.

“Nothing is imminent,” co-owner Bruce Levenson told the AJC on Friday. “We continue to be involved in the process of sharing information with potential buyers about their interest in Atlanta. It is an ongoing process.”

Several people familiar with the situation confirmed that the process has not moved past that stage. There is a big difference between expressing interest and having the financial ability to reach an agreement. The possibility of the sale of all three properties, the most likely scenario for the Thrashers to remain in Atlanta, has been described as “one in a million” and “one percent.”

(Cue Jim Carrey’s “So you’re saying there’s a chance?” from “Dumb & Dumber” if you would like.)

Overall, there seems to be just as much doom and gloom surrounding the Thrashers’ chances of staying in Atlanta as there is with the Coyotes in Phoenix, but it’s important to note that the timeline might be a little fuzzier. It’s quite possible that the Atlanta Spirit won’t be happy with a limited window to negotiate since the Coyotes situation clouds the picture, thus creating a potential “lame duck” season in 2011-12.

There’s also the chance — albeit limited — that the team might just stay in Atlanta.

Obviously, at this point, it’s too early to say. We’ll keep you up to date about their ownership situations progress (or stalls) as next season approaches.

  1. atwatercrushesokoye - Apr 10, 2011 at 12:10 AM

    The Flames wore a 30th anniversary patch last season, so I think it’s been more than “almost” 30 years since they moved up here!

    In a perfect world the Coyotes would move back to Winnipeg and once again be the Jets, the Thrashers would move to Quebec City and the Panthers would move to Hamilton.

    • James O'Brien - Apr 10, 2011 at 12:52 AM

      I meant to write “about 30 years” so now the sentence is corrected, along with the specific season in which the Flames first played in Calgary.

    • t9tookey - Apr 10, 2011 at 11:04 AM

      I agree with teams back in Winnipeg and Quebec but I laugh everytime Hamilton is brought up. They can’t fill that building for cheaper AHL games, why would they be able to fill it for more expensive NHL games? They averaged only a little over 4200 a game with a top ten team.

      And Hamilton also puts another NHL in an area that has Toronto & Buffalo in the general vicintiy and Detroit & Pittsburgh close enough to make a weekend trip. Seattle gives Vancouver a natural rival that’s about 2 hours away (the closest team to Vancouver is Calgary).

      • atwatercrushesokoye - Apr 10, 2011 at 2:55 PM

        Does Seattle have a building for NHL hockey? I agree that area could probably support a team but I thought the lack of a viable building was the reason the Supersonics left Seattle.

        As far as Hamilton goes, there’s no doubt in my mind that area could support another NHL team, the Golden Horseshoe area of Ontario has 8.1 million people, to think that 2 teams, and really 3 with Buffalo included couldn’t survive in that area is ridiculous!

        The AHL arguement is a nonstarter. AHL teams in Canada have traditionally done very poorly. When Balsillie put NHL season tickets on sale in Hamilton a couple of years ago they had deposits for 12,000 season tickets and 80 luxury boxes (which is a number they capped at) within 5 days! It’s not about the market not wanting to spend money on hockey (one just needs to look at the success of several CHL teams in the area to see that) it’s that we don’t want to spend higher dollar amounts on professional hockey that’s not the NHL!

        The best part about moving to the 3 Canadian cities is that they are all hockey mad markets with very rich owners waiting….assuming both Bettman and Balsillie can put their egos aside and work things out.

        I do also think some relocation with in the US is also needed for the NHL to get much stronger, the Hartford market is obviously one that has lots of money, a rich history in hockey, they just need a new building….perhaps a new owner could partner with UConn to build a new multi-purpose arena.

        The New York Islanders also need to relocate, I’d like to see them get a new owner (obviously) and move to Brooklyn to play in the new Barclays Center that the Nets are building. Along with this go old school and rename the team the Brooklyn Americans.

  2. emperor83 - Apr 10, 2011 at 8:25 AM

    Are you trying to destroy hockey THAT much?

  3. scott24105 - Apr 10, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    Destroy hockey??? That scumbag Bettman started destroying hockey the day he was hired. Let teams in great hockey cities like Winnipeg and Quebec leave for wastelands like Florida, Tampa, Atlanta, Carolina, Phoenix and Nashville. He has watered down the talent, over expanded and taken the rivalries out of the game. His rule changes, ie the instigator rule, has allowed the game to be run by cheap shot cowards and injuries are way up because of it. Bettman is the biggest cancer this league has.

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