Fire up the Canadian hockey hype machine: Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Monday that negotiations are underway between Atlanta Spirit and True North Sports and Entertainment to purchase and relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers.
Vivlamore on the negotiations and a statement from Atlanta Spirit co-owner Bruce Levinson:
A deal has not been completed and it is also not known how long the two sides have been negotiating. However, the fact that talks are on-going could mean the Thrashers would relocate to Manitoba perhaps as soon as next season.
“I have never confirmed nor denied specific parties we have been talking to in regards to a possible sale of the Thrashers,” Atlanta Spirit co-owner Bruce Levenson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday.
Other than a rallying effort from former Atlanta Braves and New York Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, Atlanta Spirit has failed to capture enough interest from a local investor to build anything upon. Forbes reported that the Thrashers could be sold for something in the relatively low range of $110 million, although more recent reports have pegged that price tag to be as much as $170 million.
As Vivlamore noted in the AJC, court documents state that Atlanta Spirit have lost $130 million during the last six years as owners of the Thrashers.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged on his XM Radio last week that relocation was a realistic option if the Thrashers could not attract a local owner:
“It’s the reason we ended up leaving Quebec City and Winnipeg,” Bettman said. “Those teams moved when nobody wanted to own the club there anymore. If you get to that position, where somebody is not prepared to own the club anymore and you can’t find a new perspective purchaser, then you are really between a rock and a hard place.
“We know that the current ownership of the Thrashers has been trying for a long period of time to try and sell the franchise and they haven’t been able to do it. … If they can’t find local ownership, then we might all have to deal with that. But I know they have tried very hard and I assume that they continue to try very hard.”
Nothing is finalized yet, but the window to complete a deal to purchase and relocate the Thrashers is shrinking rapidly. That the two sides are negotiating does not bode well for the fate of the Thrashers in Georgia, but the puck buzzards in Winnipeg ought to be licking their chops over these recent developments.