Thrashers to Winnipeg Deal Imminent?

Conflicting reports on Thursday evening seem to indicate that a deal that would send the financially struggling Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg could be imminent.

The Globe and Mail is reporting that an agreement has been reached between the NHL, current owners Atlanta Spirit LLC, and a group out of Winnipeg called True North Sports and Entertainment that already owns the Manitoba Moose and the MTS Centre that would house the team. The deal would of course move the failing team North immediately.

The Globe speculated that the deal to move the Thrashers had been more or less in place for months, but the fact that the Phoenix Coyotes were also, once again, in play for a period of time delayed the potential deal. As we all know, the Coyotes extended their stay in Glendale by another year recently, after it seemed all but certain that they would be the team moving to Winnipeg. A $25 million payment to the NHL by the city made that possible.

The report by the usually reliable Stephen Brunt was soon denied by TSN, who claims that sources both in Atlanta and Winnipeg denied the report. True North itself was quoted as saying that the Globe was simply wrong.

It could be that someone is playing games here, that the NHL is simply trying to deny the deal until Gary Bettman has had a chance to announce it, as early as next Tuesday. I find it hard to believe that Stephen Brunt would report something as fact if there was even a smidgen of doubt, plus, TSN is usually in the business of playing the role of Buzz Killington in these things, and them denying something usually just means that THEIR sources aren't giving them information. So take all of this for what it's worth.

Considering the Coyotes move was a near certainty a few weeks ago, and that ended up catching everyone by surprise, who knows what could happen. But no matter how hard Bettman and his cronies seem to try and deny them, the Winnipeg matter never seems to go away. It's almost as if it's written in the stars that they will get a team, and no matter how "unfair" it would be to the "fans" in Atlanta or Phoenix or wherever, it would be even more "unfair" to continue to deny a ready and willing fanbase in Canada that will now doubt support their team better than the failures in Atlanta and Phoenix.

This needs to happen, and it needs to happen now. Enough games, enough of trying to keep afloat teams in the south just because of some vision Bettman came up with a decade ago. Winnipeg deserves a hockey team. It's time to give it to them.

More as it develops.


Chuck Gaston Jr's picture

After I go over this, Im actually not to happy with this move. Winnipeg is in hockey's history and are a great hockey town, but they have a metro population less than 1 million. No NHL city has that small of a population. The questions are going to return of wether or not they can maintain their team again. Its not like they were removed because Bettman wanted to put teams in the south, they couldn't support their team and it was time to go. I hope they can sustain themselves this time around.

George Prax's picture

Why does the population of the city matter? Even though they're less than 1 million, they still have more hockey fans than one of the biggest cities in North America in Atlanta. They'll fill that arena every night, more than even some northern teams, and they'll eat up everything from merchandise to concessions. Winnipeg CAN supprot a hockey team, and it will even lend a hand to some northern teams and TV ratings. The only reason they lost the team last time was because of this whole ridiculous idea of teams needing to be in the south and a weak Canadian dollar.

Chuck Gaston Jr's picture

The weak canadian dollar was a big reason, I cant deny that, but with the markets today it is not going to be easy for them to keep up. They are going to have to keep up the ratings and the ticket sales, but like I said I wish them the best. Im hoping that they can not only compete in the league, but really profit. They will no doubt have a better turn out than Atlanta, but was there a better city to choose in terms of market size? Im happy canada will be getting another team though. It might be biased, but the cities of Portland and Seattle are screaming for a team and they too would be great markets. Im thinking Phoenix might be able to go to one of these citiies. They have great fans and fill every game. This will be interesting to see what happens.

George Prax's picture

The dollars are equal in the US and Canada, TV ratings are at an alltime high. The CBC games alone are going to be big for Winnipeg, not to mention TSN will likely add in at least a dozen games of coverage. Local coverage shouldn't be a problem. Like I said the arena will sell out every game, and they will also attract bigger crowds to some other cities than Atlanta ever did.

Please point to me to the proof that people Portland and Seattle are "screaming" for NHL franchises. Is it like the thousands that flood the streets of Winnipeg?

Chuck Gaston Jr's picture

George, I am not saying that this is a bad idea. Winnipeg deserves a team and I really think they can do much much better than Atlanta. I was worried that after a few seasons they would be struggling again when it came to ratings and ticket sales. I understand ratings are at an all time high, they are in the US as well. The people of Seattle and Portland aren't jumping in the streets (thats a canadian thing haha), but they have been in the running for a few years now and if you look at their other sports, they sell out every game. The NHL would not be making a mistake by sending Phoenix to one of those cities.

The loonie is actually worth more than the dollar right now. I was in toronto for spring break to see the pens play the leafs and while it was a three cent difference, it was in fact worth more.

Once again, I wish them the best and Canadian cities deserve another team, but I am worried that the size of the city might cause some problems. Its nothing personal, its just an observation that their size might be a disadvantage.

George Prax's picture

I don't think you can objectively say that it wouldn't be a mistake to go to those cities. Do either of those cities have minor league hockey teams? How do they do there? What are NHL ratings like in those cities? I don't think it's fair to say that just because other sports do well in the area that hockey would as well. Other sports do fine and dandy in Atlanta and Florida and Texas and even Phoenix. I think you're making a lot of unbased assumptions.

The support of the fans in Winnipeg never really wavered in that city, even back when they lost the team. Bad economic conditions, a bad owner and a league that didn't support them worked against the Jets in Winnipeg. I think from everything we've seen happening not only in Winnipeg the last few years, but in all the other Canadian cities with teams proves that they wouldn't that the responsibility of having a team lightly. Especially considering they now know what it's like NOT to have a team. The size of the city is irrelevant, it's the number of fans and the amount of corporate sponsorship. Atlanta is, what, the 4th most populated city in the US (probably including Canada as well)? Add even more when you consider they have one of the biggest airport hubs in the world, and that the owners of the team also own every other major sports franchise in the area...

So, in my opinion, size clearly isn't an issue. There are plenty of other factors. I'm not taking it personal either, I'm from Montreal, not Winnipeg, I just don't see the logic in the concern.

Isles4fornow's picture

As a fan of hockey before anything else it is extremely frustrating to see the lack of support and air time hockey get in the US. As for Canada I can't see a new (old) franchise such as Winnipeg failing. The major metro area population may be around a million but how many of those million are interested? Probably every single one. Population isn't so much the money maker as opposed to how much support is derived from those fans and surrounding areas. I already dusted off my JETS Selanne sweater from when I was 13 (AWSOME!!).

Being from Long Island (Islanders fan) I can empathize with the fans of Atlanta. We are always playing in the shadow of horrific rumors that our team might be moved as well. Unfortunately the Thrashers have had little success out of the gate, but that is where a franchise is determined. I believe if they would have been a solid team since inception, like Nashville has been, then Winnipeg would be shopping elsewhere. Most of the newer "American" franchises, since the California expansion, that have been successful have either been an annual contenders or a cup champion relatively quickly. I do feel for the fans in Atlanta, but I can't believe there would be any doubts of success in Winnipeg.

Nice read Prax. Pleasure reading as usual.