Winnipeg hockey fans took to Portage and Main for celebrations Thursday night after the Globe and Mail's Stephen Brunt reported the Atlanta Thrashers had been sold and would relocate to Manitoba. The report immediately took off throughout North America, though it was was quickly and widely shot down by virtually all of hockey media -- and by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy Bill Daly.
However, few doubt that a sale is in the works, as True North and the Atlanta Spirit Group continue negotiations.
TSN's Darren Dreger said, "There are still significant issues being negotiated," which is about the strongest rebuttal anybody offered as to the eventual likelihood of the move itself. Considering the Globe and Mail is owned via one confounding investment channel or another by David Thomson, an owner of True North, it's quite a stretch of the imagination to believe a deal won't be announced soon -- would you let one of your newspapers screw up a report like this?
But, again, it's not yet official. Brunt himself, while on Sports Radio 1290 Thursday night, acknowledged there may still be "i's to dot and t's to cross," an assessment that emphasizes his certainty in the deal getting done.
Brunt reported the deal is to be announced Tuesday by Bettman in Winnipeg; CBC Sports reports that Tuesday mark may be the deadline by which a deal must be struck in order for the team's relocation to be accepted, as the 2011-12 NHL schedule needs to be finalized soon.
Bettman had denied the imminence of a sale on his weekly NHL Live show late Thursday, just a couple of hours before the Brunt report exploded on Twitter. He also commented on the scheduled Thrashers fans Saturday tailgate in support of the team:
I understand that there may be dissatisfaction there, but demonstrating your dissatisfaction by not going to games is an interesting strategy. It's your absolute right. But if it becomes a turnoff for anybody who might want to buy the franchise, the long-term consequences could be severe.
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