Published today by ESPN.com, according to Pierre LeBrun’s sources, if owners aren’t found for the Thrashers in 6-8 weeks, they could be gone. Timetable wise, that means end of the season. From the article:
The ownership situation is getting urgent in Atlanta. We were told this weekend that the league is trying mighty hard to find a new owner who’s willing to keep the team in Atlanta. The league’s sole focus right now is to keep the team in Atlanta and given its ability to find new owners in Tampa, Buffalo and Phoenix, it’s not unrealistic to think the league won’t be able to pull it off again. However, should a new owner not be found in the next six to eight weeks, we’re told the Thrashers could indeed be up for relocation and Winnipeg would very likely be the new home.
That’s extremely vague. Winnipeg’s already been thrown out there by the NHL as a possible re-location for a moving team, so that part of that’s a given. However, the NHL was quick to help Phoenix find new owners; they bought the team. Why would they let Atlanta, a large market with a good number of transplants, lose a team without a struggle at the end of the season?
Also, the assumption that the Thrashers are gone in eight weeks leads one to assume that there is a buyer set up, ready to go, or at least one in mind. If there were one, would something not have leaked by now? As talkative as the Atlanta Spirit can be, one would think that they would have slipped up, only to backpedal later.
What Gary Bettman wants, he tends to get. He wanted expansion of hockey in southeastern markets, and the ownership situation aside, the Thrashers have been VERY successful in expanding hockey in the south via youth programs, college hockey, and high school teams. Chances are good this turns into Phoenix part II.
The whole situation seems odd. Gearon and the ownership group raised a red flag with his interview on Tuesday night to Chris Vivlamore of the AJC. After that, he backpedaled and said that it wasn’t meant to cause alarm. Then LeBrun comes up with something like this. Vague as it might be, and it is vague, it completely contradicts Gearon’s interview with 680 the Fan on Wednesday.
The fact that relocation is a possibility is scary enough. The fact that the story keeps changing depending on the day and the source is a bit more disconcerting. I’m not saying LeBrun is incorrect, because there’s no way of knowing. What I am saying is, though, that the whole thing seems vague, and that fans should reserve judgement.