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Thrashers To Move In Six To Eight Weeks? Not If You Look At The NHL By-Laws

PJ Foley of the Examiner (and also of SB Nation Atlanta, of course) did some serious research into the legality surrounding an overnight move to the Great White North, and has determined that the Thrashers, at the earliest, cannot be moved until the 2012-2013 season according to by-law No. 36. If there is one article you read today regarding the move, it’s Foley’s.

Some tidbits to help you sleep better at night:

Here’s the long and short of it. In order to move a franchise (that is if you are even allowed to move a franchise in the first place under the NHL Constitution – we’ll get to that later), you have to first apply to relocate it.

The lead time to move a team is "no later than January 1 of the year prior to the year" that the owners are looking to move the team. This requirement can only be waived by a majority of the Board of Governors. Once the application is poured over, dissected, discussed, etc. it takes a vote of majority the NHL’s Board of Governors and a boatload of cash to allow the move to happen.

January 1, 2011 has come and gone. For all intents and purposes under this Bylaw, the application would be filed in time for the calendar year 2012.

Even if a relocation application is submitted by, let’s say – the dreaded U.S. Tax Day April 15, 2011 – if the league’s Governors ignore the NHL Constitution, abandon the Bettman doctrine of hockey in the South and let the Thrashers leave – the earliest the Thrashers could likely move to Winnipeg would be the 2012-13 season at earliest. (Although, the language of Bylaw 36 does seem a bit convoluted and a relocation for the 2013-14 season may also be the earliest outcome).

Article 4.2 of the [NHL] Constitution says that a team cannot move. However, Bylaw 36 gives the criteria for relocation in the event that Article 4.2 is found unconstitutional for antitrust reasons and could govern any Thrashers relocation.

Okay, obviously that last article can be worked around – see Jets, Winnipeg and Nordiques, Quebec – and Whalers, Hartford.

By looking at the conclusions drawn very logically by Foley, we are safe to assume that there will be at least one more year of Thrashers hockey in Atlanta: better news than we’ve been hearing, but still not great. This why Pierre LeBrun’s 6-8 week timetable was a bit off to me. If there’s one thing the Phoenix mess should have taught people, it’s that teams don’t go poof in the dead of the night. This isn’t the NFL here, people.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.