An announcement six years in the making: the Atlanta Thrashers are leaving. Winnipeg, Manitoba's True North Sports and Entertainment group has announced at a MTS Centre press conference that it's purchased the NHL team from the Atlanta Spirit Group after a negotiating process that was reportedly approved by the NHL months ago.
This will make the Thrashers the second major league hockey team to be relocated from Atlanta after the city's loss of the Flames in 1980. Once the NHL's Board of Governors votes to approve the move on June 21, of course -- unless local ownership pops up out of nowhere between now and then.
The sale price for the team had been assumed to be $170 million, counting a $60 million relocation fee that would go to the league and is not traditionally charged by the NHL in team relocations. We'll find out more about the official financials soon, but one of the delays in completing the sale was Gary Bettman's reported desire to take an even bigger share of the final sale price than that $60 million slice, though the ASG reportedly ended up moving that needle in the other direction.
The team will likely remain in the Southeast Division for a season and play in True North's MTS Centre, a 15,015-seat rink on Portage Avenue that is expected to receive renovation money from the Manitoba government in order to properly host NHL games. The arena's current primary hockey tenant, the Manitoba Moose, expected to move across the continent to St. John's.
Though there were certainly good moments, the Thrashers will be remembered by most Atlanta hockey fans as a frustrating product with disinterested (at best) ownership that cut ties with its best prospects and players and went out of its way to spurn any association with the city's hockey heritage. However, it will also be credited with helping to sprout Georgia's youth and college hockey communities.
The team had reportedly been losing anywhere between $8 million and $30 million per year, depending on where you look -- here's Forbes' estimate. Though Philips Arena attendance was more or less in line with what could've been expected given the team's record, has outdrawn Original Six franchises in the past and ranked in the middle of the league during the team's first few seasons and its one successful season, it appears Bettman gave up on Atlanta as a NHL city long ago. Bettman insisted he was working behind the scenes for Atlanta, though the Globe and Mail reported a week prior that the Board of Governors OK'd the move long ago.
The quest, however sincere, for a local buyer to keep the team in Atlanta did not turn up very many candidates but couldn't have gotten all that far anyway due to the ASG's insistence on retaining the rights to the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena. They went so far as to technically enter an exclusive negotiating period for the other two properties, preventing anyone from even attempting to purchase the entire suite.
What's next for local hockey fans? The Gwinnett Gladiators and college hockey are among your best bets, while the Nashville Predators are only a few hours away. Atlanta may never again be considered for a NHL team -- and we mean never never -- but that doesn't mean Georgia's hockey communities can't keep growing.
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