Raise your hand if you are surprised to hear that the Atlanta Thrashers are in financial trouble and could be on the move if they don’t find investors or a buyer in the near future.
Not too many hands in the air, we suspect, because we’ve seen this coming for a long time.
The Thrashers are consistently among the worst teams in the league in terms of attendance and they play in a market where hockey is a mere afterthought.
It has been rumoured for quite some time now that they might eventually move to Winnipeg or some other market with an arena and a hockey-hungry fan base.
Now it appears those rumours have some merit. We heard from the horse’s mouth — in this case co-owner Michael Gearon — that there is a “sense of urgency” for the team to find new investors or a buyer who wants to keep the team in Atlanta.
If those things don’t happen in the near future, the team may be sold and moved to another city.
“If we are faced with that as the only alternative, that’s what’s going to happen,” Gearon told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I don’t think there is an ability to stomach another $20 million in losses. We just can’t do it.
“The reality is we need fans showing up and we need investors, or a primary investor.”
Those comments surely have Winnipeg hockey fans rubbing their little hands together in anticipation.
We’re ready for you anytime, Mr. Gearon.
We’ve got an owner, an arena and a fan base that insists it’s willing to fork out hundreds of dollars for single-game tickets.
What are you waiting for?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
First off, we have to assume that the NHL will not simply pack it in without some kind of fight in Atlanta. Look how hard they fought to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in the desert, where they have even fewer fans than the Thrashers have in Georgia.
The NHL was strangely silent on the issue Wednesday, however.
When asked for comment, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly declined. It seemed curious given that Daly is normally very quick with a response, usually to the effect that the league is not interested in relocating any of its franchises and will do what it takes to keep the status quo.
Of course, we can’t read too much into a simple “no comment” from an NHL executive.
We already know Daly and his boss Gary Bettman have suggested the league would like to put teams back in places like Winnipeg and Quebec. Bettman went so far as to suggest if the Phoenix Coyotes were to move, they should be offered to the Winnipeg ownership group first, as this is where the franchise originated.
There would be no such connection with the Thrashers and that’s where things could get dicey for Winnipeg’s hopes, even if the team is put on the sale and relocation block.
It’s been well documented that Quebec City wants an NHL team back. So much so, they are willing to spend $400 million of public money to build an arena on speculation that a team might eventually move there.
If the Thrashers go up for sale, you can bet the potential Quebec City ownership group will be front and centre. The possibility of a bidding war could exist.
I’m just not sure how badly Mark Chipman and his partner David Thomson would want to get into something like that.
As always, Chipman offered no comment when we tried to contact him Wednesday.
As always, the fans will be left to sit and speculate and keep their fingers crossed that their NHL dream comes true.
The odds are slightly better today than they were yesterday — at least there’s tangible evidence that a team may soon be available — but those odds are still long.
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