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 donít find investors or a buyer in the near future.
Not too many hands in the air, we suspect, because weíve 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 horseís mouth ó in this case co-owner Michael Gearon ó that there is a ďsense of urgencyĒ for the team to find new investors or a buyer who wants to keep the team in Atlanta.
If those things donít happen in the near future, the team may be sold and moved to another city.
ďIf we are faced with that as the only alternative, thatís whatís going to happen,Ē Gearon told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. ďI donít think there is an ability to stomach another $20 million in losses. We just canít do it.
ďThe reality is we need fans showing up and we need investors, or a primary investor.Ē
Those comments surely have Winnipeg hockey fans rubbing their little hands together in anticipation.
Weíre ready for you anytime, Mr. Gearon.
Weíve got an owner, an arena and a fan base that insists itís willing to fork out hundreds of dollars for single-game tickets.
What are you waiting for?
Unfortunately, itís 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 canít read too much into a simple ďno commentĒ 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 thatís where things could get dicey for Winnipegís hopes, even if the team is put on the sale and relocation block.
Itís 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.
Iím 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 ó at least thereís tangible evidence that a team may soon be available ó but those odds are still long.
QUICK HITS: Hayley Wickenheiser will finally make her first appearance as a Calgary Dino Friday and Saturday in Canada West womenís hockey playoff action against the Manitoba Bisons. Wickenheiser has not played against the Bisons this season, missing the previous four games due to commitments or injury. If anyoneís interested, I have four free tickets which can be used for either Manitoba-Calgary hockey game. E-mail me and Iíll do a random draw ... For all the lead-up and hype surrounding the CFL free agency period, the actual first day resembled Geraldo opening Al Caponeís vault.