Open season on Thrashers

The NHL braintrust, Gary Bettman (right) and Bill Daly, can't guarantee the Thrashers will be in...

The NHL braintrust, Gary Bettman (right) and Bill Daly, can't guarantee the Thrashers will be in Atlanta next season but insist there is no imminent announcement about a move to Winnipeg either.

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:29 AM ET

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly hopped on a plane bound for Slovakia and the IIHF World Hockey Championship, Thursday.

But before taking off, he took the time to field an e-mail from me, answering a critical question about the future of the Atlanta Thrashers.

I'll get to that in a bit, but first a more extensive exchange Daly had with Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier in the day.

With one, four-letter word, Gary Bettman's right-hand man raised the hopes of those in Winnipeg who cling to the prospect of the NHL's return like it's a life raft floating down the Assiniboine.

Asked if he could guarantee the Thrashers will play in Atlanta next season, Daly said, "Nope."

Cue another frenzy. That's all it takes these days.

Actually, it doesn't even take a real word.

Day 1 of the official Thrashers watch produced more rumour than actual new information, including wild talk on the Twitter landscape of a done deal bringing the team to Winnipeg, started by a high school kid, no less.

Like a Canada goose on the first day of hunting season, it was shot down before it got too far.

Daly was asked, too, about rumours that a sale to Winnipeg's True North Sports is done and that an announcement is imminent.

"There is nothing that has been done, nothing has been planned and nothing has been scheduled," he told Schultz. "Certainly, no transaction has been agreed to, not that I'm aware of."

One could seize upon that last part and conclude that perhaps Daly simply isn't aware that True North's Mark Chipman has written a cheque for $100-plus million for the franchise.

While we're overanalyzing Daly's comments, how about his response to the suggestion the NHL has abandoned the Thrashers, as Schultz suggested in his column in the AJC.

"What that opinion lacks is any real information as to what we have been doing over a number of years," Daly said. "There have been efforts to sell the club... nobody really knows exactly what we've been doing. Over a course of years, what we've done for the Thrashers franchise has been very consistent with what we've done for other franchises."

You could interpret that two ways: as an ominous sign the league is going to fight to the death for Atlanta the way it did for Phoenix, or as Daly setting the table for a quick-and-dirty Thrashers move.

The NHL's done all it can, he could be saying, and hasn't come up with a new owner. So nobody can blame the league if Atlanta loses its team.

This is how it's going to go until something is settled, one way or another. A Daly comment under the microscope one day, a Bettman quote dissected like a frog in a high school lab the next.

And Winnipeggers can't help but feel like they're the ones being experimented on.

It's a movie we've already seen — at a theatre of the absurd in Phoenix.

Giving it a run in Atlanta, however short, won't be easy on the fans and workers affected there, or on the poor souls here in River City, whose happiness seems to depend on getting the chance to pay an average $75 or more to watch NHL hockey again.

Better get used to it, though.

I'd love to tell you it'll all be over within a week or two.

But I can't.

That one question I asked Daly?

It was simply if he could see the current ownership in Atlanta going one more season.

His answer, a three-letter word that will send shudders through anybody and everybody who's already tired of this story.

"Yes."


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