NHL, True North deny Thrashers to 'Peg a done deal

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:44 AM ET

Even though the denials were flying, they weren't enough to dampen the euphoria most Winnipeg hockey fans were feeling on Thursday night.

The NHL, according to a published report, is coming back to town 15 years after the Winnipeg Jets left for Phoenix.

A few dozen fans flocked to Portage and Main to celebrate the Globe and Mail report that True North Sports and Entertainment has reached an agreement to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers and move them to Winnipeg. Respected columnist Stephen Brunt broke the story, reporting a press conference will be held on Tuesday in Winnipeg with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in attendance.

“True North denies the report,” spokesman Scott Brown told the Sun in a text message.

True North and Atlanta Spirit are in negotiations about a potential sale, and the Globe report said the Thrashers were True North’s intended target for purchase all along. In fact, the Globe reported the NHL board of governors approved the sale several months ago and was just waiting for the purchase agreement to be ironed out between True North and Atlanta Spirit. The NHL denied that detail as well.

“Not true,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Sun.

It appears, however, that where there's smoke, there's fire. The Globe and Mail is owned by the Thomson family, and David Thomson, one of the richest men in the world, is a partner in True North.

Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz called the Globe and Mail “a fairly credible source,” and added “if that source is accurate, it’s a wonderful day in Winnipeg. Long overdue.”

Katz suggested he has no inside knowledge as to whether a sale and relocation agreement is in place, or where negotiations are at.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic that we, Winnipeg fans, will be able to see the return of the NHL, if this is accurate,” Katz said.

“And as I’ve said before, there’s no doubt in my mind that you’re not going to find a more passionate, knowledgeable fan base than here in Winnipeg. End of story.”

Thursday night’s report caused quite the reaction, as the “Winnipeg Jets” were trending worldwide on Twitter at 9 p.m. CDT.

Before the story broke, Bettman spoke about the potential sale of the Thrashers on his weekly radio show.

“We get reports, speculation, that the team’s gone. And there’s no deal,” Bettman said. “I can tell you that with certainty that there is no deal for this team to move. Am I predicting that there will never be or that there won’t be at some point in time? No, I’m not saying there is or there isn’t.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Thursday there is one group still trying to keep the Thrashers in the Georgia capital.

“My job is to try to find a buyer who will keep the team in Atlanta,” Thrashers president Don Waddell told the paper. “As long as they keep taking my phone calls, I’ll keep working.”

A rally for Thrashers fans is scheduled for Saturday in Atlanta, and one of their players, Anthony Stewart, Tweeted after the news broke Thursday night he wasn’t headed to Winnipeg: “Fat lady hasn’t sung yet, my friend.”

An NHL source told QMI Agency it’s “highly unlikely” an announcement like the relocation of a franchise would take place during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

— With files from Paul Friesen and Ross Romaniuk


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