WINNIPEG - We're down to a matter of when, not if.
However, as the city and province amp up preparations to celebrate the return of the National Hockey League after 16 years, it's possible a little more patience is required.
Although much of Monday was filled with proclamations that Tuesday will be the day official word comes down that the Atlanta Thrashers have been sold to Winnipeg's True North Sports and Entertainment, a sliver of doubt on the timing has crept back in.
Even though True North put the media on high alert Monday, telling outlets to be ready "as early as Tuesday" for a press conference, a source told QMI Agency that might be premature.
The source, who has knowledge of the negotiations, said Monday night that a Tuesday announcement "is becoming less and less likely," but is still possible.
The city is already gearing up for the expected celebration, with a party being planned for the Forks, a popular meeting place not far from Portage and Main. Police are hoping to keep fans away from the iconic intersection by holding celebrations at the Forks.
While it's been widely reported the NHL would prefer to get this deal done prior to the start of the Stanley Cup final between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins on Wednesday, no announcement can be made until both sides sign off on the agreement.
Reports indicate True North has signed off on their end of the deal, but are waiting for lawyers for the Atlanta Spirit Group to do the same.
"It's certainly possible something could be finalized this week," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told QMI Agency on Monday.
True North is believed to have made an offer to purchase the Thrashers from the Atlanta Spirit Group for $170 million (which includes a $60 million relocation fee) and move them to the MTS Centre in time for the 2011-12 NHL season.
Rutherford Seydel, a member of the Atlanta Spirit Group, gave an interview to Channel 11Alive News in Atlanta on Monday and made it sound like moving the team was inevitable.
"Unfortunately, there are not enough of us that are passionate at this point in time to keep the team, to replenish what we need to have done," said Seydel. "We've tried our hardest and we're trying our hardest to make it work in Atlanta. We currently are trying and we've tried and it's frustrating and it's a very heart-felt sorrow that I have at this point. We really have had a great run and all of the fans that have been there, and the fans that are still there and passionate about it, my absolute thoughts and heart is with everybody included in that group."
Seydel balked at the suggestion he was giving an obituary for NHL hockey in Atlanta.
"Well, no. It's not," said Seydel.
A report Monday in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said that lawyers continued to work on details and suggested an announcement was likely this week, possibly ó but not necessarily ó as early as Tuesday.
The paper also reported that no late offers have been received from potential bidders to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta.
Once the deal is complete, it still must obtain approval from the NHL board of governors and their next meeting is scheduled for June 21 in New York.
The NHL is not expected to call a special meeting to fast-track the final decision.