Atlanta Thrashers sold to True North Sports and Entertainment, moving to Winnipeg

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fifteen years after the Winnipeg Jets left the province of Manitoba, Canada, an announcement on Tuesday made official what ice hockey fans have been anticipating: The National Hockey League's (NHL) Atlanta Thrashers are moving to Winnipeg. The Thrashers, who have been a target for relocation rumors amid the ownership struggles and financial losses, will leave Atlanta after eleven seasons there in the highest-level professional ice hockey league in North America. The deal, which was finalized early in the morning Tuesday, has just one step to climb: a vote by the NHL's Board of Governors, which will take up the matter at their June 21 meeting.

The MTS Centre will serve as the home arena for the new Winnipeg team.
Image: Wpg guy.

Atlanta Spirit Group, LLC. (ASG), who owned the Thrashers—and continues to own both the Atlanta Hawks of the National Basketball Association, as well as Philips Arena, the arena both teams occupied—completed the sale to Winnipeg investor group True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd. The Thrashers will move into their new home arena, MTS Centre in Winnipeg. ASG has also been trying to find buyers for the Atlanta Hawks as well as Philips Arena. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who also presided over the league when the Jets left Winnipeg in 1996, has stated the Thrashers will remain in the Southeast Division for at least the 2011-12 season, after which time the NHL is expected to shuffle teams between the Western and Eastern conferences to move the Thrashers to the West, to play with other teams in western North America. The two teams situated in the Western Conference which reside in the Eastern Time Zone, the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets, as well as the Nashville Predators are considered favorites to be moved into the Eastern Conference when this happens.

The city of Winnipeg, which has been ready and waiting for an NHL franchise since the Jets relocated to Glendale, Arizona and became the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996, is already host to a team in the second-tier American Hockey League, the Manitoba Moose. During the announcement Tuesday, True North stated that they were starting a season ticket drive. They also announced that they have yet to choose a name for the new team.

The Thrashers are not the first franchise that True North has set its sights on in regards to acquiring an NHL team. The Coyotes, which have been owned by the league since the previous owners filed for bankruptcy in 2009, was highly sought-after by True North in the past few years in an attempt to literally "return the Jets to Winnipeg". In early May, the Glendale City Council approved a measure to pay $25 million to the league, to cover their operating expenses for the next year in order to keep the team in the city.

This is not the first time an NHL franchise has been relocated north of the border from the #8-ranked media market in the United States; in 1980, the Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary, Alberta, becoming the Calgary Flames. Atlanta was later granted an expansion franchise in 1997, and the Thrashers took the ice to start the 1999-00 NHL season. In the 11 seasons the Thrashers spent in Atlanta, they made the playoffs only once; in the 2006-07 season, they reached the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, where they were swept in the best-of-seven series by the New York Rangers in four straight games.

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