The hearts of Winnipeg residents and Atlanta fans skipped a few beats Thursday night as a report broke that a deal was completed to sell the Atlanta Thrashers to True North Sports and Entertainment for the purposes of relocation.
Sources confirmed tonight that preparations are being made for an announcement Tuesday, confirming the sale and transfer of the Thrashers to True North Sports and Entertainment, which owns and operates the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League and the MTS Centre arena, which would become the NHL team's new home.
Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the National Hockey League, is expected to travel to Winnipeg to make the news official.
The likely excitement in Winnipeg was a bit premature as immediately after the story began circulating, so did the denials. USA Today's Kevin Allen, Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun of ESPN, Darren Dreger of TSN, CBC Sports and Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal Constitution all contacted their sources and reported that a deal was not completed. Bettman had earlier refuted rumors earlier on Thursday during his weekly radio show.
During the second intermission on TSN, Dreger reported that he was told there were still plenty of hurdles to overcome before a deal would be done. Bob McKenzie said was told Brunt's report that the NHL's Board of Governors approved a sale months ago, as long as the two sides could complete negotiations for the purchase, was also inaccurate.
Moments after the story broke, VERSUS' camera caught Commissioner Bettman in the stands during Game 3 of Tampa Bay/Boston; and sure enough, he was looking down checking his Blackberry that likely has been keeping him busy since.
Early Friday morning, Ken Campbell of The Hockey News explained what the delay in the announcement might be:
What still has to be determined, according to a source, is how much of that purchase price goes to the Atlanta Spirit, a group that is hardly dealing from a position of strength when it comes to selling the team. It has been widely reported that the purchase price of the team is $110 million, with an additional $60 million going to the NHL in the form of a relocation fee.
Apparently, the Atlanta Spirit owner Bruce Levenson wants a bigger piece of the purchase price and is trying to get a portion of that $60 million from the NHL. It's believed the league, meanwhile, not only wants the $60 million relocation fee, but a portion of the $110 million purchase price. In fact, there's a possibility that the Atlanta Spirit might end up with only $80 million to $100 million of the purchase price.
By all accounts, the Atlanta-to-Winnipeg deal will happen in the very near future, but when you're dealing with very large financial transactions, it's going to take some time. Meanwhile, fans in Atlanta can only continue to wait and hope for the best.
UPDATE: Via Power 97, Jets fans met at Portage and Main to chant "Go Jets Go!" on Thursday night: