The weeks of shifting deadlines, false starts and various Canadian media outlets falling over each other to claim they were the first ones to break the news were all rendered irrelevant on Tuesday morning: Winnipeg is getting the NHL back, following what's expected to be a rubber stamp from the League's Board of Governors next month to approve the Atlanta Thrashers' relocation to the former home of the Jets.
True North Sports and Entertainment has called an 11 a.m. press conference to announce it has purchased the Atlanta Thrashers subject to NHL board of governors' approval.
The Free Press learned early this morning that a deal had not been finalized but that there was enough confidence among the parties involved, True North, the NHL and Atlanta Spirit Group, to call a press conference.
Lawyers worked all night and will continue to in order to complete the transaction prior to an announcement. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and True North partner David Thomson are en route to Winnipeg for the announcement.
The league and its owners will have two matters on which to vote, now likely on June 21 in New York. They will be asked to allow True North to relocate the franchise to Winnipeg's MTS Centre and to confirm True North as the franchise's new owners.
The next step for this franchise, perhaps even before a name for the team, is the start of a massive season-ticket drive that will lock in fans for multiple seasons and give the NHL's power brokers a sense of the economic commitment the city has to go along with its obvious enthusiasm.
Oh, and about that enthusiasm, from the Free Press:
The City of Winnipeg has no plans to close down Portage & Main, due to concerns about emergency access to hospitals. Fans are encouraged to attend the celebration at The Forks, where announcements will follow the NHL announcement at 11 a.m., city events manager Kenny Boyce said.
The Forks, the city's entertainment district, is preparing for at least 10,000 people this morning and will host everything from speeches to concerts to former Jets players coming back to celebrate the NHL coming back to the city.
It's going to be a tearful, joyous day in Winnipeg. But let's not forget the tears flowing in Atlanta for a different reason today. There are good hockey fans in that city. Winnipeg's gaining what they've lost.