Atlanta to Hamilton rumors, or let Sun Belt clearance sales begin!

In yesterday's Puck Headlines, we pointed to a Hamilton Spectator article about a "mystery suitor" that was also interested in bringing an NHL franchise to the southern Ontario city.

The Spectator (via the Toronto Star) reports today that the franchise is the Atlanta Thrashers and the suitor is a Vancouver-based hockey group "believed to be led by Vancouver developer Tom Gaglardi," which could meet with Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger as early as Monday. From the Spectator:

A source confirmed this week that Gaglardi, president of Northland Properties, the parent company of Sandman Hotels, is the key principal in the second hockey group interested in Hamilton. Gaglardi failed in his bid to buy the Vancouver Canucks five years ago ...

One source said the Atlanta move to Hamilton would be temporary, possibly to give the group time to relocate the franchise to a more permanent site following the 2010 season.

Let's see: The Coyotes go to Kitchener, Atlanta goes to Hamilton, then you realign the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres and boom ... The Nearly All-Ontario division.

The Thrashers are a vulnerable organization because of ongoing disputes between warring factions of ownership and the financial consequences from consecutive seasons of Incredible Hulk-like leaps backwards after making the postseason for the first time. Of course, much like with the beleaguered Phoenix Coyotes, the baffling mismanagement of the on-ice product has served as the catalyst for other crippling ills.

A source in Atlanta told us: "I'm assuming there’s nothing to it until I hear otherwise." And there's absolutely zippy in the Spectator article about talks with the Thrashers or an actual offer being made, so this becomes one of about a thousand "interested parties" stories we'll read in the wake of the Coyotes' situation. (Incidentally, Puck Daddy is interested in buying the Lightning and moving them to Guam; we wait patiently for coverage from the Coconut Telegraph.)

But it's clearly poaching season on U.S. non-traditional market franchises, and the legal ramifications of the Bettman/Balsillie/Coyotes mess could affect that.

The Arizona Republic reports that Coyotes owner (or whatever) Jerry Moyes is claiming that the NHL's refusal to allow the sale to Balsillie "violates state and federal antitrust laws." Should the court find that to be true, what implications will that hold for NHL processes like Board of Governors' approval rof future owners and NHL markets?

One final thought on the Coyotes, via my conversation with Jeff Marek on HNIC Radio yesterday: Is this really about the NHL being steamed over a team relocating to southern Ontario before the League can reap the windfall of massive expansion fees for a new franchise in that region?

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