On Friday, Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that "It is unclear this morning if the Thrashers have been granted permission by the NHL to begin negotiations with True North Sports and Entertainment, the entity that would purchase the franchise and move it to Winnipeg, or if those talks have already begun."
On Monday, Vivlamore offered clarity: The two sides are in negotiations on the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers to True North, and the relocation of the struggling franchise to Winnipeg.
A deal has not been completed and it is also not known how long the two sides have been negotiating. However, the fact that talks are on-going negotiations could mean the Thrashers would relocate to Manitoba perhaps as soon as next season.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, reach via e-mail, said there was "nothing I'm prepared to say at this point." A True North Sports and Entertainment spokesperson had no comment.
Technically, NHL owners do not have to seek league approval to sell a franchise. However they would have to get permission to negotiate with a party interested in relocation. Once an agreement in principle has been reached, the NHL's Board of Govenors would be asked to judge the acceptability of the new ownership.
The Winnipeg Free Press has received a "no comment" from True North.
Previously, the AJC wondered if other NHL owners would block the relocation because if the Phoenix Coyotes were to move next offseason, they'd net "upwards of $170 million from True North [and] all of that money could go to repay the owners." The Thrashers would bring in substantially less.
Jeff Schultz(notes) of the AJC presents a few scenarios through which the Thrashers would stay in Atlanta, including:
3.) [Gary] Bettman effectively stalls and gives the Atlanta franchise a one-year stay of execution, telling [Thrashers' part-owner Bruce] Levenson and the Spirit that the franchise can't be moved for next season. It's not believed the Atlanta Spirit could just walk away from the hockey team and throw the keys to the league. So it's not certain what would happen if Bettman disallowed a move right now and the Spirit resisted.
As you can see from Schultz's piece, the options are running short -- as is the time.
Finally, for the Thrashers perspective on relocation, check out Jason Kirk's piece on SB Nation Atlanta called "To Understand The Thrashers Relocation Story, First Understand Atlanta."
UPDATE: From the Winnipeg Free Press: "The Winnipeg Free Press has learned the NHL is working on two schedule drafts: one including Winnipeg and the other including Atlanta."