Relocation Roulette: Winnipeg, Atlanta Mayors Agree That Thrashers Move is Close

Jim Neveau, NHL Correspondent

Commissioner Gary Bettman may not be ready to declare the Atlanta Thrashers’ move to Winnipeg a done deal, but the mayors of those two cities seem to be leaning that direction.

“It is going to hurt the city but we will withstand it just fine and we will get through it,” Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed told the media on Tuesday. “We have a lot of positive things going on in the sports franchise space that I think we’ll be announcing pretty soon that will offset it a bit.”

In response to charges that the city hasn’t been willing to go the extra mile to keep the team in Atlanta, Reed said “it’s not a lack of the city being willing to step up and do something about it. It is a partner with deep enough pockets to be willing to sustain pretty significant losses and we have not yet had any of the individuals in our community who are prepared to take that on. But it has not been for a lack of trying, believe you me,” he said.

Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz echoed his sentiments from the past few weeks that the deal is close to being done, and he expressed his feeling that “the astute business move would be to get it done ASAP and to me that’s the next 48 hours. Before the week is over, that’s for sure.”

Winnipeg Fans Rally (Greg Gallinger/Flickr)

Now, to be fair, all indications are that True North and the Atlanta Spirit are very close to agreeing on a deal to sell the team, but the expressions of doom and gloom from Atlanta’s mayor are nonetheless ill-advised at this point in the proceedings. He has already thrown in the towel on keeping the Thrashers in the city, and this lack of desire to keep the team has to weigh into the NHL’s decision to allow the team to move north. By contrast, Glendale, Arizona mayor Elaine Scruggs has gotten her city council to agree to give the NHL $50 million to keep the team there as it searches for a new owner. This desire to keep the team has certainly played into the NHL’s decision to keep fighting the good fight to find the Coyotes a new owner, and the fact that the mayor of Atlanta isn’t willing to show that same level of commitment is disheartening to fans of the team.

Despite Reed’s lack of faith in the team’s prospects for staying, fans of the team still showed up to Phillips Arena for an event for picking out season tickets. Outside of the event, a group of 200-300 fans held a tailgate party to show their support for the team, and some fans even burned a Winnipeg Jets banner in protest. While that may not have been the most tasteful way to display their displeasure with the proceedings, it does represent that even though the fan base doesn’t get very much credit, it is still there and is unhappy with losing their team for the second time in 30 years.

Thousands of miles away, Winnipeg fans had held their own rally on Thursday when news that the city would likely be getting a team back broke in the Toronto Globe and Mail. The party lasted well past midnight, and was obviously way more festive than the gathering of Thrashers fans two days later.

These two rallies presented what this relocation drama is all about. You have Winnipeg fans celebrating the idea of getting a team back (and by proxy celebrating the suffering of Atlanta fans), and then you have a funereal atmosphere in Georgia as they likely bid farewell to their team again. Any coverage of this event has to include both perspectives, because in today’s NHL, one fanbase’s joy comes at the expense of another’s sorrow. Hopefully NHL pundits from the whole spectrum will remember that as they cover what seems to be an inevitable march toward Canada gaining a seventh team.

In Other Relocation News…

There may be no new news in the Coyotes’ ownership drama, but their ECHL affiliate is undertaking a promotion that is sure to bring a smile to many a face in the Valley and throughout the hockey world. The Las Vegas Wranglers, best known for their Rod Blagojevich Prison Uniform Night, announced that October 21st will be “Rapture Night,” to coincide with “prophet” Harold Camping’s prophecy that the world will come to an end on that date.

Perhaps the greatest statement from the release announcing the event (you can read the whole thing over at the Coyotes blog “Five for Howling“) was President and COO of the team Billy Johnson calling the event a “low-risk proposition. If it doesn’t go as planned, it isn’t the end of the world.”

Well played, Mr. Johnson. Good luck topping this promotion, however.

As always, stay tuned to The Hockey Writers for all the latest coverage of all the NHL’s relocation drama.