WINNIPEG — The NHL and True North Sports and Entertainment are disputing a report that a deal to bring the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg is done.
Citing sources, The Globe and Mail reported Thursday evening that the announcement confirming the sale will be made Tuesday in Winnipeg.
“It’s not true,” True North spokesman Scott Brown said when asked about the report that a deal was done.
True North Sports and Entertainment 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.
The Globe report says the NHL board of governors has already approved the sale and transfer of the team, pending negotiation of a purchase agreement between Atlanta Spirit LLC, the Thrashers’ owners, and True North.
As far as we know, there is nothing done,“ NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an email to The Canadian Press. ”And certainly, the board has not approved anything.
A spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg also said that city officials had not heard anything has been confirmed.
A Thrashers fire sale may not be done, but there has been plenty of smoke in recent days.
One agent said Thrasher players have been quietly told to make new real estate plans.
And the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported earlier this week that the Thrasher owners had begun negotiations on a sale that would relocate the team to Winnipeg.
Talk of a move has been such that Premier Greg Selinger has had to deal with questions about possible government support for an NHL team.
His stance is Manitoba taxpayers won’t subsidize a franchise in Winnipeg but the province will consider everything else in its power to aid the return of the NHL.
The Jets moved from Winnipeg to Phoenix in 1996 because of financial problems, but the city has since built a new albeit modestly sized arena by NHL standards. And it has potential owners with deep pockets in True North, which is led by businessman Mark Chipman and billionaire David Thomson.
The Thrashers, who made their debut as an expansion franchise in 1999, have qualified for the post-season just once. That was in 2007, when Atlanta was swept in the first round by the New York Rangers.
The Thrashers looked promising for a while on the ice this season. Midway through the campaign, they were seventh in the Eastern Conference with a 20-15-6 record.
But the bottom fell out in late December and continued for two months. A 6-15-5 swoon from Dec. 21 to Feb. 23 all but sank any hope of stirring hockey interest in a team that plays before great swaths of empty seats.
Atlanta finished 12th in the East with a 34-36-12 record.
The team was 28th out of the 30-team league in attendance this season, averaging just 13,469.
Still supporters are planning a rally before the team’s annual select-a-seat event for season-ticket holders at Philips Arena on Saturday.