With news that the Phoenix Coyotes will be sticking around in Arizona for at least one more season, the relocation talk in the NHL has shifted, at least temporarily, to the Atlanta Thrashers.
Atlanta Spirit, the group that owns the Thrashers, the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena, has been trying to sell their hockey team for several years, and as the investment loses money year-after-year, their patience is understandably wearing thin. (Fans would tell you it's the fault of the horrible ownership group that's led to that circumstance, but that's really another story.)
With the Coyotes off the table for now, a group in Winnipeg could turn their attention to purchasing and relocating the Thrashers. True North Sports and Entertainment is reported to be interested in the Thrashers, and there are also reports that they would pay much more for the team than a local, Atlanta-based group would pay to keep them in town.
That could lead us down a messy path, of course. As we know from the Coyotes saga, the NHL will go to just about all lengths to avoid relocation, especially from vital American television markets like Phoenix and -- yeah, you guessed it -- Atlanta.
It's a top-10 metro area in the U.S. in terms of media market and sheer size, so you understand why they want to have a base in such a place. The only difference between Phoenix and Atlanta, though, is that the local government in Glendale, Ariz. has just as much a stake in the Coyotes' departure as the NHL does. They own the building, which would go dark without the hockey team that currently occupies it. Bad news for the city.
The City of Atlanta, on the other hand, doesn't have any financial stake in the arena or the team, and thus, they're much less likely to shell out millions of dollars to keep the team around at all costs.
In fact, they definitely won't, according to the mayor. Via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Reese McCranie, spokesman for [Atlanta Mayor Kasim] Reed, said Atlanta has not been approached by the NHL about making a financial deal such as Glendale's. Even if approached, the city - in the midst of pension reform and possible layoffs in 2012 - would not consider it, McCranie said.
"We are aware that the ownership of the Thrashers is having difficulty and they may leave," McCranie said. "The mayor has had robust discussions with business leaders in the metro region [who might] potentially buy or join a team of buyers to keep the Thrashers here.
"He has gone through extraordinary lengths to ensure that the Thrashers can stay in Atlanta, but at this moment there is not a deal on the table that we can present."
To be clear, there has been no sale of the Thrashers or anything like that just yet, but it's something that's a very real possibility, especially with the way things are playing out in Arizona. The owners want out, and there's a group in Winnipeg willing to pay top dollar to jump right in and relocate the team.
If another solution can't be found, the NHL might be on their own in this fight without any help from the City of Atlanta.