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Thrashers to Winnipeg? Waddell says team exploring 'all options' in search for buyer

Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell discusses the cancellation of the NHL season during a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2005, in Atlanta. Waddell said Monday the team is exploring \

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Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell discusses the cancellation of the NHL season during a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2005, in Atlanta. Waddell said Monday the team is exploring \"all options\" for new owners as there are reports that for the first time those options include a group interested in moving the team to Winnipeg. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-John Bazemore

ATLANTA - Thrashers president Don Waddell said Monday the team is exploring "all options" for new owners as there are reports that for the first time those options include a group interested in moving the team to Winnipeg.

Co-owner Bruce Levenson, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and Waddell would not confirm a report by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Thrashers owners are in negotiations with True North Sports and Entertainment, which would relocate the team to Winnipeg. The paper cited a person close to the process.

"We've never commented, and aren't going to start now, on who we're talking to or not talking to," Levenson told The Associated Press. "Even if I wanted to, I can't, because whenever we engage in any kinds of serious discussions with anybody, we sign confidentiality agreements. We always honour those."

Waddell said the team is "exploring all options with respect to the future of the Thrashers."

Levenson said last week he was still trying to find a buyer to keep the team in Atlanta, but he added "Nobody has pushed forward with an offer."

While seeking buyers for two years, Levenson has consistently said he was limiting his search to those interested in keeping the team in Atlanta.

Levenson would not confirm Monday if he has been given the go-ahead from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to negotiate with possible buyers who would move the team.

"I can't comment on that," Levenson said. "I just can't."

Bettman indicated on NHL Live Radio last week that he might be receptive to the Thrashers' owners widening their search for a buyer.

"We know that the current ownership of the Thrashers has been trying for a long period of time to try and sell the franchise and they haven't been able to do it," Bettman said. "If they can't find local ownership, then we might all have to deal with that."

Levenson is part of the ownership group that controls the Thrashers, the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and operating rights to Philips Arena.

The Jets moved from Winnipeg to Phoenix in 1996 because of financial problems, but the city has since built a new arena.

The Thrashers have missed the playoffs in 10 of their 11 seasons and were swept in their only playoff appearance. The team's average attendance this past season was 13,469 per game to rank 28th out of 30 teams.

Atlanta could become the first city since the NHL's 1967 expansion to lose two franchises. The Flames moved to Calgary in 1980 after eight seasons in Atlanta.

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