With the mayor of Winnipeg expecting the Atlanta Thrashers to arrive in town any day now, speculation is mounting that the complicated deal between the Atlanta Spirit group and True North Sports and Entertainment is finally completed.
And there’s ample evidence to suggest that is the case. In fact, one source close to the situation said the final obstacle holding up the sale - how the $170 million purchase price would be split between the NHL and Atlanta Spirit - has finally been overcome.
And it appears to have favored the Atlanta Spirit and owner Bruce Levenson, who will reportedly receive $20 million of the $60 million relocation fee that is included in the purchase price. As reported by THN.com last week, the negotiations for the sale were being held up because the league and Levenson could not agree on how much each side would receive from the sale.
The purchase price for the franchise was reportedly $110 million, which would go to Levenson and the Atlanta Spirit, with a $60 million relocation fee that would go to the NHL. Speculation was the league was using that money to prop up losses it has and will sustain in owning and operating the Phoenix Coyotes until a suitable buyer can be found. The relocation fee, it should be noted, was not in place when the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas in 1993, the Quebec Nordiques moved to Colorado in 1995, the Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix in 1996 and the Hartford Whalers moved to Carolina in 1997.
It’s believed there was a tug-of-war between Levenson and the league concerning that money. It was believed the NHL was trying to extract the full $60 million relocation fee, plus at least another $10 million of the purchase price, while Levenson was negotiating for a portion of the relocation money.
All that is left to be determined, said a source, is when the announcement will be made by the NHL. It will either be done between now and the Stanley Cup final or between the end of the final and the draft. It is expected there will be an extended layoff of several days before the Stanley Cup final begins, which would give the league time to make the announcement of the sale and relocation.
The league is apparently of two minds when it comes to making the announcement. If it does so between the conference finals and Cup final, it would remove the speculation that would hang over the Cup final, but might also be a dominant topic when the league wants the focus to be on the series between the league’s top two teams. But if it waits, it risks having the speculation of the sale hanging over the final.