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Winnipeg included in NHL's schedule drafts: source

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So they’re talking.

Good to know. But it remains to be seen if a deal can be done and that’s really the news Winnipeggers are waiting on.

Word is out that True North Sports and Entertainment is in negotiations with Atlanta Spirit to buy and relocate the Atlanta Thrashers for the coming 2011-12 season.

Where those negotiations sit is unknown and to suggest an announcement is close would be rash.

The talks, however, are not preliminary and the Free Press has learned the NHL is working on two schedule drafts for next season — one with Winnipeg and another with Atlanta.

The best news, for Winnipeggers wanting the NHL to return to this city, is the simplicity of these negotiations in terms of the players.

This is about a deal between two groups, True North and Atlanta Spirit. No city council to contend with and no objections from the NHL. Just a bunch of suits haggling over a business transaction.

Sure, there could be some sticking points and this deal could crater but Atlanta Spirit is a motivated seller and True North is a motivated buyer. No one else is in the room and it's down to money and terms.

The NHL, by virtue of allowing these talks and working on a schedule that includes Winnipeg, is prepared to let relocation to Winnipeg happen.

More to the point, commissioner Gary Bettman is OK with it.

Mr. Bettman gets what he wants in the NHL and if you need proof, just have a look at the sideshow in Phoenix. The commissioner wasn’t interested in leaving the desert and he moved heaven and hell to keep the Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena.

The board of governors have Bettman’s back and his blessing on talks between True North and Atlanta Spirit tells the entire story in terms of the governors. They’ve signed off and any needed massaging of league bylaws is an afterthought.

If True North can give Atlanta Spirit what it wants in short order — this deal will be done and approved and Winnipeg will have its Jets or Falcons or Moose or whatever they end up being called by this fall.

But time is an issue.

True North is approaching its internal deadline and while they could stretch things a bit its unlikely they’ll allow this to drag into June. There’s just too much to do and True North will want to get off on their best foot.

Should they land an NHL franchise they’ll want to immediately begin selling tickets and sponsorships, not to mention all the logistical work that remains to be done.

There’s also the matter of a marketplace test still to be conducted. True North chairman Mark Chipman discussed the concept with Free Press reporter Tim Campbell last spring and it’s understood Winnipeggers will be asked to show their willingness to pay NHL prices for NHL hockey before any deal is finalized.

Count on a week for such a test.

Like we said, there’s still lots to do.

But this is closer and a clearer path than Winnipeg has experienced in its bid for the return of the NHL.

Somebody call Monty Hall.

Let’s make a deal.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Monday, May 16, 2011 at 12:14 PM CDT: Adds reaction from True North and NHL

5:48 PM: Updates with full writethrough

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