Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Relax -- deal's not done yet

Looks like we'll get Thrashers, but no announcement today

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Winnipeggers have been patient for 15 years and it looks like they'll need to hang tight for at least a few more days -- perhaps as long as a week.

Despite published reports, hints from Premier Greg Selinger and constant rumours, there will be no press conference today regarding the potential return of the National Hockey League to Winnipeg.

True North Sports and Entertainment spokesman Scott Brown told the Free Press on Monday afternoon there would be no press conference today.

True North is in negotiations to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers and relocate the hockey team to Winnipeg.

Talks continue to move forward but no deal has been finalized, making a press conference unnecessary at this point.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly added his own confirmation. "It's safe to say there will be no announcement on Tuesday," he said.

Rumours continue to swirl after a Globe and Mail story last Thursday reported a deal was done between True North and the Atlanta Spirit Group. The article also stated a press conference was expected today to announce the Thrashers' sale to True North.

Though negotiations were well underway with a deal pending, True North, Atlanta Spirit and the NHL all denied an agreement was finished.

On Saturday, the Globe printed a front-page story saying, "The complex deal involving several parties in both countries had yet to be finalized. Lawyers were planning to work through the weekend."

Sources have told the Free Press negotiations did indeed continue all weekend, with Sunday seeing major progress.

Canadian banks were closed Monday due to the Victoria Day holiday, which likely prevented financial aspects of the deal from reaching a conclusion.

Although last week's Globe story may have been premature, it had a foundation. A transaction appears to be heading to a close and would see True North acquire the Thrashers franchise conditionally.

Any sale of the Thrashers has to be ratified by the NHL board of governors.

True North is not expected to announce the return of the NHL to Winnipeg if and when they do finalize a purchase agreement. Instead, it's expected they will spell out a conditional agreement, subject to a test of the marketplace.

True North will execute a ticket drive and if the results are favourable, move forward with the deal.

The NHL has had little to say on the subject, but has made it clear that remaining in Atlanta is the league's preferred solution if a suitable owner is willing to buy the team from the Atlanta Spirit Group.

Any chance of that appears to have been eliminated.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Monday the lone party looking at buying the Thrashers with the intention of keeping them in Atlanta has stepped out of the picture.

Reports have said True North will pay $110 million to Atlanta Spirit for the franchise and $60 million to the NHL as a relocation fee.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

 

There are a few things to wrap up before Winnipeg's NHL team is signed, sealed and delivered

Where we're at

Negotiations between True North and Atlanta Spirit continue. True North is in talks to buy the Atlanta Thrashers and bring them to Winnipeg. The NHL has allowed the talks to progress, suggesting they approve of the franchise relocating. Both a sale and a franchise transfer would have to be approved by the NHL's board of governors.

What they're saying

Nothing for the record. But sources tell the Free Press negotiations continued throughout the weekend. Sunday saw major progress and at this stage it might be too early to call the outcome, but it's getting close to being -- here are those words again -- "a done deal."

 

What still has to happen

First and foremost, a deal has to be finalized. Documents need to be signed and money has to change hands. None of that has taken place and before Gary Bettman gets on a plane to Winnipeg, he'll need to have a deal completed. Expect this to wrap up later this week or early next.

-- Gary Lawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 24, 2011 A3

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