Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sick of Coyotes talk? Try some Thrashers

Rumours about Atlanta's NHL team picking up pace

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Things may have gone deathly quiet in the desert but the action is getting hot in the Dirty South.

While the NHL continues to work on a sale of the Phoenix Coyotes, fighting a clock that must be close to running out, the talk in Atlanta about the future of the Thrashers is picking up pace, as well as a hint of absurdity.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly had only this to say Friday about the progress of sale negotiations in Phoenix.

"No change. Quite certain it won't go on for ever," he said in an email to the Free Press.

There has been a sense of urgency among those working on the deal in Phoenix for some time. The talk in Atlanta is beginning to have that same sound.

ESPN Radio personality John Kincade is pushing a story that says a mysterious buyer, referred to by Kincade as The Balkan, is negotiating with the Atlanta Sprint group to purchase the Thrashers, Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena for a price somewhere in the $400-million area.

"I'm here to tell you there is someone that Atlanta Spirit is talking to right now that is negotiating to buy all three," said Kincade.

"I'm going to embarrass myself a little right now by telling you one of my favourite obsessions in life is the show General Hospital. They had a villain on the show this past year who moved in the shadows and was called The Balkan.

"You never knew who The Balkan was. When this story came down, I became privy, through various interactions with the person who would like to purchase all three entities, and I began to say The Balkan existed. There is a person that exists that is negotiating to buy all three right now. I can tell you that yesterday, extensive negotiations between

The Balkan and the Atlanta Spirit group to purchase all three entities were going on."

Kincade's statements, however, do not pass the test with other members of the Atlanta media.

Veteran Atlanta Journal-Constitution hockey writer Chris Vivlamore told the Free Press he spoke with a Thrashers owner on Friday and was told there has been no progress on a sale and no potential buyer is close to finalizing a deal.

Vivlamore is working on a story that will appear in the Journal-Constitution on Sunday detailing the plight of the Thrashers and their future in Atlanta. Vivlamore's ownership source has not indicated Kincade's mystery man does indeed exist.

Thrashers director of media relations Rob Koch refused to grant the Free Press an interview with ownership or team president Don Waddell.

"The organization is not commenting on speculative situations," wrote Koch.

Kincade says the Thrashers need to be sold, one way or another, by the end of April.

"Atlanta Spirit is extremely desperate," he said. "It's extreme. These guys have hemorrhaged money. There are members of the ownership group that have had stress issues because of this. They are desperate to make a deal. I can also tell you negotiations are hardly preliminary. Anyone who has described it as kicking tires is regretfully misinformed. They have been extensive. They are far down the road," said Kincade.

"My time frame for this is April 30th. How long could the NHL go if they were going to relocate a franchise. I don't think it could be done June 1. I think it has to come to a head before the end of the month."

The Balkan? What's next? For Winnipeggers this has already been a year of "Who shot J.R.?" cliffhanger moments.

Can't take anymore? Sorry to tell you but it's likely -- between the scene in Phoenix and a new set in Atlanta -- we're going to be extras in this soap opera for just a bit longer.

But maybe it all winds up with Winnipeg being the star of its own new series.

Talk about your happy endings.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 9, 2011 C2

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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