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Bettman laughs off Winnipeg sightings, criticizes media

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THE silent movie that is the negotiation between Winnipeg's True North Sports and Entertainment and the ownership group of the Atlanta Thrashers continued Friday.

True North and the Atlanta Spirit group are believed to be continuing work on an agreement that would transfer the ownership of the NHL team and if a deal is completed, it would see the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg's MTS Centre.

Despite so much wishful thinking, no deal has been reached yet, sources have said. Addressing the volume of issues and paperwork in a reported $170-million transaction is the reason there have been no swift announcements.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was banging that familiar drum again Thursday on his own weekly show on NHL Radio.

Bettman and co-host Bill Clement, ex of the Flyers, began their hour making light of the many continuing Bettman sightings in Winnipeg, confirming they were both in New York.

"I'm not in Winnipeg," Bettman said. "I haven't been in Winnipeg. Over the last few months I would get calls that I was allegedly spotted. The fact of the matter is, there has once again been a ton of commentary, speculation, you name it, that A) there's a deal and B) that we have a date certain for a press conference to announce the deal.

"If the team gets sold, and if the team gets moved, then there will be a press conference. If you keep saying it enough, you might ultimately be right. But the level of accountability, in terms of the willingness to just put anything out there in terms of a news story, is really just ridiculous."

True North spokesman Scott Brown said that he spent the usual amount of time Friday fielding inquiries about a possible future press conference. He said none have been scheduled.


-- -- --

In related matters, there was some discouraging news out of Newfoundland late this week for the group headed by former premier Danny Williams who hope to effect the relocation of the AHL's Manitoba Moose to Mile One Centre in St. John's.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government said earlier this week it was not going to subsidize an AHL team.

Reports had pegged the subsidy request at $500,000 per season to help bring an anchor tennant back to the Mile One Centre.

"I'm told by the American Hockey League that this is our last shot -- we will never get another shot," Williams told the CBC. "I mean I can lead a horse to water but I can't make her drink, and if that's the case there's not much I can do."

It's possible the roadblock is only the beginning, not the end, of the story, given that the deal is not yet underway. It's only contingent on True North's acquisition of an NHL franchise for Winnipeg, where the AHL Moose have played for 15 seasons.


Out there in blogs, tweets and cyberspace...


-- -- --

It's dangerous out there sometimes if you hang on every detail.

Trying to console Phoenix Coyotes fans on Friday, the blog Sports Haze came up with this undiscovered nugget: "True North Sports and Entertainment, a former minority investor in Matthew Hulsizer's potential ownership group for the Coyotes..." which will be news to quite a few following this story, including True North.

Of course, you could understand the mix-up, given that the Coyotes' deal was and is desperate for any amount of real money.


-- -- --

Various Atlanta outlets and websites have still been trotting out names of assumed potential suitors for the Thrashers and/or all of Atlanta Spirt's properties, including Philips Arena and the NBA's Hawks.

One name that had surfaced and did again late this week was of former NHLer Anson Carter, who leads a group of investors with interest in sports properties.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Chris Vivlamore, Carter's group apparently kicked tires in Atlanta early in the year but then withdrew from the narrative without ever getting to the stage where proving financial wherewithal was part of the process.

Carter himself put out a statement late in the week confirming his group withdrew.


-- -- --

There are some Canadians not eager to see the Thrashers relocate to Winnipeg.

Among them is former play-by-play voice of the Kings, Atlanta Flames, Islanders and Florida, Jiggs McDonald.

"The people of Winnipeg are definitely going to be thrilled to have a team, but what has changed in the city since the Jets moved to Phoenix?" McDonald said in an interview with Orillia (Ont.) Today this week. "Sure the city of Winnipeg has grown in size since the Jets left, but mom and pop can't afford tickets anymore."

McDonald, a Canadian with many connections in the U.S. with his work history, is a defender of the NHL in southern markets.


-- Compiled by Tim Campbell

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 28, 2011 C2

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