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Chipman: Potential purchases of Thrashers and Coyotes ran on 'parallel' tracks

Generations of Thrashers fans, including youngster Reece Griffith, will be unable to root on their home team after the Atlanta Spirit agreed to sell their team to True North Sports and Entertainment of Winnipeg for $110 million plus a $60 million fee.
Generations of Thrashers fans, including youngster Reece Griffith, will be unable to root on their home team after the Atlanta Spirit agreed to sell their team to True North Sports and Entertainment of Winnipeg for $110 million plus a $60 million fee.
(Getty Images/Kevin C. Cox)

Now the truth is finally starting to creep out about that dirty little Atlanta Thrashers deal.

Of course, it’s coming out in innocuous little places like a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Winnipeg.

True North Sports and Entertainment Chairman Mark Chipman took the stage, offering the keynote address at a Chamber of Commerce meeting in the town of just over 700,000 on Thursday and gave a 25-plus minute presentation about how his group came to bring back hockey to Manitoba’s provincial capital.

And while the story itself was riveting at times and a testament as to exactly how persistence pays off, Chipman, with the approval of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, spilled one of the NHL’s nasty little secrets about how the deal to buy the Thrashers came about.

Let’s just say that Chipman’s version of the events does not fit the Atlanta Spirit’s neat little timeline as to how this sale went down.

"As the process in Glendale unfolded this spring, we were made aware of the possibility of acquiring the Atlanta Thrashers,” Chipman said. “Fortunately, much of the work necessary to conclude a transaction had been started and running a parallel process on both teams (the Phoenix Coyotes and the Thrashers) was manageable.

"When it became certain that Glendale had again purchased a placeholder position for next year, we immediately moved all our assets to one track and commenced the intense process that lead to our announcement just over two weeks ago."

Say what? A parallel process?

For those such as the Atlanta Spirit, who are not familiar with the meaning of the word “parallel,” defines parallel as “extending in the same direction, equidistant at all points, and never converging or diverging.”

That process, which was parallel, shifted to a one-track operation once Glendale put up some taxpayer dollars. That means that discussions had to be ongoing before the Glendale vote.

Huh? That’s not what the Atlanta Spirit told the fans.

The “official” Spirit version of how the deal came to be was summed up by co-owner Michael Gearon, Jr. at his sometimes teary non-press conference (which this reporter was excluded from) and interviews that followed the day the Spirit entered into an “Asset Purchase Agreement” with TNSE on May 31.

“I can tell you that I’ve never had discussions (with TNSE) prior to the Glendale City Council voting in favor of spending money to keep the team in Phoenix,” Gearon told John Kincade in a radio interview on May 31.

He affirmed his comments in an interview with the AJC later that day, telling the newspaper that there hadn’t been negotiations with TNSE until “mid-May.”

Gearon’s “official” comments were echoed later in the day by Thrashers President Don Waddell, when he was asked when he started talking to the True North folks.

“About two or three weeks ago when the situation was settled in Phoenix,” he claimed. “We thought we were off the table for moving this year. Obviously, the City of Glendale came up with $25 million.”

So if Gearon wasn’t engaging in this “parallel” process and Waddell wasn’t engaging in this “parallel” process, who exactly was? Someone had to be. I am pretty sure that Mark Chipman wasn’t negotiating with himself.

Well, Thrashers co-owner Bruce Levenson isn’t on the record either way on this, nor is NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Could it be possible that the league was secretly negotiating the sale of the Thrashers on Levenson & Co.’s behalf?

Those who have been around this team for a while can theorize about the possible answer.

Rumors printed in Canadian newspapers had the Spirit making contact with TNSE two years ago (something that TNSE acknowledged at their press conference when they bought the team on May 31 and Waddell categorically denied back then).

Michael Gearon also admitted that he had conversations with Research In Motion CEO Jim Balsillie sometime back in 2008. Of course, if you believe Gearon, those discussions stopped the second Balsillie started mentioning that he wanted to move the team to Hamilton.

And the Spirit admitted in court documents that they’ve been trying to sell the team since 2006. (But we all know that they couldn't until last December because there was a "cloud" to the team's title due to that nasty little partnership dispute the Spirit and rogue partner Steve Belkin were involved in. Or that's at least what the Spirit's lawyers want you to believe in that legal malpratice case they filed against the Spirit's attorneys in the Belkin case).

The Spirit also reportedly had a meeting with employees around the end of the regular season indicating that the Thrashers could move to Winnipeg if the Phoenix deal fell through. (As a side note, Waddell, denied any talks with TNSE at the time).

Do the math. Someone is lying or if you want to give them the benefit of the doubt, being less than truthful. And it isn’t Mark Chipman.

Chipman’s run his organization ethically and on-the-level. He’s patiently waited in the wings for an opportunity to arise. He had no problem being the NHL's so-called "backup plan" with the Coyotes. I don’t blame him one bit for pouncing on an opportunity to buy the Thrashers. As I stated before, I am happy for the citizens of Winnipeg that they are getting their hockey team back, but I am not happy that it’s Atlanta’s hockey team.

Neither Chipman nor the citizens of Winnipeg are the bad guys here.

Contrast Chipman with the Atlanta Spirit – a duplicitous group of owners voted last in both honesty and ownership in the most recent ESPN the Magazine survey of all 122 major professional sports teams. Sprinkle in NHL Commissioner who cuts backroom deals with cities like Glendale (only to have the alleged new "principal owner" vanish the next day) and is glad to take $60 million more in a “relocation” or “breakup fee” and you may have your answer.

Think about that for a while and you may come to the true reason why Atlanta will lose its hockey team next Tuesday. But don’t think you will ever get a true answer from the NHL or the Spirit. They’ll continue sweeping those dirty little details under the rug.

For updates whenever a new article is posted, please follow me either on Twitter @PJFoleyExaminer or Google Buzz.


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