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Thrashers to Winnipeg just about official

According to the tireless Darren Dreger of TSN and Nick Kypreos of SportsNet -- and now the NHL has put its official stamp on it -- a press conference is coming at noon ET to announce the Atlanta Thrashers are sold and moving to Winnipeg, effective immediately.

This story has been reported out of Canada as nearly done for several weeks, but now True North Sports & Entertainment has a deal in place and the Winnipeg team (there's no name yet, and Jets seems to be out) will begin play in Atlanta's place in the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference when this season begins.

Scheduling will seemingly be a little strange, with Winnipeg in the East -- the Lightning and Panthers may not enjoy three trips to Manitoba this season -- but that should be sorted out for 2012-13.

For now, Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov and Ondrej Pavelec are leading their squad north. According to TSN, GM Rick Dudley and coach Craig Ramsay are presumed to be keeping their jobs, with contracts through this coming season. President Don Waddell, the GM for the first decade of the Thrashers, would seem to be out of a job with the sale, but that's just speculation.

Atlanta's second go-round in the NHL lasted 11 seasons, with one playoff appearance and zero playoff games won. The Thrashers never averaged more than 16,000 fans a season at Philips Arena, through half a dozen owners and as many coaches.

They picked first or second four straight years, from their inception in 1999-2002; Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk were the two homegrown stars, though Heatley was traded to the Senators for Marian Hossa on Aug. 23, 2005, nearly two years after Heatley lost control of his Ferrari in a crash that killed teammate Dan Snyder.

Now that Atlanta has had two cracks at the NHL -- the Flames were there from 1972-1979 -- there likely won't be a third try. Despite being the biggest TV market in the southeast, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman never found solid enough ownership to try and build a base there; this return to Canada is a big victory for hockey fans up north, but a failure in Bettman's "American footprint" expansion of the 1990s.

This may give more hope to the fans in Quebec City and Hamilton as well; the Phoenix Coyotes are still under NHL guidance, and a foundering franchise such as the Florida Panthers may see this sale as a way to get out from a pile of red ink.

Today's announcement is good for the game, since Canada, with a healthier dollar and far more nationalistic fervor for the game than we collectively have here, deserves to have a couple franchises returned to its wanting cities.

We'll see if this is an isolated event or the beginning of a shift back to hockey's birthplace.

New York Sports