It’s official, realignment will be coming to an NHL city near you in the next couple of years.
The NHL’s Board of Governors met on Tuesday and unanimously approved the sale of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg-based True North Sports and Entertainment. The Board also approved the relocation of the team to the MTS Centre in Winnipeg for next season by a unanimous vote.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who oversaw the Jets’ departure from Manitoba over a decade ago, expressed his regret about leaving the Atlanta market behind a second time:
“Obviously, everybody is sorry and distressed and unhappy that we found ourselves in the circumstance where our franchise was leaving Atlanta,” Bettman said. “We’re particularly sorry for the fans that are there, but obviously based on the reception that we’ve gotten, everybody is extremely excited about the opportunities in Winnipeg for our return.”
The unnamed Winnipeg team will play next year in Atlanta’s spot in the Southeast division that includes Washington, Tampa Bay, Florida and Carolina. It is then presumed the NHL will realign it’s divisions for 2012-13, paving the way for the Red Wings, Blue Jackets or Predators to move into the Eastern Conference. It’s widely thought the Red Wings were given first dibs years ago to move to the East, but it looks like a huge battle will ensue in the coming years between the three clubs.