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Atlanta Loses Another NHL Franchise

No word yet if the soon-to-be-relocated team will be known as the Jets, but it’d be safe to assume the name is in the running.

First, the Flames. Now, the Thrashers.

The struggling NHL franchise was sold Tuesday to a group that will move it to Winnipeg next season, making Atlanta the first city in the league’s modern era to lose two teams.

The Flames left for Calgary in 1980. The Thrashers are following them to Canada three decades later.

“I want to thank all the Thrashers fans that supported us in Atlanta for my two years there. Very unfortunate there will be no NHL hockey,” tweeted Evander Kane, one of the team’s most promising young players. “I will miss the great people and city of Atlanta.”

True North Sports and Entertainment announced the deal during a news conference at Winnipeg’s MTS Centre, the 15,015-seat arena where the team will play. The news sparked a raucous celebration in Manitoba’s largest city, which is rejoining the league after losing the Jets to Phoenix in 1996.

The deal is worth $170 million, including a $60 million relocation fee that will be split by the rest of the league, a source told ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun.

The new team could also be known as the Jets, though a decision on the name has not been reached. The Thrashers name — which was coined by former owner Ted Turner and referred to the state bird of Georgia — will surely not be going north of the border.

Thousands of fans in red, white and blue Jets jerseys cheered, waved flags and played impromptu games of street hockey. While the deal is subject to approval of the league owners, that’s expected to be a mere formality when the board of governors meets June 21 in New York.

“It’s nice to be back in Winnipeg after all these years,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who attended the True North news conference.

The NHL will not realign its divisions for the 2011-12 season, meaning Winnipeg will play in the Southeast, a league source confirmed to LeBrun.

The NHL decided to award Atlanta a franchise during what has been called it’s infamous, “Southern Flight” when a number of teams in Canada fled for warm weather cities in the United States.  Now, with the Canadian Dollar performing better than the U.S. Dollar on a consistent basis, a return north of the border is a tempting option for a number of struggling NHL franchises.

Look for possibly flights by the Phoenix Coyotes — owned by the league, but kept afloat by influxes of cash from Glendale, Arizona via merchandising deals — to consider a move to either Hamilton, Ontario or Quebec City, Quebec.   Rumors also exist of the NHL adding a second team in Toronto; but no one thinks such a thing will happen since the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t have much of a waiting list for season tickets indicating the city doesn’t have demand for a second franchise.

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