As early as in October 2009, there were rumours that True North Sports & Entertainment, the company who owns both Winnipeg’s MTS Centre and the American Hockey League (AHL)’s Manitoba Moose, was purchasing the Atlanta Thrashers with the intention of moving the team to Winnipeg. True North’s chairman, Mark Chipman, was on very good terms with NHL owners. By May 28, 2011, multiple reports had confirmed that the deal to purchase and move the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg was done, and all that was left was for the NHL to decide the right time to officially announce the relocation. According to The Globe and Mail, a deal was finalized on May 20, 2011 to relocate the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg. The league later denied the report, but acknowledged that advanced negotiations between the two teams were underway and that commissioner Gary Bettman supported the move. On May 20, 2011, the Winnipeg Sun confirmed that an agreement in principle has been reached, while Winnipeg’s mayor Sam Katz announced that he was confident that Atlanta Thrashers relocation to Winnipeg would soon be officially announced. On May 31, 2011, at a press conference at the MTS Centre, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed that the Atlanta Thrashers had been sold to True North, and would relocate to Winnipeg for the 2011–12 season pending the approval of the sale and relocation by the NHL Board of Governors; the Board of Governors gave formal approval of the sale and relocation at their June 21, 2011 meeting. The reported purchase price is $170 million, with $60 million going to the NHL as a relocation fee.After the sale announcement, True North made preparations to move the Moose franchise to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador; that team’s move was formally approved and announced by the American Hockey League on June 10, 2011, returning the AHL to Atlantic Canada after a six-year absence.
Season ticket sales began June 1, 2011, with Manitoba Moose season ticket holders having priority. The team sought to sell 13,000 season tickets in an effort to prove its viability. Within the first three and a half hours the new franchise sold 1,870 packages to Moose season ticket holders. The number of season tickets sold jumped to 4,170 on June 2 and 7,158 on June 3. Season tickets opened to the general public on June 4 and sold out in just 17 minutes. Once the ‘Drive to 13,000’ was completed, TNSE started a season ticket waiting list, which was shut down after 8,000 people had signed up in two hours. In July 2011, tickets for the Oct 9 home opener versus the Montreal Canadiens were listed for an average price of $1,711 on Stubhub, with an average selling price of $713.
True North stated that the announcement of the team’s name would not be made until after the successful completion of the season ticket drive at the absolute earliest. The team was not to be named the Thrashers, since True North did not acquire the name in the transaction, and the rights to that name and the Thrashers logo were retained by the ownership group in Atlanta.
There was considerable support in Winnipeg to re-use the “Winnipeg Jets” name, which was the moniker for the city’s original WHA and NHL franchise as well as the original name for a junior hockey team that had begun play in 1967. Indeed, on the day the move was announced, crowds poured into downtown Winnipeg wearing paraphernalia from the old Jets and chanting “Go, Jets, go!” The rights to the name “Winnipeg Jets” belonged to the league (through the league’s ownership of the Phoenix Coyotes), but Bettman stated that True North would be permitted to use it if it wished. Though other nicknames (including those incorporating “Manitoba” instead of “Winnipeg”) were considered, True North officially announced that “Winnipeg Jets” would indeed be the team name at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft on June 24, 2011, just prior to making the seventh overall selection in the first round. At the draft meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota; Chipman announced that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff “will make our first pick, on behalf of the Winnipeg Jets.” According to one TSN reporter, while talking to Chipman post-announcement, he claimed that he thought the announcement was “subtle but effective.”
2011–12 NHL season schedules were prepared to accommodate the Thrashers’ move to Winnipeg after the sale’s announcement. The Jets’ schedule was formally released on June 23, 2011; their first on-ice appearance was in a pair of split-squad pre-season games with the Columbus Blue Jackets on September 20, 2011 (at both MTS Centre and Columbus’ Nationwide Arena), while their regular season debut would be on October 9, 2011 against the Montreal Canadiens at MTS Centre. A highlight of the regular season schedule is a home-and-home set with the Phoenix Coyotes, Winnipeg’s previous NHL franchise (October 15 in Glendale, Arizona and December 1 in Winnipeg, which will be that franchise’s first regular season appearance in Winnipeg in 15 years).
On October 9, 2011, the Jets played their first regular-season home game at MTS Centre in front of a sold-out crowd. Despite losing 5-1 versus the Montreal Canadiens, the team was met with thunderous applause at the end of the game. Nik Antropov scored the first goal for the new Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets inherited the Thrashers’ position in the Southeast Division for the 2011–12 season. After that season, the NHL is planning a realignment that corrects the fact that Winnipeg (firmly in the Central Time Zone) is in the Eastern Conference while two teams in the Eastern Time Zone (the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets) are in the Western Conference. The current plans would reduce the number of divisions from six balanced divisions of five teams to four unbalanced divisions with either seven or eight teams. The league confirmed it was considering other possibilities, including a four conference alignment that places the seven Canadian teams in the same conference.]However, that particular scenario did not come to fruition; the scenario that was ultimately chosen had the Southeast Division effectively broken up, with Winnipeg going into what is now the Central Division, the two Florida teams (somewhat incongruously) going into the Northeast Division, and Washington and Carolina going into the Atlantic Division. The realignment is pending the approval of the NHL Players Association.
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