TORONTO - Winnipeg will need the support of most current team owners to bring NHL hockey back to the Manitoba capital.
The league's constitution requires any sale to be approved by three-quarters of the board of governors—which translates into 22 owners—before it becomes official. A majority of the board must also support an application for relocation.
Winnipeg-based True North Sports and Entertainment is reportedly close to buying the Atlanta Thrashers and bringing them north of the border.
The league's constitution includes specific language about the "transfer of membership or ownership interest in a member club" and spells out territorial rights for where each team plays.
Section 36.1 of the NHL bylaws states that an application for relocation must be submitted by Jan. 1 of the year prior to relocation "unless a majority of the member clubs consents to a later filing date."
If the Thrashers are to move to Winnipeg before next season, that will need to take place.
The bylaws also include 24 points for the board to consider when voting on a possible relocation, including such things as whether the team is financially viable in its current location, how it has been supported by fans, if there is another potential owner who wants to keep it in its current location and whether a suitable arena already exists in the new city.
Another key part of relocation is the payment of a transfer fee to the NHL "to reflect the goodwill developed by the league in the new location."
The Thrashers sale price is expected to be around US$170 million, with $70 million of that going to the league for a relocation fee, according to a source.
The NHL is very familiar with True North owners David Thomson and Mark Chipman—two men commissioner Gary Bettman mentioned by name during his state of the union media availability at last year's Stanley Cup final. In a subsequent interview with The Canadian Press, he acknowledged the city had once again become a desirable location for the league.
"Winnipeg had expressed interest over the last couple years," Bettman said in the June 2010 interview. "The fact is—with the prospect of owners and the prospect of having, unlike when we left (in 1996), a building that could be suitable for an NHL team—the dynamics have changed."
There a number of other issues to consider if a team gets moved. The NHL has reportedly been preparing two different schedule drafts for next season—one that includes Thrashers home games in Atlanta, the other with them in Winnipeg—and might consider realigning its divisions and conferences if a move happens.
However, that isn't expected to happen right away.
Even if the Thrashers end up in Winnipeg prior to next season, the team would likely spend the year in the Southeast Division before potentially being shifted prior to the 2012-13 season.
One thing that won't change dramatically is the makeup of the team. All contracts are binding—meaning any player that has signed a deal with the Thrashers will remain property of the franchise if it is moved north.