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Thrashers moving to Winnipeg and the impact on the Capitals

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There’s much left to discuss – namely the name – but what will be announced this afternoon is the big step.

The NHL is back in Winnipeg.

True North announced shortly after noon Eastern time that it had purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and intends to move the franchise to Canada’s Manitoba province.

In Georgia, it’s a story of failed ownership – Atlanta Spirit had been looking to get rid of the Thrashers for some time. It’s the second time an NHL team has left the city, after the Flames moved to Calgary in April 1980. They won a Stanley Cup nine years later. The expansion Atlanta Thrashers began play in 1999 but will have a different name and a Canadian address when beginning the 2011-12 season.

“It is clear that times have changed for Winnipeg as an NHL market,” commissioner Gary Bettman said.

In Manitoba, it’s a day of celebration with police officers preparing for riots now that hockey is set to return to Winnipeg as Canada’s seventh NHL franchise. The Jets left in 1996 when financial problems drove them to Phoenix, and while the Coyotes were discussed for a couple years as the most likely team to return to Winnipeg, the Thrashers are instead.

“Relocation of the Thrashers is not the outcome that any of us ultimately wanted,” Atlanta owners Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon said in a statement.

For the Capitals, the impact is direct. Winnipeg – which may or may not be called the Jets – is expected to play in the Southeast Division this season before the league realigns for 2012-13. That means three trips to Manitoba to face a division rival, and a grueling schedule for Winnipeg.

A round-trip flight from Reagan to Winnipeg is 2,500 miles – a big increase from the 1,094 to Atlanta. And while road trips may better accommodate travel, the Caps are set to travel an extra 4,188 miles in trips to Winnipeg than they would have to Atlanta.

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