- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - If ticket sales and optimism count, the former Thrashers franchise is going to do a whole lot better in Winnipeg than it ever did in 13 years in Atlanta.

What was all but inevitable after the team changed hands a few weeks ago became reality on Tuesday when the sale of the Thrashers and the relocation of the club to Winnipeg were unanimously approved by the NHL’s board of governors.

“They deserve it,” New Jersey Devils president Lou Lamoriello said. “Another team in Canada, everyone is excited about it. I think it’s going to work out fantastic.”

The Thrashers’ move makes seven teams north of the border. That reverses a recent trend in which teams shifted to the United States from Canada. The last time a club relocated into Canada was 31 years ago when Atlanta’s first NHL team, the Flames, moved to Calgary.

Seven of the NHL’s 30 franchises are located in Canada. With two failed hockey teams, Atlanta isn’t likely to get another chance anytime soon.

“It’s going to be tough,” said Thrashers president Don Waddell, who has been with the team since the beginning but won’t be joining it in Winnipeg. “Sports in general have been tough in Atlanta. I can’t say it’s finished forever, but they’ve had two tries at it now and it’s been difficult for all ownership groups to make it work.”

From general manager to coach to team president, Waddell endured the ups and downs _ mostly downs _ as the franchise struggled on and off the ice.

After only one playoff appearance that produced no wins, Tuesday was the day for Waddell and Atlanta to say goodbye to its hockey team.

Again.

“We’ve been through the emotions and the frustrations the last few weeks, but when I look back and being there 13 years, it’s been a great run,” said Waddell, who served as the team’s first GM until the 2009-10 season. “Since ‘98 when I got hired, there are only four general managers that are currently with their teams.

“You’ve got to look at the positives. To be able to stay in one place for so long, it’s been tremendous for me.”

The same can’t be said of the team that once featured star players such as Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa, but couldn’t keep them for one reason or another.

True North Sports and Entertainment bought the team last month and announced it was bringing the Thrashers to Winnipeg, which lost the Jets to Phoenix after the 1995-96 season.

“Everybody is sorry and distressed and unhappy that we found ourselves in the circumstance where our franchise was leaving Atlanta,” NHL Commissioner Gary 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 sale is reportedly for $170 million, including a $60 million relocation fee that will be split by the rest of the owners. The Thrashers are the fifth NHL team to move since Bettman became commissioner in 1993.

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