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Tracking the NHL's return Add to ...

In a way, the return of an NHL team to Winnipeg began on April, 28, 1996, the night the Jets played at Winnipeg Arena for the final time before moving to Phoenix.

It was a sad night for thousands of hockey fans and for a young businessman named Mark Chipman, who was asked to make a final stab at raising enough money to keep the team in Winnipeg. The effort failed, the Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes and even though Chipman told himself he would bring a team back to Winnipeg one day he knew it would not happen as long as NHL player salaries were rising quickly in the days before the salary cap.

"It was a bit of a pipe dream because the economics of the league didn't fit our community at all," Chipman said. "We had no [suitable]building."

Still, he knew things could change some day. In the meantime, Chipman bought the failing Minnesota Moose of the now-defunct International Hockey League, moved them to Winnipeg in the summer of 1996 and set about learning how to run a hockey team. One day, he would put that knowledge to use on an NHL team.

What follows are the significant events since the summer of 1996 that resulted in Tuesday's announcement that Chipman and his business partner David Thomson bought the Atlanta Thrashers and will move them to Winnipeg.

Summer, 2001 - The International league folded and its surviving teams, including the Manitoba Moose, were absorbed by the American Hockey League. Chipman met NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at the merger meetings and told him he planned to bring an NHL team back to Winnipeg one day. By this time, Chipman and Thomson met and decided to work together to build a new arena in Winnipeg.

Nov. 16, 2004 - The grand opening of the MTS Centre in Winnipeg. It cost $133.5-million to build, with True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd., the company owned by Thomson and Chipman, providing $93-million. It seats 15,015 for hockey.

July, 2005 - After losing the 2004-05 season to a lockout, the NHL and its players agree on a system that introduces salary caps and revenue sharing. The world changed significantly," Chipman said. "That was a real catalyst for helping us think we could do this."

January, 2007 - Bettman invited Chipman to join representatives from several other cities interested in joining the NHL and make a pitch to the executive committee of the league's board of governors.

July, 2007 - After a brief contact with the Pittsburgh Penguins several months previously went nowhere, Bettman approved a meeting between True North and then-Nashville Predators owner Craig Leipold. He was looking for a buyer after the Boots Del Biaggio fiasco and after BlackBerry billionaire Jim Balsillie's bid for the Predators flamed out. But by the time Chipman and his group were ready to talk, a group of local businessmen agreed to buy the Predators to keep them in Nashville.

Spring, 2009 - Shortly before Jerry Moyes decided to sell his Coyotes to Balsillie, who would use the U.S. Bankrupcy Court to try and force a move to Hamilton, Ont., Bettman asked Chipman to take a look at the Coyotes. No one knew what was about to blow up with Balsillie but nothing came of Chipman's initial look.

July, 2009 - Bettman told Chipman of the possibility of buying the Thrashers. But at that time, the NHL was not willing to discuss relocation. From that point on, True North began monitoring both the Phoenix and Atlanta situations.

November, 2009 - The Coyotes once again became Chipman's focus when efforts to sell the team to either Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf or the Ice Edge group of businessmen faltered. Serious discussions between the league and True North began.

May, 2010 - True North and the NHL drew close to an agreement on the sale of the Coyotes and a move to Winnipeg.

May 21, 2010 - Faced with the threat of a Coyotes sale to True North, city council in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale agrees to pay up to $25-million (U.S.) of the Coyotes' losses for the 2010-11 season. The focus shifted back to Atlanta, although the NHL told Glendale it had until Dec. 31 to find a local buyer.

March, 2011 - By now, Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer was trying to buy the Coyotes backed by a $116-million (U.S.) municipal bond deal. But the conservative watchdog group, the Goldwater Institute, said the deal was illegal and threatened to sue. With the bond deal in limbo, the NHL went back to True North about the Coyotes but Atlanta was still being negotiated, too.

May 3, 2011 - Glendale council once again agrees to pony up $25-million to cover the Coyotes' losses for the 2011-12 season, taking them out of the running for Winnipeg.

May 16-20, 2011 - After intense negotiations with Atlanta Spirit, LLC, the Thrasher owners, the True North principals believe they have the team in their grasp. The next two weeks will be spent hashing out the details.

May 31, 2011 - The last signature goes on the deal at 6 a.m., Eastern time, after teams of lawyers worked through the night. At 11:15 a.m., Central time, it is announced Winnipeg is back in the NHL.

 

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