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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during a press conference before the NHL game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Phoenix Coyotes at Arena on March 8, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.

Christian Petersen/2011 Getty Images

More than one person is asking this these days: How come Gary Bettman fights so hard to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix but not the Thrashers in Atlanta?

There are the obvious reasons - the NHL commissioner has a group of local politicians in Glendale throwing their taxpayers' money at him in order to keep the Coyotes and maybe Glendale/Phoenix makes more sense to the NHL from a U.S. television standpoint than Atlanta. This despite the fact Atlanta is a much bigger television market (No. 9 in the U.S., compared to Phoenix at No. 13). Also, the NHL is in the process of failing in Atlanta for the second time, so it might be easier to let them go to Winnipeg.

Oh, we interrupt this blog for news that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports there is one group left talking to the Thrashers owners that is willing to keep the team in Atlanta. Alas, Thrashers president Don Waddell would not identify the group, said a deal is not imminent and then said this:

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"My job is to try to find a buyer who will keep the team in Atlanta. As long as they keep taking my phone calls, I'll keep working."

Okay, sounds like these folks are really interested. At least they are until they decide Waddell's phone calls are too annoying and let him go to voice mail.

As for the Coyotes, one person close to the situation has an interesting theory - the overriding reason Bettman fights so hard for them is ego. Letting them move could be seen as victory for Jim Balsillie.

When Balsillie made his play to buy the Coyotes and move them to Hamilton, Ont., his message was that hockey would never work in the desert, only in a tried-and-true hockey market. He also made the mistake of enraging Bettman and the owners by running a season-ticket campaign in Hamilton in a previous attempt to buy the Nashville Predators.

The reason True North Sports and Entertainment of Winnipeg seemingly has the blessing of Bettman is that the company's principals, Mark Chipman and David Thomson, are going about their business in silence. That is the way Bettman likes it.

Any leaks in this story are coming out of Atlanta, where the owners are fed up and don't need to worry about displeasing the commissioner.

By giving up his fight to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix, Bettman could be seen as admitting Balsillie was right. So as long as the local politicians are willing to be relieved of $25-million (U.S.) per year, and the NHL owners are willing to let the Coyotes play on their tab, then Bettman will work hard to prevent any perception Balsillie was right.

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About the Author
Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More

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