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Winnipeg mayor: Thrashers coming

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Winnipeg's mayor says it's just "a matter of time" before a deal to move the Atlanta Thrashers to his city is finalized and announced.

Mayor Sam Katz says Friday the deal to bring an NHL team back to Winnipeg is going to happen, though nothing is signed and sealed yet.

Katz says he's been in touch with Winnipeg's True North Sports and Entertainment, the company negotiating the sale, and has been told there is nothing official -- yet.

True North Sports and Entertainment has been negotiating with Thrashers ownership about moving the team north of the border. Despite a report Thursday night that a deal is done, both the NHL and True North have said nothing has been decided.

"I do believe this will happen and it's long overdue," Katz said. "The Jets never should have left here. . . . After 15 years, we'll all be ecstatic to have them back. There is no doubt that the fan base is there. The corporate support is there."

The Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix in 1996. Since then, Winnipeg has built a new arena -- the 15,500-seat MTS Centre -- and has argued it can support an NHL franchise once again.

"I think Tuesday could be an interesting day," said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger told reporters. "I think we should all keep our powder dry and see how it goes. But the reality is that until the deal is done, nobody is making any comments. We've always taken a prudent approach on this and anything that is finalized, you'll be among the first to know."

There has been criticism that the arena isn't big enough for the NHL; the AHL's Manitoba Moose is the current pro hockey tenant. Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk, considered one of the greatest Jets players, doesn't agree.

"People think it's small, but I think it's great," said Hawerchuk. "To me, you should be sold out, you should have a waiting list for season tickets and you've created a demand."

Former Jets defenseman Dave Manson said he " couldn't be happier for the city of Winnipeg."

"I was actually part of the move with the Jets to Phoenix and I felt very sorry for Winnipeg," Manson added. "I was fortunate to play in a few Canadian cities and it was tough being a part of that, to watch a team move from Canada to the States."

Despite all the talk of an impending move, Thrashers' fans planned a possible last-ditch effort to show support for the NHL team.

A rally was scheduled for Saturday outside Philips Arena in conjunction with a select-a-seat event for current and prospective season-ticket holders, scheduled to go on as planned despite the franchise's cloudy future.

There was no way of knowing if a strong turnout would have any impact on reported negotiations, though NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on his weekly radio show that "it will be interesting to see how many people show up."

A Facebook page named "Keep the Thrashers in Atlanta" urged fans to turned up at the noontime rally, which will be held in a gritty parking area known as "The Gulch."

"Bring everyone you know! Even if they just want to party with people! We need a HUGE crowd! KEEP OUR THRASHERS IN ATLANTA!!" the organizer of the page wrote.

It looked as though the Coyotes, now owned by the league because of financial troubles, might be moving back to Winnipeg. But last week, officials in suburban Glendale, Ariz., agreed to a $25 million subsidy for the upcoming season, saving the Coyotes while they try to finalize new ownership.

That turned the focus to the Thrashers.

The Thrashers owners, known as Atlanta Spirit, claim $130 million in losses since 2005 and have made it clear they no longer want the NHL team, which has made the playoffs only once in 11 seasons and ranked 28th out of 30 teams in attendance this year. While the preference is to find new ownership that would keep the team in Atlanta, no one has come forward with a legitimate offer.

"Nothing new," co-owner Bruce Levenson said Friday in an email to The Associated Press.

NHL officials also were tightlipped.

"No concrete developments at this point," deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email to the AP. "Won't comment on likelihood or things that might flow from agreement unless or until it's reached."

True North reportedly is willing to pay $110 million for the team and another $60 million to the league as a relocation fee.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.