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Former player Carter leads group seeking to bring NHL back to Atlanta

Anson Carter Anson Carter

ATLANTA (AP) — After losing both the Flames and the Thrashers, Atlanta is making a third bid to land an NHL team.

Former player Anson Carter announced Tuesday he's heading a group that made a formal request to the league to begin the process of adding an expansion team in metro Atlanta.

Carter's group is the second to express serious interest in bringing another team to Atlanta, which was home of the Flames from 1972-80 and the Thrashers from 1999-2011.

Both teams relocated to Canadian cities — the Flames to Calgary and the Thrashers to Winnipeg, where they are now known as the Jets — because of ownership issues and slumping attendance.

Ryan Smith, owner of the NBA's Utah Jazz, also has put in a bid for an NHL expansion team in Salt Lake City.

The league has said it’s not ready to consider adding to its current 32-team lineup, but also has made it clear it is willing to discuss a new team with any group that reaches out. The expansion fee could be at least $1 billion.

The NHL is unlikely to move forward on expansion until it resolves the arena situation for the Arizona Coyotes, who currently play in a 4,600-seat college rink.

“The league appreciates Anson’s passion for bringing NHL hockey back to the Atlanta area, and he has certainly kept the subject on our radar screen for several years running,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. “While, as we have made clear, we have no expansion-oriented process in place currently, it’s always good to know there is bona fide interest.”

Carter, who played with eight NHL teams from 1996-2007 and has lived in Atlanta for 15 years, is leading the Alpharetta Sports & Entertainment Group, based in the prosperous suburb about 30 miles north of downtown Atlanta.

The group is proposing a new Frank Gehry-designed arena that would be constructed at a redevelopment of North Point Mall.

"I have no doubt that the best league in the world will thrive in its return to Metro Atlanta,” Carter said. “I have been in dialogue with Commissioner (Gary) Bettman since 2019 about an expansion team returning to the Fulton County Metro Atlanta market, knowing that NHL franchise decisions are exclusively decided by the NHL Board of Governors.”

Suddenly, a city that has been without a hockey team for more than a decade has two groups vying for a franchise in a league that is riding the wave of hugely successful expansion teams in Las Vegas and Seattle.

Atlanta businessman Vernon Krause has proposed an 18,000-seat arena as part of a massive mixed-used development in southern Forsyth County, less than 10 miles north of the arena proposal by Carter's group.

Last week, Krause told WSB-TV that he and his wife recently visited New York and met with Bettman and Daly to discuss a possible expansion team.

Both arena proposals are along the Georgia 400 freeway that cuts through Atlanta's sprawling northern suburbs. Studies have shown the area contains a huge number of potential NHL fans and would mark a striking change from the arenas that the city's previous teams called home, both downtown.

The Flames played at the Omni, while the Thrashers took the ice at what is now known as State Farm Arena — a 17,000-seat facility built on the Omni site after the original arena was torn down.

State Farm Arena remains the home of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, but has undergone massive renovations that make it no longer viable to share a hockey team. Besides, Daly has said he believes an arena location north of the city would provide a new Atlanta-area team with a better chance at long-term success.

Carter, who now works as an analyst for TNT and Canada's Sportsnet, said his partners include Neil Leibman of Top Tier Sports, Peter Simon of Simon Sports and Aaron Zeigler of Zeigler Entertainment Group.

Carter said the proposed development at North Point Mall would also include a stadium that could be used for soccer and lacrosse, a performing arts venue, an esports center and practice facilities, along with retail, dining, hotel and residential elements. Insurance giant New York Life would be a partner.

There were no details on how the project would be funded or how much public money might be required, though Alpharetta Mayor Jim Gilvin and Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts issued statements through Carter's group expressing their support.


AP Hockey Writers Larry Lage in Detroit and Stephen Whyno in Washington contributed to this report.