AJC.com has reported that the Maryland Court is tossing out the entire purchase agreement that has been the subject of a 4 years of litigation between feuding Thrashers owners. The complicated purchase agreement was supposed to facilitate the buyout of minority owner Steve Belkin. However the actual buyout unfolded in a manner not contemplated by the purchase agreement and Belkin then claimed he had the right to buy out the majority owners because of a failure to agree on a price.
The ruling voids the basis for the Belkin claim that he can own both teams and the area. As of this moment Steve Belkin is just a minority partner who can be outvoted by the other other owners. This is a huge win for the rest of the Spirit Group in terms of who has leverage on whom. If the rest of the Atlanta Spirit stays united, they can continue to operate the teams as they see fit and Belkin gets to complain and pay his share of any losses. Or he can agree on a price acceptable to the majority owners.
What happens next? There is one last appeal and giving how decisively this favors the majority of Atlanta Spirit I would expect that Belkin will make that appeal. On the other hand, the Belkin side just suffered a huge loss and if he wants to curtail his legal expenses, he could choose not to appeal. This could open the door for the NHL and NBA to step in and lay out a process for a buyout plan. In the case of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the NHL has just done precisely that (probably to avoid repeated the legal mess seen in Atlanta for the last four years):
Barrie has the first shot in an exclusive 60-day window that apparently runs out in mid to late September. If Barrie fails, Koules gets his chance. Purchase price is not the only issue. The parties also must prove they can handle the substantial debt obligations to former owner Palace Sports & Entertainment. If either Barrie or Koules meets those parameters during his exclusive window, the other must sell. In this way, the league hopes to bring stability to one of its most troubled franchises
I have no idea if the NHL would impose the same buyout process in Atlanta's case, but it is possible. The majority side of the Atlanta Spirit has exercised de facto operation control since 2005 and the NHL office seems to get along reasonably with that party as far as I can tell. Who knows?
What effect does this have on the Thrashers? Nothing this instant until we know whether Belkin will appeal. But in the long run it gives the Spirit majority a huge advantage and makes it much more likely that any Belkin buyout will be at a time and price of their choosing. The end is not here just yet, but the end is now in sight Thrasher fans.