It’s official. The Atlanta Thrashers are no more. To be fair, they never were much more than a blip on the hockey (or professional sports) landscape, but they are officially departing their home in the southeast for brighter (and colder… much colder…) skies north of the border. The Atlanta Thrashers have been a model of inefficiency and ineffectiveness, managing to make the playoffs only once since their entry into the league. It’s a terrible record, and one they’ll hope to turn around when they head back to hockey’s homeland.
Of course watching all the hemming and hawing from the NHL front office has been amusing and entertaining at times, but the sad truth of the matter is that the National Hockey League failed in one of the country’s biggest markets. Again. It’s unlikely that hockey will return to the area in the near future, and as much as I’m pleased for fans in Winnipeg, it’s only possible to see this as a loss in hockey’s drive to get more attention nationally. It’s worth wondering if some successful seasons would have been enough to get hockey to take hold in Atlanta. With other successful alternatives, like the Falcons and the Braves in the immediate area, putting money toward supporting a seemingly snakebit franchise like the Thrashers must have been difficult.
That said, the moving of Atlanta was a blow to Gary Bettman, who has long championed the moving of hockey into the sunbelt, and now some of his flagship franchises, such as Atlanta and Phoenix are in desperate straights. It seems from this perspective, that Bettman fought much harder to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix than they did to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta, but either move is a black mark on his legacy. The Jets departed from Winnipeg not even two decades ago, and a return is a fairly clear indication that the expansion to the south, at least at the expense of the Canadian base was a problem.
The question remains however, if attendance takes a dip, and the economy stumbles, is Winnipeg going to have the kind of corporate backing, and popular support necessary to ensure that it can compete with the top teams in the league. If the move from Atlanta only gives us another struggling Canadian team with little hope of making noise (cough, Edmonton, cough), was it really worth it? The Winnipeg franchise is working hard to nail down a quick 13,000 season tickets, which would be a good start. Only time will tell if this franchise is for keeps, or if it’s another ill-advised move on the way to contraction from Gary Bettman and friends.
On a related note, what should the team name be? Jets appears to be off the table, since it’s associated with the Coyotes team in Phoenix. How about the Winnipeg Whyisitsofreakingcoldheres? Thoughts?