On Franchise Movement

I grew up in Hartford, Connecticut a devoted Whalers fan. My parents are big hockey fans and some of my earliest memories are of watching the Whale play (or attempt to play) at the Hartford Civic Center. Eventually due to Hartford being too small of a market the Whale left for greener pastures.

I was angry for a while after they left. I stopped following the NHL for a number of years before returning to the game I love and cheering for the Leafs that my goalie coach spent hours telling me about when I was younger. I read today that the owners of the Thrashers are in talks to sell the team to Winnipeg and since I write for a primarily Canadian audience I know what the reaction is likely to be.

If you’re from Winnipeg you have reason to be excited: you might have an NHL team again. You should also realize that the heartbreak you felt when the Jets flew south to Phoenix is something that will happen to Atlanta. Sure, the Thrashers don’t sell out or even really have particularly good attendance but that’s not really the point. 

There are thousands of people who care about hockey as much as any of us who are at work on a Monday hoping they won’t lose their NHL team. Let’s save the "no fans" jokes and sympathize with fellow hockey fans because who knows what happens if the Canadian dollar weakens in the years to come. Regardless of where fans are located and who they cheer for nobody deserves to be jerked around by the NHL.

  • Chemmy,

    I think everyone can agree that losing your team, no matter where you are located, sucks. Sports fans put in a substantial emotional investment in supporting their team, however, teams need to be properly placed in markets where they can survive and thrive. With a population of close to 6 million people, why can’t the Atlanta Thrashers fill their arena? When compared to some Canadian markets, you can find season tickets for less than half of the same seat (roughly) price.

    Some times, sports teams just don’t fit the market. Sure, there are some die-hard supporters, but for the most part, no one will care a year down the road. Just look at Vancouver after they lost the NBA Grizzlies.

  • Well, for one we’re dealing with Winnipeg who’ve already lost a team once. 15K at the MTS Centre beats Atlanta, sure, and I understand that NHL teams should be in the 30 most viable markets.

    I’m just saying that maybe this process can happen without insulting Thrashers fans. The real fans are already gutted and the city of Atlanta as a whole doesn’t care that the team is leaving or that you made fun of a team they don’t watch.

  • As a long-time STH of the Thrashers (inaugrual season for 8 years), I’m sure the usual reasons will be tossed around for losign the franchise but keep in mind during the first five years we had consistently 15k or more in the stands. We made one foray into the playoffs and were quickly swept by the Rangers and haven’t sniffed the playoffs since. It’s been mostly 10 years of mediocre-to-poor hockey run on a shoestring budget. Our ownership group cares not one whit for hockey while they dote over their Hawks. They are incompetent, and untrustworthy. In sum, a bunch of sleaseballs that through their nickel and diming ways finally turned me off (and most of my fellow STH’ers) to a sport I came to love but couldn’t stand to put another penny in their cheapass pockets. I will always believe hockey could have made it here, just like it has in Raleigh, Tampa and Nashville. But we’re not Canada, you can’t trot out poorly-manned, poorly coached teams yaar-after-year with a dsyfunctional and disinterested ownership group and expect the fans of Atlanta to remain invested either emotionally or financially.

  • I’ve been “living” in Atlanta for about 2 years, as a student as Georgia Tech. Unfortunately, I haven’t really been able to go to a lot of Thrashers games, because school just takes up way too much of my time. However, I do remember when I went to one (against Washington last November) that the crowd, while not the largest crowd I’ve seen, was a) very enthusiastic, strongly behind their team, and b) larger than some of the crowds I saw on TV when I’d watch the Panthers on TV at home, or occasionally going to Panthers games. Granted, maybe the Panthers have had more success overall than the Thrashers (one SC berth, 15 years ago), and the Deep South probably isn’t the best place for hockey (it’s basically football or die here, even the crowds at the Atlanta Braves (MLB) games are not great). But as a hockey fan and somewhat of an Atlantan, I would be sorely disappointed if the Thrashers leave.
    Some of my first hockey memories involved playing NHL 95, and always facing the Nordiques, the Whalers, the Jets. The Jets had a lot of success and some great players (Selanne, Sakic, Bobby Hull come to mind), and I know that the Winnipeg people would love to see professional hockey at the highest level back in town. So in that respect, if there was any city that’s going to get an NHL team moved there, Winnipeg would definitely be at the top of my list for cities I’d like. Should this move be made, I’d fully support the team, whatever they would be called (wouldn’t be surprised if they went back to the Jets), but 1) I’d be a Panthers fan first and foremost regardless of the outcome, and 2) I’d probably be a little peeved with Gary Bettman and other figures involved.

  • Good to see a little balance to the whole “realignment movement.” I will admit that I don’t have strong feelings for Atlanta or Phoenix, and that I’d probably be more interested in a team in Winnipeg, but I get that there are people who care about their team, and those people can’t be blamed for poor management or for the fact that there are not ENOUGH people who care in those markets to make an NHL franchise work.

    Here is what I would suggest though: if your team moves, stay a fan of that team. They are probably going to need the support. Don’t get bitter about the fact that they are gone (like some Expos fans hate the Nationals, or Whalers fans don’t like the Hurricanes): it’s not the players who made them leave, and you liked the players. It may have been ownership, but you have to understand it’s a business and ownership needs to make money.

    If the Thrashers go to Winnipeg, (or if the Islanders go to Quebec City), the situation will likely be precarious for the new team. Having a strong, geographically-wide fan-base can’t hurt.

  • Harry Patrick

    I have no doubt Atlanta fans will be upset when the team leaves, both of them.

    Just like all the Flames fans who cried when the team…. oh wait, nobody in Altanta cared then either, except Jane Fonda and the Magician.