After a few weeks of speculation, the deal to move the Thrashers to Winnipeg is finally completed. Atlanta hockey fans are no doubt depressed that the city’s second NHL franchise (the Atlanta Flames became the Calgary Flames in 1980) is heading north.
It’s clear the NHL didn’t give hockey in Atlanta a fair shake. Yes, attendance has been down; but that’s because the Atlanta Spirit, which owns both the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and Thrashers, hasn’t been committed to putting the talent on the ice necessary to make the team a contender.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman seemed to scoff at the idea of fans didn’t show up when the team isn’t playing well. Now there’s a shocking headline, “BREAKING: Teams plays poorly, seats empty.” Anyone that lived through the atrocious Atlanta Braves teams of the 80’s knows that this isn’t rocket science. If a sports franchise isn’t playing well, why should fans be expected to show up?
The reason for the Thrashers moving is not because hockey can’t be successful in the South; other cities, Nashville and Raleigh, have showed that it can be. In fact, I remember going to Atlanta Knights games as a teenager and seeing regularly packed houses; and this was a minor league hockey team. They brought some excitement to the city by appearing the the post-season in each of the four seasons they were in Atlanta, even winning the IHL championship in 1994. Unfortunately, the team moved to Quebec in 1996 due to the demolition of the Omni and the desire to bring the NHL back to the city.
Sadly, the Thrashers were probably Atlanta’s last shot at a NHL team. And despite what the NHL will say, it is not any fault of the fans.
Well, we still have the Gwinnett Gladiators.