The National Hockey League in Winnipeg. For some reason that has a familiar ring to it — oh that’s right, Winnipeg already had a team, but because they weren’t selling tickets, they lost the team to a more promising market: Phoenix (more specifically, Glendale). Boy did that go well.
Well, the franchise formally known as the Winnipeg Jets (now the Phoenix Coyotes) will be staying put in Glendale after a series of payments made by the city to the NHL to keep the franchise. So, Phoenix — at top 10 market — will maintain a frozen franchise in the desert for at least another year.
With the Coyotes staying put, all hopes of a franchise heading back to moose country seemed all but lost. Another top 10 market seems to be failing as well: Atlanta.
Wait, that sounds familiar too!
That’s because Atlanta previously lost a franchise to a Canadian market after the 1980-81 season when the Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary to become the Calgary Flames. Apparently Atlanta wasn’t a viable city for supporting an NHL franchise — but you know Gary Bettman (the NHL commissioner) — he doesn’t give up on those top 10 markets.
Well it looks like Atlanta will become the only city in the history of the NHL to lose two franchises. And it looks like this franchise will be headed to Canada in the location of the previously mentioned city of Winnipeg.
Whether they take back the name Winnipeg Jets, or become the Winnipeg (or even Manitoba) Thrashers — probably not the Thrashers since the team was actually named after the state bird of Georgia — the fact remains: Winnipeg is one of the best hockey towns in the world. They deserve to have a real NHL franchise back in their midst after having to try and fill the empty hole in their hearts with an American Hockey League team known as the Manitoba Moose since 1996.
But, how did this all happen? After all, they are one of the newest franchises in the NHL.
I already talked about how the Coyotes almost went back home to the ‘Peg, but will now stay put for at least another year in search for news owners not named the NHL, but how did Atlanta manage to get there?
Well, lets start with the terribly run franchise in Atlanta itself. The Thrashers simply were run into the ground by co-owner Michael Gearon — also owner of the Atlanta Hawks (NBA) and Phillips Arena — and they were not able to sell enough tickets — the Thrashers ranked 28th out of 30 teams in the league in ticket sales.
Of course, Gearon had possible investors. One group was even led by former Atlanta Braves pitching star Tom Glavine — Glavine was actually drafted twice in 1984, once by the Atlanta Braves of MLB and once by the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL; he decided to go with baseball. Once the group known as the Atlanta Spirit decided it no longer wanted in on the ice, there was generally just not enough interest to buy the team from them. In fact, since acquiring the Thrashers in 2004, it recently became known that they were attempting to sell the team almost the minute they bought it.
What really was the beginning of the end for the Thrashers was when they traded away their star player, Dany Heatley, to the Ottawa Senators after a car crash scandal that left one of his teammates dead. More recently, they were unable to keep another one of their stars, Ilya Kovalchuk; they knew they would be unable to resign him in a contract year, and eventually sent him to the New Jersey Devils where he would go on to sign a 15-year, $100 million deal.
So after getting rid of all their players, you would think they would lose fans and money, right? Well, yeah, that’s what happened.
The Atlanta Spirit group said they lost $130 million after buying the team.
But hey, it’s not all bad news. Remember, a city with a gaping hole in its hockey hearts gets to fill it once again with NHL hockey and a franchise they can call their own.
Winnipeggers are very excited, and that excitement almost exclusively takes away from the who-cares attitude going on in the college football-centered Atlanta, Ga., area.
Well, that’s it for this year’s game of musical chairs, NHL style — for now — but we’ll see what happens after next season, if and when no one takes the Coyotes off the league’s hands.
Who knows, there are other former NHL cities starving for franchises just like that of Winnipeg; maybe Hartford, Minn., or even Quebec City — but that’s a whole other story.