For years (quite literally), there has been speculation that struggling NHL teams will be relocating. Bids to purchase and move teams have been submitted and failed. Several teams have changed ownership but have stayed in their hometowns. Throughout all of the chatter, teams have stayed put.
Today that trend has changed, as the NHL has announced that one of its franchises will no longer be, and that a former hockey town will once again be home to an NHL team.
For the past few years, the focus has been on the Phoenix Coyotes. Jim Balsillie, the co-CEO of Research In Motion (the developer of Blackberry), has been very aggressively pursuing the purchase of the Arizona franchise with the intent of moving them to Hamilton, Ontario. However, the NHL has been opposed to having a team in the same region as the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres, and Balsillie’s bids have been rejected by both the league and the federal courts.
With Balsillie out of the picture (for now), the hockey world waited to see the fate of the Coyotes. Surprisingly, it has stayed the same. The NHL still owns the franchise as they look for a group to purchase the team and keep them in Glendale.
So it was quite interesting when reports came that the Atlanta Thrashers were in talks with a group that would move them away from Atlanta. Why would commissioner Gary Bettman fight so hard and so publicly for the Phoenix Coyotes, only to let the Thrashers get purchased and moved not only out of Atlanta, but out of the United States?
Regardless of the reasons, it was announced today that True North Sports And Entertainment has purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and are moving them to Winnipeg, Manitoba (that’s Canada, for those of you wondering what a Manitoba is). A team name has not yet been decided upon, but there will be a team in Winnipeg for the 2011-2012 NHL season.
It is an incredibly bitter day for Thrashers fans. Despite the lack of bodies that filled the seats at Thrashers games, fans are fans, and nobody deserves to lose their favorite team. Thrashers management can blame a lack of fan support made it difficult to attract talented players, but fans can just as easily say that management’s poor on-ice product failed to gather more fans. Reports are out that the ownership was a mess and that management all around was poor. Whatever the reason, Atlanta will no longer have a hockey team. Again. It is sad that this has happened once before, when the Atlanta Flames were relocated to become the Calgary Flames in 1980.
But on the polar opposite end of the spectrum, the citizens of Winnipeg are rejoicing in the streets for the return of an NHL team to their humble city. Manitoba’s capital was once home of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets from 1979 to 1996. However, as the NHL expanded and Canada’s economy faltered, the Jets were unable to keep up with the salary demands of NHL players. In 1996, the Jets moved to Arizona and became the Phoenix Coyotes, leaving some of the NHL’s most passionate fans in a wintery well of bitter tears.
Today, those tears were turned into tears of joy as Winnipeg is getting a second chance. The fans are ecstatic. The players are nostalgic. The buzz is definitely in the air. But will it work out this time? What is stopping things from repeating the events of 15 years ago? Winnipeg is still an extremely cold city, with players and managers alike already on record of saying that they do not wish to move to Manitoba. The fans are partying by the masses, happy to have a team back in the NHL after 15 long years, but will that excitement still be there in 5 years? And with its geographic location, we don’t even know what effect this will have on the NHL and its divisional makeup (or, for that matter, what will happen to The Thrasher Guardian!).
As there is no way to see into the future, let us take today for what it is. Sincerest condolences to the city of Atlanta, and the Thrashers fans who poured their hearts out for their team. On the other hand, congratulations to the city of Winnipeg, and best of luck to your team going forward!