The NHL news world was rocked Thursday as news that an agreement was made to move the failing Atlanta Thrashers to the more marketable city, Winnipeg. Almost immediately after the news broke there were news stories denying the claim or calling the deal “not official.” But days after the initial news break, the relocation looks like it’s going to be a sure thing.
NHL fans should not be surprised by such news. The NHL had, for years, been wanting to move the failing, South teams up north where there is more love for the sport of hockey. The Atlanta Thrashers, in its 12th year in existence, has only one playoff experience, and has only avoided fourth place in the division once in the past four years. Add ownership and finical issues, and average of 13,000 fans at home fans(third lowest in the league), and you have a troubled franchise.
In fact, this wouldn’t be the first time Atlanta lost a team to Canada. The Calgary Flames used to call Atlanta their home.
With more of these failing teams, the Winnipeg group had been lobbying for a team for their city since the relocation of the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix in 1996. The move was a business one. Not because the Jets were not beloved.
But now the NHL has a salary cap, the Canadian dollar is strong, and Winnipeg already has a newly built stadium. Winnipeg also has a huge, hockey fan base. The Mantinoba Moose, a NHL minor league team, often have sold out games in which the atmosphere is more like a NHL game than an AHL game.
“It’s almost better there than some NHL cities,” said Vancouver Canucks winger Jeff Tambellini.“There’s so much buzz. The last home game I played (in Winnipeg), it was a full house. People are passionate about the game of hockey there. Any time you can bring another team back to Canada in a market that has worked before – it was never an issue of the fan base – I think it would be exciting for a lot of the players and for the league itself.
But some still remain skeptical. The new stadium only holds 15,000 people, only about 1,5000 more people than the Thrashers were pulling in every night. There is still no guarantee that a move like this will actually work. The team is going to have to win if it wants to turn over their debt into profits.
Other NHL teams in the South have remained profitable because their team has won. Tampa Bay won the Cup in 2004 and are now seven wins away from doing it again. Dallas won the Cup in 1999 and returned in 2000. Nashville hasn’t won the Cup yet but have consistently made the playoffs. Even the now lowly Florida Panthers made a Cup appearance in 1996.
Like in all sports, fans stick around and keep coming back if their home team wins. Attendance might initially go up, but if the team can’t win, the NHL c an expect a decline.
Though the NHL is excited for this move, it doesn’t negate the embarrassment that the NHL has now failed twice in Atlanta, forcing them to move teams to Canada.
But for many others, the fact that more teams will be playing in Canada, where hockey originated, and in the North, where weather creates the hockey atmosphere, is good enough and gives them a nostalgic feeling to back when it was just cities with hockey weather that had teams.
And what about the Southeast Division the Thrashers were in? Winnipeg is hardly the Southeast. The NHL hasn’t stated yet what they plan to change, but NHL fans and teams can and should expect a re-ordering of the divisions.
The deal definitely creates more bugging questions than answers, but the overall mood still remains hopeful. We can only hope that it will work.