Atlanta: heart of the South, birthplace of hockey in the Prairie Provinces. According to a report in The Globe and Mail, the Thrashers have been sold and will move to Winnipeg, with an announcement to be made as early as Tuesday. This is good, and bad, and weird, depending on who you're concerned with.
Don't be concerned about the fine folks of Atlanta, though. Lovely people, most of them. Not great sports fans. Yeah, they sell out their 8 Falcons games a year. But they're known for their empty seats for Braves playoff games, and the less said about the Hawks the better. And of course, this will be the second NHL team to flee town in 31 years. The Flames packed up for Calgary and never looked back, and now the alterna-Jets march north.
But it was never truly about empty seats specifically. Plenty of teams can and do survive attendance issues. It was more about the fact that no one really seemed to care about having the Thrashers around. The ownership group only cares about the Hawks, and the fan base couldn't be bothered to mobilize until it was too late. They'll be gathering at Philips Arena tomorrow, a sick sad mockery of a pep rally undertaken after the team has called the movers.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg was dancing in the streets last night, on short notice. They've got to be thrilled to have an NHL team again, 15 years after the Jets left. But they're not getting the actual Jets back, even though the Coyotes seem not long for this world. Why not? Why this? Why now?
It would have been perfect. With a shiny new arena, and things in Glendale looking grim, Winnipeg could have welcomed home their Prodigal Jets from the desert. Shane Doan, the last Jets draft pick, is still on the team. They could have re-hung the banners, re-installed the trophies, re-started a franchise. Instead, they get these strangers from Atlanta, while the Coyotes will probably move somewhere else in just a year. That's got to be bittersweet for fans of continuity.
For some reason, Gary Bettman's decided to make his last stand in Arizona. The league has done everything it can to block the team's sale, apparently all the while getting the Thrashers deal done quietly. This makes no sense to anyone who's not Gary Bettman or an Arizona politician who stands to benefit from keeping the team around. Phoenix is just as unviable a market as Atlanta for hockey, except the Coyotes had a history: someone else's. In an ideal world, the Coyotes are the ones sold today, and the Thrashers can pack up and move to Hamilton or Kansas City or wherever would treat them better than Atlanta (it's a long list.) But that's the ideal world for someone who cares about hockey. If you care more about new arenas and owners with deep pockets and salvaging your legacy as the man who brought the NHL to the Sun Belt, then this move is gravy.
So long, Thrashers. We'll never forget that time we couldn't tell you apart from the Predators for a couple years.