Kukla's Korner Hockey
by pcoffey on 05/31/11 at 07:16 PM ET
Despite advice to wait and see what happens, the sale and move of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg sure had a sense of the inevitable about it, didn’t it?
There will be more euphoria about the return of hockey to Winnipeg than angst over its loss in Atlanta. Still, the loss of the Thrashers will hurt the team’s core fans for a long time to come. Sure, we can talk about the Thrashers being swept in their only playoff series, their inability to keep star players, and the Thrashers ranking near the NHL basement in attendance. Still, there was a core of fans who “Believed in Blueland” and now are left without a team. Think about them for a minute today and put yourself in their shoes for a minute. It’s a pretty crummy feeling to lose “your” team. Success or not, fans love their team, even if they love to complain about it. In the long run, it’s better to be a “long suffering” fan, than have no team at all.
And feel worse for the team’s staffers that lost their jobs. Most won’t make the move to Winnipeg and now enter an employment market that can best be described as “challenging” to say the least. They are the ones you really need some action, not words like these from the team’s statement.
“It’s extremely disappointing to all of us that (this sale) became necessary after all other options were exhausted. We want to express my gratitude to you, the fans, for the years of dedication you have offered to the Atlanta Thrashers.”
Pretty hollow words. And these comments from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman also were puzzling.
“We don’t like to move a franchise,” Bettman said. “We’re not happy about leaving Atlanta. This was never about whether Winnipeg is better than Atlanta. The decision to come to Winnipeg was only made after the Atlanta ownership made the decision they were going to sell even if it meant the team was going to leave Atlanta.”
Fair enough, but why didn’t the NHL bring action to bear on Atlanta the way it did in the ongoing Phoenix Coyotes situation? Can’t say the ownership in Atlanta—certainly no prize and a story for another day—was any worse than what the league too control from. And while the league took the extraordinary step of taking ownership itself, Atlanta didn’t seem to resonate.
For the folks in Winnipeg, it is a time to celebrate and be very excited about the future. So lift a glass to them. Their summer will be filled with the excitement of having “their” team again.
“A lot of people will talk about the economic impact of having an NHL franchise and I think we can grasp that one very quickly,” Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz told TSN Radio Tuesday. “The one that basically cannot be qualified that, in my opinion is priceless, is how it makes the people of your city feel.
“You have to remember about 15 years ago, it was like someone stuck a fist through your rib cage an pulled out your heart. The fan support in this city was phenomenal. The only reason the Jets left here was simply because of the fact we did not have a proper facility and the powers that be at the time could not get their act together to build a new arena.”
Tickets to this “proper facility” will be available shortly and the team already is looking to sign up season ticket holders. Compared to what the cost was back in 1996 when the Jets left for Phoenix, fans in Winnipeg may experience sticker shock. TSN reported tickets will range from $39 to $129.
But all that will be mulled about later. Tuesday is a big day in Winnipeg, which gets “its” team back.
Phil Coffey has covered the NHL since 1981, most recently as the Senior Editorial Director of NHL.com. He spent over 11 years there.
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