The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/31/11 at 09:40 AM ET
The heavy-hitters are Tweeting that NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly’s in first class on a flight from Toronto to Winnipeg this morning, and that the NHL will make its announcement regarding the Atlanta Thrashers heading to Winnipeg at 11 AM CDT, presumably at The Forks, regardless of whether the paperwork between the Atlanta Spirit’s dysfunctional family and True North Sports and Entertainment is done.
Given my personal ties to Winnipeg (adopted family, having spent six months of my life there and nearly marrying a Winnipeg gal), you’d think that this adopted Winnipegger would be thrilled that, fifteen years after the Jets were ripped from the hearts of Manitoban hockey fans, an NHL team will return to the Peg.
Instead, I feel awful. The NHL and Gary Bettman have spent millions and millions of dollars of revenue-sharing dollars litigating the hell out of Phoenix to ensure that the Coyotes didn’t head back to Winnipeg despite the fact that Phoenix’s NHL future remains uncertain at best—and boy howdy, even as a Jets fan and die-hard Red Wings supporter, the last two years’ of playoff battles against the Coyotes have more than proven to me the tenacity of Coyotes fans…
But especially given the Thrashers’ media and population market size, I don’t understand how the NHL can simply throw up its hands, without an ounce of complaint, and tell Thrashers fans, who they are many and they are passionate, the same thing Gary Bettman told Winnipeggers in 1996: “No one wants to own your team, so we’re moving them.”
That’s truly horrible, if not despicable. The Thrashers were never given a chance to compete because their owners wouldn’t spend on a winner and even Don Waddell couldn’t get ‘em going on a consistent basis to help sell fans in a jam-packed sports marketplace on hockey for the second time. Thrashers fans still sprouted like Kudzu and spent millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours supporting a team that did what the Jets did in the 90’s—fail to produce—while watching the vast majority of the players whose names adorned the backs of their jerseys be traded away or plain old let go with such alarming regularity that the best investment might have been a “Thrash” jersey, witnessing their team be mismanaged by an eight-headed hydra of an ownership group, but they stuck by their Thrashers nonetheless…
And today, those passionate hockey fans should email or call the NHL’s front office and angrily ask why the hell the NHL chose to fight so very hard for Phoenix but chose not to lift a finger to ensure that the Thrashers remained Atlanta’s team.
I can’t imagine the pain that die-hard hockey fans who are old enough to have witnessed the Flames leave for Calgary must feel. Twice, the NHL has failed hockey fans and hockey in Atlanta, and twice, it’s left for smaller but greener Canadian pastures. The second time around, the league didn’t so much as blink before pulling up stakes.
This should be a happy day for hockey fans in Manitoba and Winnipeg, which will truly host a team that will be the NHL’s equivalent of the Green Bay Packers in terms of their market size, and I do believe that the NHL can and will work in Winnipeg over the long haul, but on a day where the adopted Manitoban in me should be doing nothing less than standing up and cheering, I can’t help but feel terrible because the joy felt in Winnipeg today will be predicated upon the breaking of Thrashers’ fans’ hearts.
It’s not personal. It’s as personal as the Coyotes felt about the Jets becoming “their” team. And we’ve certainly learned that in this day and age, when sports teams in some major and many minor leagues shuffled from town to town, that it’s nothing less than sacrilegious to suggest that fans don’t “deserve” their team if it’s leaving due to business failures.
In that sense, it is wonderful that Winnipeg will be welcomed back into the NHL family, but it is also patently unfair, and as such, today is truly a sad day. I hope that Winnipeg promises to take good care of the Thrashers and that Winnipeggers understand that Atlanta’s hockey fans are in the exact same position that they were 15 years ago.
I am simultaneously both thrilled to know that I can wear one of my Jets jerseys soon and feel proud to know that there will be an NHL team in the Peg again, but at the same time, I am profoundly and truly sorry, and there’s no way in hell that I’ll wear anything Jets-related today.
I can’t do it when one town’s second chance is another’s hockey funeral.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.