Winning in Winnipeg again?

I could write for with puns like that!

After much talk and speculation, it looks like the Atlanta Thrashers, who have struggled to put butts in the seats, will not exist for the 2011-12 NHL season.

According to CBC, an official announcement for the moving of the Thrashers to Winnipeg is imminent and could take place as early as tomorrow.

Teams get relocated on occasion, and it’s no surprise that the Thrashers, who reportedly lost $130 million in just six years, were chosen amongst the struggling franchises as the one to move.

But this case is different. If the Thrashers are indeed relocated, it will be the second time in 31 years in which an NHL team based in Atlanta was relocated to Canada; the Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary, Alberta in 1980, where they became, and currently are today, the Calgary Flames.

Of course, Winnipeg had a team back in the day; a team that moved to the NHL in 1979 (played in the World Hockey Association from 1972-79)  and was moved, due to financial struggles, to Phoenix in 1996 where they became the Phoenix Coyotes (despite team success, also struggling to get enough fans to games).

Over the past few years, several markets have lobbied for one of the struggling teams (Florida Panthers, Phoenix Coyotes, New York Islanders, and Thrashers) to move to their location, most notably, Quebec and Winnipeg.

In their 12-NHL season existence, the Thrashers succeeded in making the playoffs just once (2006-07), where, unfortunately for the franchise, they were swept by the New York Rangers (who, coincidentally, broke a nine-season drought of winning a playoff series); they only had one winning season — even when factoring out overtime losses as losses — and only won the typically-weak Southeast Division once (both occurred during the 06-07 season). While other franchises may experience similar periods of poor records, the Thrashers were unable to obtain enough revenue to keep the financial gain at a positive, or, in the case, financial loss at a minimum.

Some will say, “Good riddance!” to the Thrashers and their many years of failure; “It’s about time” some may say. It’s true: the Thrashers have been a non-factor for most of their existence, and the only real attention they got was because of the doings and highlights of star forward Ilya Kovalchuck (now with the New Jersey Devils) or for how terrible they were. Still, that brings no solace to the Atlanta fans (yes, there are few) who lost their team after having only 12 years to cheer for them. But maybe the NHL is doing them a favor by taking away a failing team (assuming the team does move to Winnipeg). You have to feel bad for the fans that put their heart and soul into the team (yes, they have real fans just like you and me), only to have it crushed year after year, culminating to the team’s disperse from the state of Georgia.

So, is Winnipeg worthy of a team? Will they be able to financially support the franchise for more than 13 years? Will they be able to have a winning season more frequently than once every 12 seasons? Can they actually make a playoff run? As a whole, will the team be run better than it was in Atlanta? Will the team actually have a solid fanbase that can average a showing of more than 12,000 fans per home game? Will the city welcome a new team that, mostly likely as it stands, will struggle to make the playoffs next season? At least one fan is showing his support. If the team does move back, will they retain the Thrashers name tag and become the Winnipeg Thrashers (has a decent ring to it)? Will they bring back the Winnipeg Jets? Or will they be donned with an entirely new tag? In what division will the team play; will they remain a part of the Southeast Division and, in turn, be handed a rough travel schedule, or will the divisions have to be reworked? So many variables, and you have to hope that the NHL and city of Winnipeg know what they’re doing, and that the franchise is successful (again, assuming the move actually takes place).

One thing is for certain, though: we won’t have to witness anymore embarrassing attempts from the organization to get fans to come to games, like they did in Dec. 2010 when they pulled an elaborate publicity stunt that centered on the team’s mascot, Thrash, and his escapades down I-85 in a Zamboni and his inevitable arrest. If an organization has to try that hard just to get fans to show up to the greatest game on the planet, I think we can all agree that the city, as a whole, isn’t worthy of an NHL franchise.  Sorry, Thrashers die-hards.


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