So it’s starting to look officially official, even if everyone’s denying it up and down: the Thrashers are almost certainly going to move to Winnipeg and become the Manitoba Moose and some perverted Canadian fantasy about how the American South is unfit to host teams will be proven right.
But it’s not a big deal, and anyone who tells you otherwise is an idiot.
The fact of the matter is that apart from divisional realignment, the NHL is going to change very little if the Thrashers pack their things and move to Winnipeg. It’s tough for people in Canada to admit that, I know.
It’s not a victory for Canada or The True Spirit of Hockey or anyone. It’s a loss for Atlanta and to a lesser extent Gary Bettman’s overreaching plans to create a footprint for the sport in the "non-traditional markets." The first fallacy pumped by the pro-Canadian team self-interest lobby is that these cities don’t deserve teams when Canadian municapilties, microscopic in size by comparison, go wanting. "How," they say, "can there be a team in Phoenix/Atlanta/Miami/Anaheim/Nashville when Moose Turd, Saskatchewan, has a brand new seven-year-old 12,000-seat arena?"
Well it’s really easy. These metropolitan areas have millions of people in them. Millions of people, potentially, mean money.
Yes, Gary Bettman opened about a million cans of worms when he expanded to the American South instead of Canada. Definitely. But moving to a Canadian city with a metro area with a population of around 1 million, if we’re being generous. The Atlanta metro area has 5.6 times that amount. I looked both of those things up on Wikipedia.
So there’s your reason right there. The NHL is moving back to Canada for the same reason it left: money. It’ll get a cut of the team being bought, and it’ll pull in a hefty relocation fee too. It’s much better than continuing to subsidize the Thrashers for another year because 5,000 season ticket holders would really like it.
(It should be noted, by the way, that I have zero sympathy for anyone that likes the Thrashers. The city couldn’t support the team, and I don’t care how many hockey fans are generally put out by the move, because in the end this was a failed experiment.)
If there is interest from an ownership group and incentive to start a team, or import one from elsewhere, then that’s something the league should consider. Its primary function isn’t to make you happy, it’s to make money for the now-30 guys or groups that own NHL teams. They certainly hope you are entertained by the byproduct of that money-making venture — without fans, there is no venture — but the situation in Atlanta only became untenable because of one thing.
The team is drizzling cat piss.
The Thrashers have made the playoffs once in franchise history, traded away or lost to free agency every half-decent player to ever pull on a uniform and never created the foothold in marketplace that was necessary to properly kickstart their existence. They have, in short, been mismanaged into the ground. No one pays NHL prices to see a losing product. See also: Jets, Winnipeg.
People are currently lined up around the block to get season tickets in Winnipeg, just as they were in Atlanta when that team started out. "New" is fun and exciting. "Bad" is not. The new Manitoba team will be both, and the only thing we know for sure is that they won’t be new forever. The team can issue no such guarantees about its current poor quality.
And so the Thrashers are going north into a terribly uncertain future. Manitobans are thrilled. The prodigal sons, having gambled and drank and whored away all their goodwill deep in the heart of Dixie, have returned to the sport’s cradle, with people painting Gary Bettman as seeking hat-in-hand forgiveness for his transgressions. "This is what the league should have done all along," they say. Maybe. But the reality is that they’re getting back a team that isn’t very good. Granted, it’s better than the Jets squad that packed its bags for Arizona 15 years ago, but not by much. How long does that new team smell enchant the fanbase that would have you believe it’s hockey-starved? How many seasons of losing are they willing to put up with for the sake of having a team at all?
History tells us it’s about 17.
So let’s not act like this is your birthright or anything. It’s just business.