“It’s such a tired game
Will it ever stop
How will this all play out
Out of sight, out of mind”
–Jack Johnson “Crying Shame”
All of us have been following the latest NHL news du jour of the ever increasing guarantee of the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg that has now become a reality as of today. As disappointingly long as the Phoenix Coyotes situation has been, the Thrashers own has been disappointingly short.
Personally, I am very let down with this news that has come out today. As you know I am a Penguins fan, and ever since the Penguins’ near decade long arena issue and the subsequent relocation rumors that accompanied it, I have always been supportive of all franchises with any issues that bring about a relocation or contraction question. Have a team with arena, lease, financial issues and are worried you may someday lose your franchise? Well, you have a friend in me. Simply put, it’s because hockey should never be taken away from anyone.
I have attended two Penguins games in Atlanta in recent years. The first one happened to be the infamous “Crosby nut punch” game. And let me tell you honestly, Penguin or Thrasher fan, no one had a clue that happened. Welcome to our new world of things going viral via the internet. That game had an official attendance of 15,184 but I very much doubt that only 20 percent of the seats were empty. I was in the, I believe, second row of Section 307 and a few rows behind me I could see full rows of empty seats and there were more than a few of them. However one thing that I do recall that I cannot get out of my head today is a family of 6 with all four kids, two boys and two girls, fully decked out in their Thrasher gear having a fun family Friday evening even if the Penguins won the game 6-3. Two and a half years later I can only imagine what those kids are feeling today. And quite frankly it makes me upset. I am glad I don’t have to shatter some kids’ hearts today.
The second time was the following November in 2009 which was another Penguin win but this one was a near sellout and the number of people did match the number of seats sold. While there was a strong as always Penguins contingent there. The crowd was quite electric for both teams both for when the Pens scored three goals in the first two periods as well as in the final ten minutes where Atlanta scored twice and Ilya Kovalchuk flipped his lid on number 24 in your programs but number 1 on your Kill On Sight list, Matt Cooke. After that game while waiting for our MARTA train, we had a conversation with someone talking mostly about how jumping it was when Atlanta hosted the All-Star Game while giving us a little insight to the sports landscape and that it was, in fact, a bit more popular than it may seemed at times.
I found both of my trips to Atlanta fun experiences. It is interesting to enter a sports stadium through the food court of CNN Center. I have had a pleasant time as well both times. One thing I recall is with the types of promotions, team videos, interactions from the mascot to the forever amazing Bad Commercials By Hockey Players PSA (first thing I think of when I hear Ron Hainsey) I have always found the Thrashers a good organization that worked hard to promote the game. In fact, the one of the best things about the Thrashers is the job they did in preserving the memory of Dan Snyder. While it is easy to expect a franchise to do that period, when your a much maligned non traditional franchise it shows that they may have more of a clue than being given credit for or at least showing how unfair such distinctions can be. Such things made me feel that the growing attendance issues, and thus revenue/profitability issues, were more of a sign of discontent with the management of the team from Don Waddell much more than the image of professional sports in Atlanta.
All they needed was time to return to winning ways. Even if winning ways would be described as one playoff appearance, two playoff home games, and three seasons where they were above .500 in percentage of points gained. Time of which, in addition to the fans, Rick Dudley and Craig Ramsey are not being given, at least in Atlanta, Georgia. This is a failure of ownership much more so than any management that relates to the on-ice product and even moreso than the fan reluctance to walk thru the turnstyles.
This city has now lost two NHL franchises. The Flames were born inAtlanta due to some unforseen expansion in junction with beating the WHA to Long Island and the need for a team to balance the schedule. The team ended up moving to Calgary because of what was described as a Godfather deal, a then record $16 million purchase price to relocate to Calgary. Even though the attendance and profitability slipped in Atlanta the first go and new ownership was sought doesnt necessarily make it a ‘hockey does not belong in the South’ failure.
Im sure there are people celebrating today for today’s news. However, I am not one of them. I hope for nothing more than to see it work in Winnipeg, I would hate to see this have to take root 6-10-15 years from now again. Pittsburgh, Nashville, temporarily Phoenix, and seemingly in Long Island and Edmonton have been saved and I guess you cant bat 1.000 all the time. While many are happy for what ever reason they choose, today I am down and defeated and feeling a little bit stung. What the Thrasher fan is feeling today could only be exponentially worse. And that, is a crying shame.