After 15 years without the NHL, what was once thought of as a lost hope for fans in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada is finally becoming a reality.
True North Sports and Entertainment has called a joint press conference with the NHL for noon Eastern time to announce the agreement between True North and the Atlanta Spirit Group to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers and relocate the team to Winnipeg. True North is spearheaded by Mark Chipman and David Thomson giving the franchise a pair of very wealthy and very financially stable owners, something the Thrashers haven’t had in at least four years.
While this is just an agreement between the two sides, the final approval must be given by the NHL Board of Governors on June 21 when they gather to meet. It’s expected that the sale will be approved quickly and officially putting the moving trucks on their way to central Canada.
Relocation is something we haven’t seen happen in the NHL since the Hartford Whalers moved to North Carolina so you’ll have to forgive everyone if this move opens up a lot of old wounds. The Thrashers move to Winnipeg will likely mean the team won’t be called the “Jets.” There’s much speculation roaming around that the team will continue to carry the moniker of the AHL team that’s been in Winnipeg for the last few years and go by the name Manitoba Moose. We’ll likely find more out about that today. We’ll also be criticizing True North for that should it come to pass.
The team is also likely to stay in the Southeast Division this year and for one season, teams in the Eastern Conference are going to be hazed with at least two trips to Winnipeg. The divisional rivals of the Thrashers will get to experience the joys of mid-winter Winnipeg three times during the year. This also means that Winnipeg will be hitting the road a lot and none of those trips will be like the relatively short one they can look forward to in two seasons that would see them travel six hours south to St. Paul, Minnesota. Instead, Winnipeg will by flying south and east a lot. Perhaps they should name the team the Jets just for irony’s sake.
Then there’s the whole part of this that centers around NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Bettman pledged countless promises to help keep the Coyotes in Arizona, even making sure the NHL protected the team by buying it out of bankruptcy from Jerry Moyes. The Thrashers have been dealing with an ownership boondoggle for the last few years without so much as a pat on the back to support them in their efforts.
After all, Bettman went and found Jeff Vinnik to purchase the Lightning away from the nightmare pair of Len Barrie and Oren Koules as they were busy turning Tampa Bay into a nightmare scenario. He also stuck up for Nashville when Jim Balsillie was trying to work his money magic there and Boots Del Biaggio was scamming his way into a minority ownership with the team as well. As far as we know, none of that kind of help came along for Atlanta and their horrible ownership by Atlanta Spirit Group. For all that Bettman’s done to try and expand the NHL’s grip into new, non-traditional hockey markets his failing in doing something to ensure a team stays in Atlanta will be criticized. Seeing the Thrashers be the team that moves out of the south and into Winnipeg just makes the situation all the more twisted.
How things will differ in Winnipeg from Atlanta, the answer is simple. Fans in Winnipeg have been bottled up for years since seeing the Jets flee town and the support they’ll give to their new team will be unlike anything the Thrashers ever saw in Atlanta. That’s a good thing for them and for the players who have been playing in front of quiet arenas most of their careers in the south. They’re also going to sell a lot of tickets at the MTS Centre. While the building will be the smallest in the league, they’re likely going to sell out everything – something they couldn’t do in Atlanta.
It’s a sad day for any team that relocates because it means there are fans being left behind that loved a team that won’t have it anymore. While we’re happy for those fans in Winnipeg that had their hearts ripped out 15 years ago, we’re sad for those in Atlanta who did love the team and the game. Those fans are the ones getting royally boned over because now they’ll see their former team move somewhere else with a new, rich owner who’ll lavish them with the attention they wished they would’ve gotten in the first place in Atlanta.