Winnipeg fans are sitting on the edge of their seats. Over the course of the next two months, they are going to find out if their beloved Winnipeg Jets are coming home. As reported in the Atlanta Business Chronicle over the weekend, the Thrashers on the verge on being sold to the same group that unsuccessfully bid on Coyotes, before the City of Glendale ponied up $25 million to keep the team in Phoenix for the foreseeable future. Atlanta Spirit, LLC, the ownership group that also owns the Atlanta Hawks, has been fighting off and on for the last 15 years as the partners just can’t seen to get along. While the Hawks have enjoyed some success, but the Thrashers have been the ugly stepson of the group, practically being ignored into non-existence. The team ranked third to last in attendance last year and 80th out of 82 professional sports teams in TV ratings. Steve Belkin and friends are now in the final stages of the sale of the team. Unfortunately, it appears that the Thrashers will likely become the next Atlanta Flames.
But is this good for the NHL? Between the Coyotes, the Thrashers and the Islanders, the state of flux within the NHL is unsettling for the league. Not since the mid 1990’s has the league experienced such financial problems. All of the franchise relocations in the mid 1990’s – the Jets, the Nordiques and the Whalers- led to overinflation of salaries which eventually led to the lockout of 2004-05. Are we headed to the next work stoppage in professional sports, following in the foot steps of the NFL lockout and the impending lockout in the NBA? Maybe Winnipeg’s joyous celebrations should be tempered until the league’s finances are stabilized.
Instead of contant relocation, perhaps the league and the players union should entertain contraction of two or even four teams. Does there need to be a team in Columbus or Nashville? What about in Buffalo or Miami? Contracting these teams might be a better solution.
But back to the Thrashers. The Ilya Kovalchuk deal put the final nails in the Thrasher coffin. Selling their best player off for cents on the dollar lost most of the team’s fans forever. It’s inevitable that this team, owned by the fractured ownership group, had to move. No one in Atlanta cared about the team and this is the result. I just don’t think this should be considered a happy occasion – even in Winnipeg. Remember, Winnipeg lost a team and perhaps might get one back, just like Atlanta did, and now the City is bidding good bye to its second NHL Team.