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article imageOp-Ed: Atlanta Thrashers exit less of a bang more of a whimper

By Luke Vermeer     May 31, 2011 in Sports
The Atlanta Thrashers are no more. The sale and relocation to Winnipeg which for so long was a foregone conclusion is now a reality.
The question for many is who really cares. Obviously not who cares about the NHL returning to Winnipeg, but rather who cares that the NHL is leaving Atlanta.
Ownership was an issue for the team, and ultimately a principal reason why the team left. Atlanta Spirit, the ownership group of the Thrashers will take a substantial portion of the blame from the fans. Bill Tiller, Thrashers fan and blogger for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote on his blog.
"[Atlanta Spirit] We will not forget you and we will not forget your names. But most importantly we will not forget what you collectively did to destroy NHL hockey in Atlanta, nor shall we forgive you for your actions."
The ownership was seen as a group which didn't care about the hockey team and it's hard to argue with that point of view. Atlanta Spirit is not out of professional sports. They still own the Atlanta Hawks and Phillips Arena where the Hawks and the Thrashers played. The group merely wanted to cut the Thrashers who, admittedly, were bleeding money. And while they will take heat from Thrashers fans for it their comments about lack of fan support do not come as pathetic excuses.
Obviously for any professional sports team there are fans but the fight put up by Thrashers fans seemed paltry when compared to the fight put up by other fans in other cities that previously lost teams. When Winnipeg lost the Jets 35,000 people showed up to a save the team rally. In Atlanta an estimated 250-300 showed up. Worse, of those people that showed only about 100 were willing to sign a petition to major corporations in the city of Atlanta.
A lack of fan support is what doomed a team like the Thrashers but there are other teams in the NHL who suffer from the same level of support. Phoenix is the prime example of this, a city where the fans just don't seem to care that the NHL is in their town. What separates Phoenix from Atlanta is the ferocity the National Hockey League showed in fighting to keep the team in the respective cities.
In Phoenix what people saw was a league that fought, and is still fighting, tooth and nail to keep a struggling franchise in the city that they have committed to. Legal battles saw the team come under the ownership of the NHL with the city of Glendale contributing $25 million per year to attempt to keep the team afloat. The NHL has searched far and wide to find an owner who will keep the team in Phoenix. Initially it was Jerry Reinsdorf out of Chicago, then it was the group Ice Edge Holdings based on the east coast, now it's Matthew Hulsizer who's agreement to purchase the Coyotes included the city of Glendale selling $100 million worth of bonds to give to Hulsizer to help with arena costs.
All that adds up to a situation that, from the outside, appears to be the NHL doing everything in it's power to prevent the team from being moved.
No one can say for sure why the NHL didn't fight as hard in Atlanta as it did in Glendale. Maybe it was because the owners were uninterested in propping up a second franchise, maybe they saw Atlanta as a fight that just couldn't be won. Whatever the case the NHL now has the difficult task of standing up and explaining to the Atlanta faithful why they didn't seem to fight as hard for their team as they did for someone else's.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jeff Schultz summed up the feelings of those in Atlanta who cared about the Thrashers when he wrote:
"This is how it ends: With the weasel of a commissioner not stepping foot in the city, with another season passing without a playoff game, with a lying ownership group maintaining it did all it could to save a franchise that in reality it spent most of seven years wrecking."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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