Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Shitstorm of Futility That Was the Atlanta Thrashers, and How It's Everyone's Fault

After 15 years of only getting to see minor league and junior league hockey, Winnipeg is finally getting an NHL hockey team back. The Atlanta Thrashers have finally been sold after a year’s long ownership squabble/abandonment, and will relocate to Winnipeg, Manitoba; where 15 years ago the citizens of said city watched their beloved Winnipeg Jets pack their bags and move to Phoenix, becoming the Coyotes (for more irony, the Coyotes were originally due to find a new city to call home after their season came to an end this year, and were THIS close to actually moving back to Winnipeg!) While this is indeed a joyous time for the people of Winnipeg, Manitoba in general, and even Canada as a whole, this is a very depressing time for Atlanta Thrashers fans.

You know all fifteen of them.

Since the team joined the league in the late 90s/early 2000s, they have been a prime example of utter mediocrity. In the decade plus they’ve had of existence, they qualified for the playoffs once (in 2007) and never even won a playoff game. The team’s futility is in large part to overly sloppy management from former General Manager and current Team President (wait, never mind...) Don Waddell, who had been there managing the team into the shitter of the NHL since it first joined the league. Combine that with ownership changes aplenty on top of inner-circle squabbles, and the fact that this is fucking Atlanta we’re talking about here (not exactly a hockey hotbed) and you have a tasty recipe for disaster. Back in the 1970s, there was an NHL team in Atlanta, the Atlanta Flames. Hockey didn’t work there back then either and they headed over the border as well and became the Calgary Flames. So what made NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the brain trust in the NHL front office decide putting another team in Atlanta would be a great idea in the first place? It’s kind of hard to figure out, so I won’t even try to for fear of giving myself an aneurism and/or defecating in my pants.

The fact that the team had such a difficult time garnering any sort of fan base isn’t surprising in the least considering that they could never keep their top players for very long. Dany Heatley, currently with the San Jose Sharks, was the team’s first bona-fide superstar along with Ilya Kovalchuk. Both came into the league at the same time and lit it up for a while together for the Thrashers, and the future actually appeared kind of bright. Then, in 2003, Heatley was in a car accident, which tragically took the life of his friend and teammate Dan Snyder. After healing, both physically and mentally, Heatley requested a trade and was soon shipped to Ottawa in exchange for Marian Hossa. Like Heatley, Hossa lit it up a bit alongside Kovalchuk and star center Marc Savard; but it wasn’t long to last. Savard left Atlanta a Free Agent, and Hossa bolted afterwards as well. Kovalchuk stayed on, but it was obvious his heart wasn’t with the team. After getting traded to the New Jersey Devils at last year’s trade deadline, the writing was already on the wall then: this team is fucking doomed.

Now, here we are in 2011, and the Atlanta Thrashers are no more. All the extenuating circumstances that surround the franchise will be wiped away once they settle in Winnipeg: an actual hockey market. However, one thing to keep in mind is this: the Winnipeg Jets were sold and shipped off to Phoenix back in 1996 because we were told that Winnipeg couldn’t sustain an NHL franchise. What makes anyone think this time around will be any different? Who knows? Maybe in another 10 years or so, the franchise will be on the move again, and if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who makes a habit of creating teams in non-traditional hockey markets that rarely if ever develop fan bases, has his way, the team will wind up in some incredibly unforeseen (and perhaps unfortunate) city that hockey has no right being played in the first goddamn place.

I hear Vegas and Kansas City are viable options the NHL has considered and still considers to this day for possible team relocations. No, I’m not fucking kidding.

On a final note, it has yet to be decided just what the new name for the franchise will be. I personally would love to see a return of the Jets, with the classic logo and powder blue jerseys, but that kind of seems like a long shot at best.

Either that, or I vote with calling them the Manitoba Mooseknuckle; just because those would be the best-selling jersey’s in the NHL next season.

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