The Winnipeg Jets Are Back, Jack!

Posted: June 7, 2011 by Keith Stone in Atlanta Thrashers, NHL, Winnipeg

After about a week of speculation, the Atlanta Thrashers were officially purchased by a group of Winnipeg businessmen and will move to the Peg starting next season. As we’ve seen in the Finals so far, having a passionate fan base adds to the intensity and intrigue of the games. With an already apathetic Atlanta sports landscape, the Thrashers didn’t help themselves with poor management and failed to win a single playoff game in their 11 years of existence despite star players such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley.

As I’ve said earlier, the reason sports exists is because of the fans. It’s stupid to have a team in a place where there is little interest. Even if Atlanta has a bigger corporate and media presence, the league will benefit from having fans in the seats. Passionate, screaming fans. Obviously, the original Winnipeg Jets had financial problems but this new team should have an easier time with a better exchange rate and salary cap rules along with a new arena.

It’s not a foregone conclusion that this will be successful, however. People always forget that with few exceptions nobody cares about a losing team. If the Thrashers had Alex Ovechkin, things may have been different. It’s imperative that Winnipeg fields a competitive, fun team especially after the honeymoon period is over.

This is still a step in the right direction for the NHL which still has several teams with questionable futures. The former-Winnipeg Jets, now-Phoenix Coyotes are staying put after the City of Glendale shelled out millions of dollars to cover operating losses, but how is that good for anybody? Quebec City is willing to build a new arena and its fans came out in the thousands to a game in Long Island this year to prove how hockey-crazy they are. Even Toronto can probably handle a second team.

Sunbelt hockey wasn’t a total failure but many markets are definitely works-in-progress. While San Jose has a model organization and new-wave fans, you’ll be hard-pressed to find puckheads in Ft. Lauderdale. Despite the loss of sponsorships and even reduced TV contracts, in the long run it’s better to have teams in cities with true fan support. If there are fans, the money will follow eventually. Oklahoma City and Memphis played a great series in the NBA Playoffs and Green Bay won the Super Bowl. I didn’t hear anyone complaining. The small-town Little Engine That Could team with the crazy fans makes for a riveting storyline.

Gary Bettman needs to learn to give the fans what they want and not punish them for the sins of their owners and managers. Cue up the Brass Bonanza.

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