The End Appears Near for the Thrashers in Atlanta: Is a Move to Winnipeg Next?

Joe M.Correspondent IIFebruary 17, 2011

Could Dustin Byfuglein soon be playing closer to home (he's from extreme Northern MN opposite the Manitoba border)
Could Dustin Byfuglein soon be playing closer to home (he's from extreme Northern MN opposite the Manitoba border)Claus Andersen/Getty Images

It isn't exactly how I wanted it to happen.

Yes, I want Winnipeg, Quebec City, Hamilton, Ontario and Hartford, Connecticut to get NHL teams again, but not this way.

You see, it's the Phoenix Coyotes that are supposed to go home to Winnipeg from whence they came. Atlanta was to go to Quebec City all along. Phoenix, long seen as the most desperate team and in need of immediate resolution, was to play in Winnipeg starting with the 2011-12 season, as they could play tomorrow at the tiny but modern MTS Centre.

Atlanta on the other hand, was supposed to flounder for at least another few years until Quebec could get their arena up and running, and then maybe this struggling Southern franchise would simply migrate North.

However, the owners of the team losing $130 million since 2005, mixed with the team's recent dive in the standings has come at an inopportune time. All of this was supposed to build by 2013 or so, not now. At least in a perfect world; at least in my ideal NHL.

At first glance, it appears shady Matthew Hulsizer, the would-be owner of the dubious Coyotes, got by yet again with another concession in last night's Glendale City Council Meeting. This time, $10 million will be put away into a separate account to be used when, not if, the Phoenix Coyotes cannot make their first payment.

I, however, still hold the faith that the Goldwater Institute, of which I personally have had correspondence with as recently as last month, will step in and save the day by doing the right thing and filing suit. If you think this is over, think again.  I am going to be laughing when the NHL realizes it has to pull out of the Hulsizer negotiations and he simply walks away.

It's nothing personal; this team just belongs back home in Canada, and I never saw Commissioner Bettman doing all he could to keep any of the teams in their original locations, which is where I am coming from.

Quebec Quietly Agrees to Build an NHL-Ready Arena

In case you missed it last Thursday, Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume and Quebec Prime Minister Jean Charest agreed to publicly finance a new NHL quality arena and ampitheatre in the city which would open in 2015. While they have no governmental financial support now or a corporate partner, they would be encouraged and welcomed to enter at any time. Additionally, the $400 million price tag will be split almost evenly by the city and the province each paying half.

If Commissioner Bettman wasn't such a baby, he could make three of the NHL's biggest problems go away fairly easily in time for the 2011-12 season. Yes, the 2011-12 season.

1. Move Phoenix to Winnipeg where they would play in the MTS Centre

2. Move the Atlanta Thrashers to EITHER Hamilton, Ontario where they would play in the Copps Coliseum OR play in Pepsi Colisee in Quebec City until the new aforementioned arena opens in four years

This wouldn't be the cure-all for the NHL. The New York Islanders' Lighthouse Project is never going to get built and the team is currently last in the league in attendance, having played in one of the NHL's oldest and smallest venues.

While I am against this team moving anywhere because of their 1980's historical dynasty, in theory, this team could move rather easily to whichever city didn't get the Thrashers from above.

3. Move the New York Islanders to Pepsi Colisee and re-brand them the new Nordiques

The final move comes maybe five years from now, when Howard Baldwin, the former owner of the Hartford Whalers, finally gets his stuff together and does what Quebec is doing and finds a way to build an arena. Currently, Baldwin is in the long process of re-introducing the hockey brand to Connecticut through a series of public rallies and events like a hockey fest among other early ideas.

While he's actually done quite well, and attendance and interest in the AHL's "Connecticut Whale" can attest to this, its still a slow, long, and painful process that isn't likely to get anywhere for years.

But at least he's trying and going about it the right way, from the ground up. But there is no denying his is the longest hill to climb.

So who would be the beneficiary of his hard work? Why, the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are simply going through the motions themselves in lackadaisical Ohio, AHL territory.

So there you go Gary, I just fixed four of your problem children, three of them immediate and one in the next five years.

What we do with Florida and the Dallas Stars is another matter, but consider them on notice. Because Canada would be oversaturated with nine NHL markets, there is a zero percent chance they'd relocate there. And I don't favor the new U.S. markets often floated around like Seattle, Portland, or Milwaukee, though I'm not likely to care as much; rather, in this regard I'd favor contraction in order to get back to 1970's-1980's hockey (can you tell which generation I favor?).

Its been a long time coming, but it appears the first domino will soon fall.

From then, the rest will follow.

Now lets just hope the Thrashers don't make the playoffs, where additional revenue and a surprising run might generate new (but short-lived) interest in the team.

How soon can Winnipeg natives, Johnathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Cam Barker (ironically all Blackhawks teammates at one time) join Byfuglein? Now that would be fun. Don't rule out any of them retiring with the hometown club before its all said and done if this actually goes through.

Information from The Goldwater Institute website and the Journal Inquirer directly contributed to the content of this article.