Atlanta Thrashers Moving to Winnipeg? Why It Would Be Great for the NHL

Matthew FairburnCorrespondent IMay 20, 2011

Atlanta Thrashers Moving to Winnipeg? Why It Would Be Great for the NHL

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    GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 20:  Fans dressed in Winnipeg Jets uniforms attend Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals between the Detroit Red Wings and the Phoenix Coyotes during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Arena on April 20, 2011
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    This is it. The long anticipated return of the NHL to Winnipeg is closer than ever to being finalized.

    While nothing is official yet, the Atalanta Thrashers appear to be heading for colder and more hockey-crazy pastures.

    According to The Globe and Mail, True North Sports and Entertainment has agreed to a deal to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers. Again, nothing is official, but save for the ironing out of details, the Thrashers are heading to Manitoba.

    Now, if indeed Atlanta loses its NHL franchise for the second time, what does this mean for the rest of the NHL? Well, there are very few negatives and quite a few positives to the potential moves.

    It's no secret that the fans in Winnipeg have a deeper passion for hockey and will be able to put people in the seats, something Atlanta often struggled with. In addition, new ownership might finally be able to make this franchise a competitive one.

    On the surface, this move looks great for the NHL. Here are the top reasons why.

No More Empty Stadiums in Atlanta

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    ATLANTA - MARCH 25:  Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec #31 of the Atlanta Thrashers enters the stadium against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Philips Arena on March 25, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    If you've ever watched an Atlanta Thrashers home game, then you are aware of just how empty that stadium can get.

    Despite being in the thick of things for much of the season, the Atlanta Thrashers were left playing with a half empty stadium more often than not in 2010-2011.

    It should come as no surprise that hockey never caught on in Atlanta. They had already lost one hockey franchise in the Atlanta Flames and have very little positive history with the game of hockey.

Divisional Realignment

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    SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 12:  Henrik Zetterberg #40, Pavel Datsyuk #13, and Nicklas Lidstrom #5 of the Detroit Red Wings talk to each other before a face off against the San Jose Sharks in Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stan
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The most interesting story line to follow with this potential move is how the NHL realigns the divisions and possibly even the conferences.

    Winnipeg is clearly going to have to be in the Western Conference, which means one current Western Conference team will have to be moved to the Eastern Conference.

    Early candidates to switch leagues are the Detroit Red Wings and the Nashville Predators. At first glance moving Detroit may seem like a bad thing, but let's not forget that Detroit is actually in the Eastern time zone. The Wings have seen some of their most intense rivalries die down a bit over the years as well, so a move wouldn't kill them in that regard.

    Whether it be Detroit or Nashville that makes the jump, the Eastern Conference will be treated to a quality franchise with a lot to offer. The Western Conference was clearly the deeper conference this season, so swapping the Thrashers for either the Preds or the Wings will be a lucrative move in terms of achieving more balance.

The Minnesota-Winnipeg Rivalry

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    14 Apr 1996:  The Winnipeg Jets celebrate during a game against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California.  The Ducks won the game, 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Cratty  /Allsport
    Glenn Cratty/Getty Images

    Back in the day, the rivalry between the Winnipeg Jets and the Minnesota North Stars was one of the most intense in all of sports.

    Unfortunately, both cities lost their teams, and the rivalry became nothing more than a memory.

    Now, Minnesota has a new franchise, and Winnipeg is on its way to having one as well. Can't you just feel the rivalry brewing already?

    The team names and jerseys may be different, but the fans of the respective organizations and their close proximity to one another has not changed.

The Franchise Will Be More Competitive

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    MONTREAL, CANADA - MARCH 29:  Ondrej Pavelec #31 of the Atlanta Thrashers makes a pad save on the puck during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on March 29, 2011 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty I
    Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    Let's face it: A hockey franchise was going to have a tough time succeeding on or off the ice in Atlanta. The club simply did not have to support of the community and was unable to make the necessary moves to build a winner.

    With new ownership perhaps the Thrashers can start competing in the NHL for the first time in their short history.

    The roster is not completely devoid of talent, and the team had some success this year. More stability, fan support and financial support could go a long way for this franchise.

Bringing the NHL Back to Manitoba

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    27 Jan 1995:  Leftwinger Keith Tkachuk of the Winnipeg Jets looks on during a game against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California.  The Ducks won the game, 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Al Bello  /Allsport
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Say what you want about Canadian hockey fans, but the truth is they are simply the best fans in all of sports. The passion those fans have for the game and loyalty they show to their teams is admirable.

    Bringing a franchise north of the border is the smartest thing the NHL could do. Most U.S. cities capable of supporting an NHL franchise are already doing so. The only place left to go was back to Winnipeg.

    The money teams like Phoenix and Atlanta have been losing for the league is unacceptable. At the very least the NHL has assured that it has found a city that cares about the game of hockey and a group of fans that will not want to let a team slip through its fingers again.