Gary Bettman today is the most reviled person in Atlanta since William Tecumseh Sherman.
Sherman burned Atlanta to the ground during the Civil War. Bettman’s modern-day burn has cemented Atlanta in the public as a second-rate sports town.
Winnipeg Jets fans, this is not about you. So before you go mouthing off about how teams south of the Mason-Dixon line can’t support an NHL franchise, I have three things to say: Carolina, Tampa Bay, Dallas. Lord Stanley has been present in each of these cities.
Thrashers fans are not happy with this recent turn of events. NHL fans should not be happy with this turn of events. Bettman, you’re on blast. The gloves are down and I really don’t give a damn about game misconduct.
I grew up in the ATL. I was there in 1999 when the Thrashers came to town. I should have seen the signs. The first bad omen was the drafting of Patrik Stephan. The second bad omen was Dany Heatley, who’s more known in Atlanta for killing his teammate Dan Snyder. The third bad omen was the Atlanta Spirit Group (ASG) buying the Thrashers in 2004.
The recent bad omen was Bettman being silent over the past year, as the ASG continued to mismanage this franchise, with virtually no support from the NHL. Forgive me for wanting to root for a hockey club given how the Flames went to Calgary and then having the defunct Atlanta Knights from the IHL here for a few years.
Bettman, you are a fraud. Hockey fans whose teams aren’t in the NHL Finals watch them to boo you when you pass out the Cup. You’ve presided over two labor stoppages, have somehow found a way for hockey to be promoted on a glorified hunting and fishing channel and you supplement your salary by pimping teams in disarray underneath the table for relocation fees. Maybe you’re trying to make it right by sending teams back to Canada that you helped strip away in the '90s.
Full disclosure: Bettman, at no point in the Thrashers situation, lifted a finger the way he has the past few years when Buffalo, Nashville, Ottawa, Pittsburgh and even Tampa were having problems. When you consider that Atlanta is a top-10 television market, Bettman fighting like a brave for the Phoenix Coyotes is a bit suspect.
Let me get this straight, Gary: You’ll fight for Phoenix, who had to pony up $25 million from Glendale to cover its losses from this past season, but you wouldn’t allow time for an independent investor to buy the Thrashers? Might it be the $60 million the NHL is getting for moving the Thrashers and the kickback you are giving the ASG? No wonder Ilya Kovalchuk and Marián Hossa left.
If you listen to Bettman spin it, he will make it seem as if Atlanta fans never wanted to support the team in the first place. From his lips on his show "The NHL Hour," broadcast March 19 on the NHL's satellite radio channel and streamed live on the Internet:
I understand that there may be dissatisfaction there, but demonstrating your dissatisfaction by not going to games is an interesting strategy. It’s your absolute right. But if it becomes a turnoff for anybody who might want to buy the franchise, the long-term consequences could be severe.
You scolded Atlanta fans, Gary, so let me scold you. While your comments may make sense on the surface, the numbers don’t add up. The first season in Atlanta was a 61-loss season where the team averaged 17,205 fans a night. The 2006-2007 playoff season (the only one in franchise history), had 11 sellouts and 16,239 fans per game. In the 11-year history of the franchise: one winning season.
Look at where Chicago Blackhawks fans were six years ago in attendance (ranked 27th) and compare them to last year when many of their bandwagon fans saw them win the Cup. I’ve seen the numbers, Gary, and they ain’t pretty. When the Jets left Winnipeg in their last season (1996) they averaged a mere 11,000 fans per game. The Thrashers averaged a little over 13,000 this past year.
If you don’t know by now, much of what comes out of Bettman’s mouth is a lie and the rest is a damned lie. Atlanta fans have options. Atlanta fans are like other fans who are not going to spend money on a crappy product. Atlanta is an international city highlighted by an Olympiad, carpetbaggers, transplants and one of the most dysfunctional airports in the world. Simply put, people in Atlanta have options.
My last parting shot is reserved for the Atlanta Spirit Group. The Thrashers failed because of you, not the city. You’ve left Atlanta fans with nothing but 10 losing seasons and a penalty box full of excuses. The least you can do is cash out, sell the Hawks before you finish running them to the ground and slither onto the nearest road that takes you out of Georgia.
Miami and Columbus, hope you guys are on the lookout. If you haven’t heard anything yet, Bettman’s probably in a back alley getting ready to call sometime soon.