The demise of professional hockey in the city of Atlanta has not come as a surprise to many, although there are a few hockey heads down south that will miss NHL hockey in Phillips arena next season.
Yes, at an average of 13,469 the Thrashers had the league's third worst attendance this year, ahead of only the Phoenix Coyotes (12,188) and the New York Islanders (11,059). If these trends continue next season, a sellout at Winnipeg's MTS Centre will be 24th in league attendance at 15,015. Is a climb of four spots up the attendance chart worth ripping out the hearts of a city's hockey heads for the second time? I hardly think so.
Unless you are in Toronto, the fans want a winner. Teams like Colorado and New Jersey are struggling with attendance due to their once top-of-the-line franchises going through a rebuilding phase. Every team goes through it, and when it happens down south, you get hit a little harder.
Some people might say that the Thrashers never got out of the rebuild phase during their 11 seasons in the NHL. Well, drafting Patrik Stefan first overall in 1999 wasn't the best of ideas, but in such a weak draft that really only produced the Sedin twins, it's hard to evaluate young talent. Not every one has the scouting eyes of the Detroit Red Wings.
Atlanta did make up for that drafting error in the coming years, selecting players such as Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk, Bryan Little, Braydon Couburn, Evander Kane, Tobias Enstrom and future stud Carl Klingberg.
Even with success at the draft, hockey in Atlanta was infected with what I like to call Toronto Raptors syndrome: playing in a place that nobody wants to play, not because of the lack of fan support, but because of where it is, or in other words, a "non-traditional market." Stupid, but nonetheless, reality.
This term doesn't go over to well with the fans in these "non-traditional" markets. What makes Atlanta, Phoenix, Nashville and Carolina non-traditional? If Atlanta had won the Stanley Cup in 2006 instead of Carolina, would we see the Hurricanes move instead?
Is it just because these teams play in cities where the sun shines everyday? How is hockey supposed to grow if we keep it bottled up in the northern USA and Canada? Where can the NHL expand next? Why NOT Atlanta?
Even though many "traditional market" fans will say that "nobody is there when I watch the Thrashers play on TV" or "they don't know what hockey is in Georgia," the loss of Atlanta's second NHL franchise to western Canada is not the fault of the fans.
Believe it or not, there are people in the southern United States who do know Canada's game, and are crushed by the move and lack of effort put in by both the ownership and the NHL to keep this team in Atlanta.
The NHL pulled the plug too early. Eleven years? Come on. The Panthers are still in Florida aren't they? When was the last time they had a winning season? When was the last time Minnesota made the Stanley Cup playoffs? How are these teams doing so awfully but still generating revenue?
The answer is good ownership and a commitment to try and get better.
Which was the same formula they were using in Atlanta, as the Thrashers are a team with immense young talent, such as Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little.
These players were just the early pieces in former GM Rick Dudley's plan to erase the bleak years of the past, and had he been given the time he thought he had, Lord Stanley could of needed some sun screen as he paraded past Phillips Arena.