This has been quietly buzzing on the fringe and under the radar for some time. I've heard the whispers getting stronger under the loud howl of the Phoenix Coyotes relocation drama. The Coyotes have been getting all the headlines and all the talk of relocation to Winnipeg but the strongest candidate to go to Winnipeg is really the Atlanta Thrashers.
The Phoenix story works better for the fans because the Yotes were originally the Winnipeg Jets, so there is the nostaligia of getting back a lost franchise. Taking the nostalgia factor out of the equation and the franchise that fits best next year is the Thrashers. Winnipeg is certainly the city best positioned and ready to accept a NHL team open for business next season.
Talk of moving the Thrashers, just like the Coyotes has been going on for years now, to the point it is tiresome to read about it. This more recent commentary is more likely to be accurate unlike the years of previous rumor speculation. I am confident we will see NHL hockey in Winnipeg to start the 2011-12 season. The only question is which team.
I've been patiently waiting for a formal source to bring this up before publishing this article and how it will affect the Flames for weeks now.
TSN and Darren Dreger finally appeared.
I should have taken the risk and published my article sooner. To me it is a slam dunk argument that it will be the Thrashers and not the Coyotes and I'll elaborate after the jump.
TSN Article on the Thrashers moving to Winnipeg
Yahoo Sports on the Thrashers to Winnipeg
Edit: Another Source Winnipeg is the Thrashers only Option
Why the Thrashers will move to Winnipeg and not the Coyotes
(1) Timing mainly - The current situation is more about the fact that Winnipeg as a city is 100% ready to go for next season and now two franchises can potentially be moved. That is a nice situation for Winnipeg to be in and if it comes down to it, I don't think Winnipeg is going to say no if they are presented with only the Thrashers as their choice for NHL hockey.
(2) Nostalgia - It is really nostalgia that keeps the focus on the Coyotes and not the Thrashers. Canadian hockey fans follow / pursue their old teams, so the media narrative is simply more appealing. Old Quebec Nordiques fans still fume about the Colorado Avalanche. They suffered through all the building years of playoff misses and low-place finishes only to have their team snatched away to Denver for Colorado fans to bask in the glory of Stanley Cup wins or at least that is how they tell it, but teams get moved for money reasons, not for fan reasons, nostalgia or otherwise.
Teams do not stay for the fans any more than they will move for the fans, the get moved and stay because of the fan's money or lack of. It's an important distinction to keep in mind.
(3) There is serious Will in Phoenix to keep the team - When powerful people with a lot of money want something to happen, it usually does. You are a bit of a niave idealist if you think otherwise and the simple fact is that powerful people in the NHL and the City of Phoenix / Glendale want the Coyotes to stay.
TSN Further Examines Relocation Of Atlanta Thrashers To Winnipeg: 04/27/11 (via JHendrix70)
(4) There is NOT serious Will to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta, as Dreger points out. Ownership of the Thrashers is anxious and ready to sell. Their issue is there is only one group to sell to and they are second in line to the buyer's (Winnipeg / True North's) preference. I will even speculate they have the whole deal worked out and on paper and the pens are just sitting there. Waiting patiently to be picked up and used to put the signatures and dates in place.
(5) Winnipeg will prefer the Coyotes, because of nostalgia, but they will not say "No" to the Thrashers
Winnipeg just wants a friggin NHL team, believe me they will not reject taking the Thrashers as Plan B.
(6) There is still solid hope and potential in the Phoenix market, much better than the Atlanta market.
This is strike two now for hockey in Atlanta. I wonder if it was ever a rational choice or if the motivation was mainly to make it one of the few cities who have all 4 major sports. A sort of pride issue for some in Atlanta. Atlanta was never a good choice for hockey. I hope I don't piss anyone off here but I do live in the American South and I feel I can comment on it. The reason why hockey fails in Atlanta is household income.
(7) Coyotes fans are more passionate and prevalent. But you said fans don't matter, they do and they don't. They do in the sense that they have to have a critical mass and have money, they don't in the sense that you can get 5,000 people out on the street protesting to keep a team and it will still move. Ask Winnipeg fans about that.
The fans matter in a sense that they have to have the potential to grow, I see that potential and hope as being much more prevelant in Phoenix than Atlanta. They didn't care when the Flames came to Calgary and I don't think the majority of the people in Atlanta will care if they leave again.
I'll been to both Atlanta and Phoenix and I randomly try and talk hockey to strangers all the time. In Atlanta I met several people who could not even name the hockey team. There was better awareness in Phoenix, just saying.
So What Does it all mean next year for the Flames?
Division Shuffles Mainly - of which I predict the following
Canucks / Oilers / Flames / Wild / (Thrashers)
Red Wings / Blackhawks / Blues / Blue Jackets / Avalanche
Capitals / Lightning / Hurricanes / Panthers / Predators