It was about a year ago when the Atlanta Thrashers were rumored to be leaving the Atlanta area and I joined a group called KeeptheThrashers.com. I joined the group not because I was a fan of the Thrashers, hell the only thing I knew about the Thrashers was Marian Hossa had played for them at one point. At this point we know what happened, the team was sold and they are currently playing in Winnipeg this season. A rather tragic story of sports when the ownership group just does not care about the fans. Funny, its not the first time this type of story has played out in the NHL.
The story of the Thrashers closely mirrors what happened to the Hartford Whalers. The Whalers were in the smallest NHL market playing in the NHL's smallest stadium. After the original ownership sold the team, the new management lied about keeping the team in Hartford for at least 4 years. Citing low attendence, the team moved in 1997. The fans of Hartford led an epic "Save the Whale" campaign in which over 8,500 season tickets were sold in a 45 day period. In the end, this did not save the Whale or Pucky from moving down to Carolina.
Another thing that mirrors the two franchises is the fact that both teams had an a wealth of awesome players at one point or another. The Thrashers had great players like Hossa, Heatley, and Kovalchuk just to name a few. The Hartford Whalers had players like Ron Francis that would lead the Penguins to titles after being traded. The Hartford Whalers drafted Chris Pronger but ownership deemed him not to be worth it, what a failure that turned out to be. They also had Brendan Shanahan for a brief time, though he really never wanted to play in Hartford. Last but not least they had one of the best people to play in the NHL, Kevin Dineen.
It was through You Tube, and the internet, that I came to learn the story of the Hartford Whalers. I came to learn what the Brass Bonanza was all about. How the captain of your hockey team is supposed to act, like a true champion, Kevin Dineen. I believe this is what led me to lend my support to KeeptheThrashers.com; so that more people would not have their team taken away by ownership that did not really care about the team. In both cases, it seemed like no one besides the fans, did anything to attempt to save the team. This included city leaders and corporate partners failed to step up to save what the common people enjoyed.
City leaders in Hartford specifically CT governor John G. Rowland said he would not spend taxpayer dollars to build the Whalers a new stadium though they had the smallest capacity in the league. Rowland was more interested in trying to lure the New England Patriots to the area. He failed in both respects, the Patriots are still in Foxboro, and the Whalers well they are in Raleigh. In Atlanta, from what I have read and what I saw, city leaders could have cared less about losing an NHL team for a second time. If they cared they could have lobbied for support from local corporations to keep the team but that did not happen.
Let's talk about local corporations that have their headquarters in the Atlanta area. Let's start with Coca-Cola, they had a net revenue, net profit whatever you wish to call it of 10.5 billion dollars in the 1st quarter of 2011. The Thrashers were sold for 170 million dollars, if Coke had come in and bought the Thrashers, they would have still managed over 10 billion dollars in net revenue for the first quarter of 2011. UPS, another Atlanta based company had net profit of 1.11 billion in the first quarter of last year, again more then enough to save the team and keep them in Atlanta. Clearly, Corporate America did not show the Thrashers the money or respect.
Let's not let Gary Bettman off the hook when it comes to talking about respect, or treating people right. He said that the NHL would fight to keep teams in their current cities, clearly Atlanta was not part of the plan. Getting a team back to Hartford seems like it is not part of the plan either This may be the reason why he is booed in every city that he goes to besides Winnipeg. He is the only commissioner in the four major sports that is booed when he presented the Stanley Cup to the champion of the league at the end of the playoffs.
Clearly, Atlanta is a bit better off then the city of Hartford. Atlanta supports one of the busiest and largest airports, though it seems there is no room for the NHL. They have hosted the Olympics, and I would say the city is doing pretty well. I have been to an Atlanta Braves' game, and Turner Field is one of the best places to see a baseball game. It is a state of the art stadium, very nice and it looks like it was just built. You cannot tell me that Ted Turner or the rest of CNN does not have $200 million dollars sitting around, being wasted, that could have been used to save the Thrashers.
Sadly, though our story does not end with the tragedies of Atlanta and Hartford, there is another city that is headed down a similar path, Columbus, Ohio. Just like the Thrashers, Columbus' NHL team the Blue Jackets are just over 10 years into the league, and the only time they were in the playoffs, they were swept right out. The Jackets have been marred by bad leadership after the original owner was out of the picture just like Hartford and Atlanta. I fear for the Blue Jackets future in Columbus.
The people of Columbus have supported this team like no other for how bad they have been the past couple of years since they were swept out of the playoffs. Ownership has done little to put serious pieces around Rick Nash, another classy guy like Kevin Dineen (at least from what I know). Nash has basically had to put this franchise on his back because of the lack of attention from ownership and the general management. I know in other blogs I have dived into Columbus' problems, which is highlighted by the fact that they might be in the hardest division in the NHL. Things will definitely not get any easier in Columbus.
So, I hope that Columbus ownership could learn something from what happened in Atlanta and Hartford. I hope that they could "show the kids a little respect," meaning show the fans that they are important and they have a say in what they are paying thousands of dollars for each year. I hope that the Blue Jackets do not leave Columbus but right now I feel they are headed down a similar road, that has been traveled before and teams have not come back from. I know there would be many more sad people if Columbus lost their team.