First, my apologies for not posting a blog for almost two days. As I hope you can understand it has been a loooooong and eventful stretch with my story on owner Michael Gearon saying there is a ’sense of urgency’ to find investors to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta. Oh, and the Dustin Byfuglien signing. I got first word of the signing very shortly before my lengthy interview with Mr. Gearon. As you might imagine with a story of this magnitude, I spent quite a bit of time reporting, writing, fact checking, talking to many people about what it all means, etc. I hope you understand.
I want to thank two people in particular who helped greatly over the past two days.
Colleague Carroll Rogers stepped in and wrote the Byfuglien story for me so I could continue my reporting work. That’s not always an easy thing to do and she did it well. Thanks Carroll!
I also want to thank our Thrashers fan blogger Rawhide. He stepped up with an excellent posting that gave the many, many folks interested in what is going on a chance to voice their opinion. Thanks Bill!
Couple of other piece of housekeeping before we get to the blog. I am not traveling with the team on this trip to Phoenix and Edmonton. I assure you it was a decision made long before the current news. Once they return, I am scheduled for every road trip through the end of the season. I am also continuing to track trade talk and a possible move before or on the trade deadline. I can tell you they Thrashers were in on the Kris Versteeg talks. I can also tell you there are talks between the Thrashers and St. Louis on some level. Also, now that the Byfuglien deal is done, expect something on Andrew Ladd. He would be the next priority.
On to the topic at hand.
While I will let our folks who get paid for their opinion – Jeff Schultz, Mark Bradley and even Rawhide (hey, wait do we pay him?) – weigh in on who is at fault for the issues that face the Thrashers, I can say that I think Mr. Gearon is not just making an empty threat. I talked to him and his father for nearly two and a half hours on Tuesday. I – and he – understand that he is more the face of the Hawks and has more knowledge of the basketball side of the operation. However, on Tuesday he spoke with passion about both franchises and wanting to keep them in Atlanta. One of the things he told me was he would be willing to take a back seat, staying involved as a lesser owner, if a majority interested wanted to come in and keep the franchises in Atlanta. I take him at his word on that.
While selling and moving the Thrashers is a real possibility it is not yet reality. Selling a professional franchise it not easy. Look at some other cities around the NHL. You figure the NHL wants a team in the seventh largest television market.
It’s funny having just been in Raleigh for the All-Star Game last month. So many writers were using the Hurricanes as a prime example of why hockey can work in a non-traditional (I hate the word) market. I understand their are differences between the two situations. I was here – serving as the Pro Sports editor – in 2006-07 when the Thrashers made the playoffs. The arena was packed and vocal. I remember leaving one regular-season game after Marian Hossa had a hat trick and as I walked to the car people were in the middle of Centennial Olympic Blvd. chanting his name.
That was the past. It’s the future the Thrashers are staring at.
I’m not saying a playoff run this season will keep the team from moving. I’m not saying a building suddenly filled will make the difference. I don’t know if things will move quickly enough were this will be the last season for the Thrashers in Atlanta. The Atlanta Spirit were not going to find a buyer – or investors – during the long-going litigation. That was finally resolved in December. The process really starts now.
The one thing I’ve learned in my nine years in Atlanta, more than most markets, is that you have to win here. I understand the fan frustration with one playoff appearance in 10 years. And no wins. I understand the fan bases and league’s frustration with owners stuck in litigation. It’s all part of the puzzle.
So let me know what you think. What’s next for the Thrashers? How do you see this situation playing out? Don’t just say they are gone or they stay. Give me your reasons. I’m interested in your opinion.