Just as soon as the Glendale City Council voted 5-2 to pony up the $25 million to the NHL to keep the Coyotes there for at least another year, it was clear that Thrasherville was soon to become the new frontrunner in the ongoing relocation saga. Clearly the media, at least the cyber media, was ready to turn its attention to our team once the dust became settled in the Arizona desert.
The “news makers” of the web need traffic and they’ll direct whatever they can however they can, after all.
And sure as hell is hot, it only took about a day before a rumor was posted in the cybersphere that within 24-48 hours it would be announced the team was sold to TNSE and will be moving to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season. Making people’s reaction to it even that much more interesting is that the “breaking news” came from a source that so many brush aside as “unreliable”…but that didn’t keep some from pointing to it as the sure sign that the end was near.
Of course that period of time came and went with no such announcement being made and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the story was purely fiction.
“So people just make this stuff up, right?” Bettman told ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun while attending game seven of the Sharks-Red Wings series. “Where’s the accountability from all the people who a month ago were saying that Phoenix was definitely going? Whatever is being written [about Atlanta] is being made up.”
Thus, we are now able to place that fabrication in the same trash bin we have so any other “Relocation Announcement Eminent” rumor.
Now this is in no way, shape, manner or form an attempt to sugarcoat the troubling position Thrasherville finds itself in today with the ownership issues. Nor am I wanting to appear to be “whistling my way past the graveyard” in regards to the fact that the Atlanta Spirit, LLC…our brutally bad owners… may very well be in the process of delivering its final insult and slap to the faces of Thrashers fans.
However, I would simply caution you to not fall prey to some of the stuff being cranked out of the rumor mill while this saga plays out. And don’t allow your emotions to be yanked up and down whenever you read about “impending announcements” from sources that have no names.
In the end, the outcome of this drama will be directed by not the internet pundits or talking heads on sports shows across North America. Nor will the matter be settled by those cyber-warriors who infiltrate blog sites and debate the merits of Atlanta, Phoenix, Winnipeg or [insert name of city here] as an NHL city.
Nope, all one needs to know when it comes to how this is all going to play out are these four letters…WWGD. What Would Gary Do?
In the end I truly believe this all comes down to Gary Bettman and if he intends to make any sort of stand here in protection of an NHL presence in the Atlanta market, or if he and the league lack the stomach for another fight to save the team from relocation and allow the franchise to uproot to move to points north.
There are all sorts of theories and ideas from all sides of the debate attempting justify why Bettman will do “this” or do “that”. To some he simply cannot…could not…would not…turn his back on a market the size of Atlanta, (or Phoenix for that matter), and let it land in one the size of Winnipeg.
To others it matters not the size and potential of the market, but how many fans will pony up the funds to come out and see the team play right now. 17,000 from 750,000 is greater, they would say, then 10,000 from 6 million.
Some will argue…and rightfully so I would add… that Bettman and Co. understands fully the problems in Thrasherville rest squarely on the shoulders of the uncaring, apathetic, dysfunctional ownership cluster flop known as the AS, LLC. Any professional sports franchise would difficulty succeeding given the way the Great Octocluster, (the seven owners and Don Waddell) have run it and the empty seats in Philips Arena are the product of their ineptitude, not a weak fan base.
Others simply see the empty seats and insist new owners are not the answer, a new location is. A new location where fans will show up no matter how much the team under-performs or how badly they are treated by ownership. A place where you’ll never have to see the team president pull out a hand-made sign during an intermission interview on TV that requests fans call and buy tickets.
(Yes…that actually happened here last winter. Why Don Waddell even bothers hiring a sales and marketing staff and doesn’t just go it alone with his brilliant ideas is simply baffling to me.)
Obviously, I side with those who understand the fact that this city not only can provide rabid support for the NHL franchise, it has done so in the past. In the years leading up to the lockout and just after, attendance was not an issue. Fans came out to watch a team on the rise. Unfortunately after the current ownership took over and it was clear the Thrashers were the ugly, redheaded stepchildren to them, and were being operated at bargain basement levels…many fans simply chose not to return.
“If the Spirit Clowns don’t care enough to invest in the team, why should I?” was the prevailing question from those fans.
You may discuss amongst yourselves whether or not those fans were right to do so…but I can’t argue with their reasoning. The Atlanta Spirit, LLC could not have inflicted more damage upon the future of hockey here if they had intended to do so from the day they took over in 2004.
But while the endless rumors, conjecture and premature prediction of possible relocations continue to cloud the subject, there is one thing for certain to happen here. The Atlanta Thrashers will indeed be sold, either along with the NBA Hawks and Philips Arena or alone. As such, we will once and for all be rid of the most dysfunctional band of [insert appropriate descriptive words for the AS, LLC here] ever to own a professional sports franchise.
The $110 million question is, of course, will the new owner(s) be intent to keep the team here… or will they whisk them away to a venue far, far away?
Whether it is the former or the latter, like I said, that’s up to one man in my opinion… Mr. Bettman. And so all eyes will be upon him in the coming weeks as hockey fans here, in Winnipeg and all across the NHL landscape look to see just what will Gary do.
In the mean time, I would advise that everyone cool their jets and not allow themselves to be jerked around so easily by the relocation rumor de jour crowd.