Archive for the ‘Thrashers/NHL’ Category

Falcons and Hawks locked out. Thrashers gone. What to do?

Surely these teams won't get locked out. Surely, I say. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Surely these teams won't get locked out. Surely, I say. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Even in the swelter of summer, it’s possible to envision — borrowing from that noted meteorologist George Harrison — a long cold lonely winter. Let’s call the roll.

The Atlanta Falcons? Locked out.

The Atlanta Hawks? Locked out.

The Atlanta Thrashers? Long gone.

Isn’t there anybody here left to play our reindeer games?

The Thrashers have rolled north to Manitoba. Some Falcons are tossing a football around on a high school field in Buford. The Hawks just got started doing nothing. Reading from the NBA’s official release:

During the lockout, players will not receive their salaries; teams will not negotiate, sign or trade player contracts; players will not be able to use team facilities for any purpose, and teams will not conduct or facilitate any summer camps, exhibitions, practices, workouts, coaching sessions or team meetings.

How have we come to this? Blame the economy. As an NBA executive …

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The Monday Heat Check: Braves are warm, Hawks not so hot

Eric Hinske scores the Braves' lone run against San Diego on Sunday. (AP photo)

Eric Hinske scores the Braves' lone run against San Diego on Sunday. (AP photo)

What you see here is new weekly feature. We call it the Monday Morning Heat Check, and its intent is to measure the warmth, or the absence thereof, of Atlanta’s sports entries. And what qualifies me to determine such things? Well, I buy my eyeglasses at the same posh establishment frequented by Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel. Need I say more?

The Braves: Went 4-2 on the week, sweeping a pretty good opponent in Toronto before losing a series to the last-place Padres. On Saturday the Braves scored 10 runs and you thought, not for the first time, that maybe they’d gotten it going. On Sunday they managed two hits, and you thought, not for the first time, “Nah.” They’re still five games back of Philadelphia in the East, and Jonny Venters just proved he’s human after all.  Heat index: Warm, but not nearly sizzling.

The Hawks: For a couple of hours Thursday, the Hawks were the center of the NBA …

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Enough about LeBron. What’s up with this Roberto Luongo?

Roberto Luongo after being benched in Game 6. (AP photo)

Roberto Luongo after being benched. (AP photo)

Roberto Luongo plays goalie for the Vancouver Canucks. These are his numbers in the Stanley Cup finals, which remain ongoing largely because of him:

Games 1, 2 and 5: Faces 97 Boston shots, stops 95 of them, wins two games 1-0 and the third 3-2 in overtime.

Games 3,4 and 6: Faces 64 Boston shots, fails to stop 15 of them, loses all three games (one 8-0) and gets pulled twice.

To recap: For the three games in Vancouver, Luongo stood, as they say approvingly in hockey, on his head; for the three games in Boston, he shoulda stood in bed.

Hockey can be an odd game, but this is beyond odd. A world-class goalie — he was Canada’s man between the pipes when it won Olympic gold last year — has been world-class on his sport’s biggest stage only half the time. But it’s not as if Canucks fans weren’t expecting it. Writing in Sports Illustrated last month, Brian Cazeneuve sketched the can’t-bear-to-look feeling the locals had toward their …

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How Joe Johnson (unwittingly) ran the Thrashers out of town

Here's where it all began: In August 2005, Billy Knight snubs Steve Belkin. (AP photo)

Here's where it all began: On Aug. 9, 2005, Billy Knight snubs Steve Belkin. (AP photo)

If I can return to the Thrashers, who as we know won’t be returning …

I don’t blame Atlanta as a city. I don’t blame hockey as a sport. I don’t blame Gary Bettman as a commissioner. I blame the Atlanta Spirit for buying a product that none among their membership really wanted and neglecting it.

In a weird way, I also blame Joe Johnson.

The Spirit took ownership of the Thrashers, the Hawks and Philips Arena in March 2004. In the summer of 2005 Billy Knight, then the Hawks’ general manager, sought to work a sign-and-trade with Phoenix for the restricted free agent Joe Johnson. Knight offered Boris Diaw, who’d been the Hawks’ No. 1 draftee in 2003, and two future No. 1 pick. Steve Belkin, whom the Spirit had installed as the team’s NBA governor, thought the price was too high.

The many other Spirit members moved to overthrow Belkin as governor so that the trade — described by one of the …

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Amid Thrashers talk, we ask: Is Atlanta a lousy sports city?

Corporate synergy: Basketball mascot dances at hockey rally! (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Corporate synergy: Basketball mascot dances at hockey rally! (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Should the Thrashers leave for Manitoba, ours would become the first American city to lose two NHL franchises. Word of the pending sale has  spawned yet another round of Atlanta-is-a-lousy-sports-town boilerplate harrumphing, and again I pause to ask: Are we a lousy sports town?

The Thrashers were 28th among 30 NHL teams in attendance last season. The Hawks were 22nd among 30 NBA clubs. The 2010 Braves made the playoffs for the first time since 2005, and their attendance ticked upward from 15th to 13th among the 30 baseball teams. (The average Turner Field crowd grew by 1,685 year over year.)

Of note: The 2010 Falcons, who had the NFL’s second-best record, were 15th among 32 teams in attendance and 19th in capacity at 95.3 per cent. But the Falcons’ average gate was 67,850. Put it this way: Over their last full seasons, the average Braves, Hawks and Thrashers crowds together still fell …

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Would it be so terrible if the Spirit hung on to the Hawks?

"Hey! We never liked hockey anyway! We can still do this!" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

"Hey! We never liked hockey anyway! We can still do this!" (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Let’s say the Atlanta Spirit sells the Thrashers, who move to Winnipeg or wherever. Let’s say the Spirit decides to keep the Hawks — perhaps with an infusion of cash from new co-owners, perhaps with just these same guys running one fewer franchise. Would that be the worst possible result for Atlanta?

Wait, wait. Don’t all scream at once.

The Spirit has done a lousy job with the hockey club. On this we can agree. But the Hawks have won a playoff series in each of the past three seasons. Alongside their Atlanta sports brethren, that should make them kings of our city. (Falcons: No playoff victories since January 2005. Braves: No postseason series victories since October 2001.)

Has the Spirit made strange decisions? Absolutely. It overpaid for Joe Johnson — overpaid twice, if you listened to Steve Belkin back in 2005 — and underpaid for Mike Woodson’s successor. But in March 2004 the Spirit …

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Hawks for sale! Thrashers for sale! But only one stands to exit

At least one of the Spirit's teams is going to be here next year. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

At least one of the Spirit's teams will be here next year. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

According to esteemed colleague Tim Tucker, the Atlanta Spirit — corporate motto: Everything Must Go! — has entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with outgoing San Diego Padres owners John Moores to buy the Hawks and Philips Arena. This is major news. But here we offer a couple of caveats:

• Exclusive negotiating agreements aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, especially when it concerns the Hawks, the Thrashers and Philips Arena. the Texas car dealer David McDavid had one of those with Time Warner in April 2003, and you see what it got him. (Actually, it got him $281 million from Time Warner after the conglomerate sold the teams and the building to the Spirit instead.)

• That the Spirit has entered into a negotiating agreement with someone who would agree to keep the Hawks in Atlanta — and it’d be pretty hard to uproot Philips Arena and move it to Manitoba — shouldn’t be taken …

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If the Thrashers leave, it won’t be because Atlanta failed them

Are the lights about to dim on ice hockey in Atlanta? (AJC file photo)

Are the lights about to dim on ice hockey in Atlanta? (AJC photo by Jessica McGowan)

The endgame has surely begun. It’s sad, yes. Given the way this franchise has been run, it’s also inevitable.

In the three months since Michael Gearon Jr., one of the team’s many owners, said the Thrashers were for sale, no credible buyer has emerged who’s willing to throw away money to keep the team in Atlanta. And now, reports esteemed colleague Chris Vivlamore, the Atlanta Spirit has begun negotiations with True North Sports and Entertainment, which very much wants a hockey club for Winnipeg.

Some continue to hold out hope, thinking an Atlanta knight will appear to save the Thrashers. But here we need ask: Does this franchise merit saving?

Atlanta is on the cusp of becoming the first American city to lose two NHL teams, but this failure is more pronounced. The old Flames actually did well on the ice, making the playoffs six times in eight years. The Thrashers have been a continuing dud: One …

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If the Hawks don’t make a playoff run, will Josh be jettisoned?

No. 55 is Jordan Crawford. Check his numbers since leaving. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

No. 55 is Jordan Crawford. Check his numbers since he got traded. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

The Thrashers fired their coach, changed their general manager, imported a goodly roster chunk from the Stanley Cup champions … and will miss the playoffs yet again. They finished 10th in the Eastern Conference last season; with four games remaining, they’re 11th now. And should we be upset?

Nah. They’re the Thrashers.

As for the Thrashers’ corporate brethren:  That’s different. The Hawks have made the playoffs three seasons running and have won a series the past two years. They didn’t opt for change over the offseason. They chose continuity, albeit with a twist. They fired their coach but promoted his assistant. (Message: “We’ve changed, but not really.”)

The Hawks won 53 games last season and finished third in the East. The best they can do this time is 49 victories, and they’re all but certain to be the No. 5 seed. In no way can this be seen as progress — the only reason to fire a …

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Would new Hawks/Thrashers owners make a real difference?

Found! Photographic evidence of an actual Hawks crowd! (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Found! Visual evidence of an actual Hawks crowd! (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Last week esteemed colleague Chris Vivlamore reported that two groups have inquired about buying the Hawks and Thrashers with the intent of keeping both teams in Atlanta. Which got me to thinking:

The Hawks are 25th in the 30-team NBA in home attendance, averaging 14,613 per date. The Thrashers are 28th in the 30-team NHL in home attendance, averaging 13,031. (Philips Arena seats 18,700 or thereabouts.)

Neither franchise excites the populace. But what if the franchises were handed to an ownership group other than the much-lampooned Atlanta Spirit? Would it make a difference to you, the paying (or non-paying, as the case may be) public?

Ordinarily, I’d suggest that ownership matters little when it comes to buying tickets. (Arthur Blank buying the Falcons was different, but I’d also suggest he was the exception.) But the Spirit has compiled such a worksheet of squabbles and lawsuits and strange personnel …

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