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Atlanta Thrashers, RIP

Posted By John Morgo On May 31 2011 @ 9:39 pm In NHL,Winnipeg Jets | 1 Comment

(I’ll take Mangled Shakespearean Phrases for $400, Alex.)
I have come not to praise the Atlanta Spirit, but to bury them.
As has been widely reported all across any sport news source, the Atlanta Thrashers are currently being packed up by a cut-rate moving outfit and being shipped to Winnipeg to become the Manitoba Moose (The Winnipeg Jets are permanently grounded {for now} in Phoenix). Before I get too deep in my analysis, which will probably include some snarky comments, a bad pun or two, and possibly a movie reference if I come up with a good one, let me offer this suggestion. Get Johan Hedberg back for your goalie. (Because his nickname is the Moose, get it? Oh, never mind).
Let’s not tackle the issue on whether Atlanta is a bad professional sports town, despite having lost not one, but two, NHL franchises. (The Thrashers did last longer than the Flames, by a whole three seasons). This gives Atlanta a certain ignominy, but it’s not alone. New York, that great metropolis, has lost the same amount of MLB teams (OK, that was 50 years ago, but you see the point). There are so many issues that I can touch on, it would be easy to get lost. Let me stick with what the central point is. For the Atlanta Thrashers, the fans didn’t care because nobody else in power (be it the owners, the movers and shakers in Atlanta who could rescue the team, and yes, Gary Bettman, I’m including you in this as well) seemed to care. The fans aren’t idiots, though we sometimes delude ourselves into thinking they are. They sense when people in power don’t care. And the Atlanta Spirit group didn’t care. That ennui (fancy word meaning not caring), like a virus, seeped out and infected everybody that came into contact with the club. It’s a question that I raised when I learned this team was on the shopping block. Why should the fans care when it is increasingly obvious that the owners either stopped or never really did so in the first place?
When that news story leaked out, people in Atlanta knew this day was coming. It was as inevitable as the coming of the seasons. But would anybody in power stand up and do something? Only Tom Glavine did. The Ex-Brave pitcher who played a little hockey growing up in Massachusetts said he’d be willing to help, but nobody took him up on it. And back to Mr. Bettman. He lobbied for Phoenix to give bonds worth $25 million for Phoenix to keep the Coyotes and deny the Jets a return leg (bad pun #1), but did he make any similar effort for Atlanta. His only statement was to admonish the fans for not showing up. I will say this. The Thrashers were in first in the Southeast by a point in December. While playoff visions started to dance, that was when they forgot to win, got mired in a huge slump that lasted all of January and most of February, and when the dust cleared, they were 10 points out of the eighth and the death march formally began. What did the owners do? Clean house? Make a trade? Yell at someone? They started to get feelers out for new owners, anyone to take this turkey off their hands because they were losing $20 million a year and forgot that, in sports, to make money, you have to put a quality product out there. A rational person could see that.
One more point about Mr. Bettman. He is already making noises that Winnipeg could lose the franchise if they don’t sell out every night. Winnipeg’s population: 750,000. Atlanta’s: 5 million+. Yes, this is going to end well.
Steve Hummer, columnist for The Atlanta Journal Constitution, made this analogy. You buy a car and it turns out to be a lemon. Do you continue to frequent that dealership as you want them to stay in business and not take it to a suburb on the other side of town? Let me refine that analogy. The mechanics keep trying, but all they get the fix the cars are materials that are inferior because the management doesn’t want to spend for the top-of-the-line stuff.
Here’s the truly tragic part of this story. It didn’t have to be this way. When the Thrashers, Hawks, and Philips Arena (the latter two aren’t affected by the deal, and because of a complicated bond structure, aren’t going anywhere), were originally put on the shopping block, they had an agreement with a Texan car salesman to purchase the entities and keep them here. He seemed like the exact kind of strong personality (see Cuban, Mark; Jones, Jerry) that the teams needed to be forceful. But he had the rug pulled out from under him by the Spirit. With the benefit of hindsight, we could see that it was never going to work. The agreement filled six binders, involved seven people in three cities, and was so unwieldy it was only a matter of time before it collapsed under its’ own weight. It was a disaster waiting to happen. (The iceberg was named Joe Johnson – ooh! Good movie/historical reference!) It took whatever credibility Atlanta had as a professional sports town down with it. Only a Super Bowl win by the Falcons can save it (That’s not going to happen – nothing against the Falcons – I just don’t think we’ll have an NFL season this fall – more pessimism. Guess it’s all up to the Braves. We’re doomed. (Just kidding – there is always hope). So why did the Spirit get the inside track? It might have something to do with two of the new owners having the last name of Turner, but that’s just idle speculation.
The other obvious sign that the Spirit cared more about being in the NBA and that the NHL was just the red-headed stepchild of the deal? Two words. Don Waddell. He oversaw a team that had 1 playoff appearance and no wins in ten seasons as GM. Instead of being kicked to the curb, he was kicked upstairs. I wish I had a job where a decade’s worth of mismanagement was rewarded with a promotion. That’s the American Dream, right there.
I’ve gone on way too long, but I’ve thought a lot about this subject. I’ve finished a stretch where I’ve done Junior College and high school baseball action, and my job hours had a lot of volatility, but things look to calm down enough so I’ll finally be able to assist Marcus Young in his coverage of the Atlanta Braves. (And as to how the Thrashers will be sent north? Judging by their history, I’ll say that the Spirit won’t use U-Haul or Ryder and try a cheap route, like maybe Hunks Hauling Junk. It would certainly send an appropriate message as to what they think of the whole deal).

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