According to True North Sports & Entertainment, the workings of a deal to move the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg has been finalized and will be formally announced at a noon EST press conference today.
This is a heartbreaker for hockey fans in Atlanta and another calculated blow to the NHL’s efforts to extend hockey into the Southern U.S.
This move also marks the second time the city has lost a professional hockey franchise to Canada, the first coming with the relocation of the Atlanta Flames in 1980 to Calgary, Canada.
With recent rumors of the NHL’s consideration of adding an expansion team in Seattle, it appears the league may be amending its future plans by bolstering its presence along the West Coast. Adding a team in Seattle would especially make sense given the natural regional rivalry it could create with one of the NHL’s traditional powers, the Vancouver Canucks.
Winnipeg obviously is welcoming the NHL with open arms, but it will be interesting to see whether this enthusiasm is followed by success. Winnipeg’s former franchise, the Jets, left for Phoenix to become the Coyotes in 1996. The Coyotes have struggled since the early 2000s, filing for bankruptcy protection in 2006 and hanging by thread ever since.
Can Winnipeg’s new NHL franchise succeed where the Jets failed?
This is yet to be seen, but either way, May 31st will be remembered by hockey fans in Winnipeg as the day when professional hockey returned home to its roots.