I’ve been waiting for nearly two years to do this column, not only to bash NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on his cowardice in the way the sleazy backroom deal to move the Atlanta Thrashers went down, but also to give a big thumb-to-the-nose salute to disrespectful Winnipeg Jets fans who seemed to think that the franchise would fare tremendously better once settled in the great white north.
Fools gold, for both of you.
Bettman thought it would be so easy, just take a franchise that wasn’t performing up to par who had owners that really had no interest in hockey or in owning an NHL team, and send them up north to a group of whining fans who had already lost their franchise once. Quick, painless, and kept the Phoenix Coyotes stuck in the desert for the foreseeable future.
The same Phoenix Coyotes who have been sitting dead last in attendance for the last two seasons I might add.
Forget about the dough the taxpayers in Arizona were shelling out to keep a league-owned team afloat.
The hockey-crazed fans in Winnipeg were all too happy to boo and hiss at the fans in Atlanta, accusing them of giving no support to their team, and bragging how the soon-to-be Jets 2.0 would be immediate playoff contenders, and would hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in half the time it took the Thrashers to even make the playoffs.
Not looking good on that prediction now, is it?
The truth is that the Jets are having just as much (if not more) trouble gaining steam than the Thrashers were, and most NHL players would tell you that Atlanta is a much more exciting, cosmopolitan and temperate city to visit in the dead of winter than a frozen metropolis in the heart of Manitoba.
The lowest attendance numbers the Thrashers ever had while in Atlanta was in their final season (2010-2011), when they drew an average of 13,469. This was 72% capacity in an arena that sat nearly 19,000 for ice hockey. Had the Thrashers been playing in the noticeably smaller 15,000 seat MTS Centre that houses the Jets, it would have looked like a near capacity crowd every night.
The Jets failed to qualify for the playoffs in season one, finishing 11th in the Eastern Conference with 84 points. For the record, the Thrashers finished 12th tallying 80 points in their final season, so the big move garnered a grand total of the equivalent of two regular season wins.
This is me yawning.
In the lockout shortened season two, the Jets are sitting…you guessed it…11th in the conference. You could say it’s early in the season, but when the season is going to be less than 50 games, there is no such thing as “early”.
Bottom line: Gary Bettman did nothing to improve the franchise by moving the team. All he did was unfairly damage the tattered hockey reputation of a city that actually showed to be great supporters of the sport. Some pockets were lined, and some egos were stroked, but in the end, the team once known as the Thrashers is still mired in mediocrity…only now they don’t have the excuse of poor ownership and poor management.
Just poor play.
Put another notch in the Bettman rifle stock of idiocy.