Stop me if you've heard this story before. NHL puts team in a city, city ends up not being able to care for said team, NHL abandons city, moves team to somewhere else. Down the road, however, the NHL fails to learn from the past and puts another team in said city. Said city again can't keep the team and loses it.
I speak of Atlanta, of course, and if we're not careful and lucky, the same could be said of Winnipeg.
Remember when the NHL had a team in Winnipeg? I bet you probably do. Remember what happened to that team in Winnipeg? Yeah.
Hopefully, the circumstances that led to the Jets leaving Canada won't happen to the new franchise in Winnipeg, whatever it will be called. (Doesn't seem like they'll go back to the Jets, which is another point in my favor. If you're going to put a team back there, how do you NOT call them the Jets? Will anyone take the new name seriously? How many jokes will there be that still refer to the team as the Jets?) There's no real guarantee of that though, is there?
I'll concede the point that it's good we have another Canadian team back in the league. But it never should've come to this. The relocation of the Thrashers speaks to the incompetence of commissioner Gary Bettman, his staff, the Atlanta "owners" and most of all, their greed. When the Coyotes reached a deal to stay in Phoenix for another season, did Bettman even pause before looking to move the Thrashers? Was he not content with the league as it was?
More importantly: Did he even put in half as much effort to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix as he did to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta? Like when he wanted to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh a few years ago?
One of the beat writers for the Penguins, Dave Molinari, blogged after Pittsburgh's regular season finale in Atlanta that some of the arena workers believed the Thrashers' days were numbered. That if the Coyotes didn't move to Manitoba, the Thrashers would. It's a bit startling, and disconcerting, how quickly and rapidly a deal to move the Thrashers was completed. Talk about a rebound relationship. We know how those usually end.
Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote a fabulously scathing article on the whole situation. You can find that here.
And Schultz is absolutely correct. The city, the fans, didn't fail the franchise. The owners and (mis)management did. That's a testament to how little the NHL cares about character or integrity in prospective owners, they just want their money. (I know, tell that to Jim Balsillie; Bettman seems to have a vendetta against him.)
Relocating a franchise is a blackmark on a league. It's a sign of a lack of due diligence in determining the key factors that a team needs to work. Don't tell me hockey in the South can't work. Look at Carolina and the atmosphere they had for the All-Star Game. The playoff crowds in Nashville and Tampa. If the right ownership group, the right personnel and the right managers are in place, hockey can work anywhere.
Don't get me wrong. I hope the new Winnipeg team succeeds, even thrives. But the circumstances surrounding this mess leave me unhappy and disgruntled with Bettman and the NHL.