The Nashville Predators are putting hockey back on the map in the south. Though just an 8-seed, they defeated the mighty Chicago Blackhawks and may be en route to their first Stanley Cup in the team’s short history. This serves as a reminder to Atlanta Thrashers fans of what could have been.
It seems like it has been longer, but around six years ago the Thrashers were sold to True North Sports and Entertainment, who elected to move the team up north to Winnipeg and reestablished the Winnipeg Jets.
This is not the first time this has happened. The city also lost the Atlanta Flames back in 1980, before the team moved to Calgary, where they have remained ever since. Has Atlanta run out of chances with obtaining a professional hockey team?
Sure, hockey is not as possible in the south. However, if you watch a Predators game, the atmosphere is wild and the fans absolutely love the team. Every home game is a “yellow-out”, as fans wear their home jerseys to create an intense atmosphere.
So why was this not the case in Atlanta? There are three reasons: the product put on the ice, the city’s sports culture, and ownership.
Though the Thrashers had stars such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa and Dany Heatley during the team’s short history, the team itself always struggled. Only one time did the Thrashers make the playoffs, only to be swept in the first round by the New York Rangers. Realistically, Atlantans really only went to the game for the atmosphere, not the product itself. If the team has experienced success during their tenure in Atlanta, things could have been much, much different.
But there are no excuses. Atlanta fans have garnished a bad reputation for only showing up when the teams are good, and we all know this is true. The fans were not terrible, but they were not spectacular, either. For this reason, it could be decades before the city sees another team, if ever.
The problem with Atlanta is it is such a transient city. A city with such growth has seen people from all over the globe move to the biggest market in the southeast. It can be hard to find a millennial in the metro area whose parents are both from the Atlanta area. This is why when you go to a Cubs-Braves game, you can find almost as many Cubs fans as Braves fans.
The culture is definitely unfortunate, but Atlanta is really growing as a sports town. The Falcons and Braves both have the young talent to become dynasties in future years, and more and more “true Atlantans” are being bred.
Atlanta may not be Boston, but it is a work in progress. And for this reason, the city will likely get one more shot at hockey. The market is too big not to. But this could be a very long waiting game for fans, and three strikes and you’re out.
If Atlanta does get another team, they must ensure they get the right ownership. The former owners of the team, the beloved Atlanta Spirit Group, were more focused on the Hawks and Phillips Arena than the Thrashers. They had a hidden agenda. The Hawks finally got out from the Atlanta Spirit sinkhole when they sold the team to Tony Ressler and others two years ago. Luckily, the city will never have to deal with this awful group again. The next step is getting the Braves out from ownership by Liberty Media Corporation, who use the team as a tax write-off. While Arthur Blank has been an outstanding owner, his efforts have been overshadowed by terrible ownership of the other three teams, and it has affected the city’s sports culture as a whole.
The city deserves a clean slate on the ice.