Let me preface this by saying that I’ve always thought it appropriate that, when the economy and such is in a better place, that the NHL should expand back into Canada. Quebec and Winnipeg should be at the toppermost of those lists, since they’ve already experienced the pain of having a franchise yanked from them. After all, cities such as Denver and Atlanta have gotten second cracks at teams after losing their first ones.
But there’s something that strikes me as quite unpleasant about a team’s fanbase wanting to snatch a team away from a city where it’s established and has fans. Believe it or not, Phoenix has a fanbase. Nashville’s got a pretty damn dedicated fanbase. Pittsburgh, back in the pre-Sid lean years were a very well established team with fans who would have been crushed had the team moved. Atlanta fits into this. People trying to make a grab at the Thrashers are ignoring the facts (duh) and acting ·inappropriately vased on a valid emotion. It comes off as abrasive and more than a bit entitled.
You’ll get this again. Just not for a while, and not at Atlanta’s expense.
Of course, hockey as Canada’s game – that concept – is built around an entitlement that is understandable. It’s justifiable. They adore the sport, but that adoration does not make them more “worthy” of a team than anywhere else that can cultivate an interest in it. Bettman’s expansion has cultivated interest in hockey in places that just ten or fifteen years ago would have been unheard of. Players drafted from Georgia? Guys from Texas and California in the World Juniors? Madness! Madness, I say! But true nonetheless. If you love your sport, why wouldn’t you want to see it being played in non-traditional markets? Why wouldn’t you want more people realizing that hockey is the greatest thing since sliced bread?
The only team that got a franchise at the “expense” of a Canadian city that is located in a non-traditional market are the Phoenix Coyotes, and while the calls to move back to Winnipeg are expected and understandable, at the same time, you have to look at why Winnipeg and Quebec City both lost their franchises. The Jets and Nordiques had to move due to a lack of business support, poor and small arenas, few fans attending the games, and in Quebec City’s case being biased in favor of Francophones. It’s easy to say that won’t happen again, and that those cities have learned from their mistakes. I’m sure that they have, and they’d support a new franchise just as well if not better than Sunbelt markets. That’s not the issue though – the issue is forcibly moving a franchise from it’s city to another. Bettman would never do that because it would prove that he failed in his expansion ideas. The concept of thinking that you’re more entitled to a team than that team’s fans is just wrong. It’s rude, it’s classist, and quite frankly, it’s jingoistic.·
Canada’s entitled to more hockey teams. In fact, they should have them. But they shouldn’t have other teams in markets that they have deemed “unworthy” of the great sport of hockey. Isn’t everyone worthy of watching the games? Give teams like Atlanta time to get on track. When the team started here, they sold out constantly and had a huge fanbase and many season ticket holders. Now, with just around 6600 season ticket holders, it looks like no one cares. People do care, but they’re waiting for a winning product to come back. The team sold out numemrous times in 2006-2007, and the two playoff games at Philips Arena were a great atmosphere. That can happen again. It happened in Chicago, and it’ll probably happen on Long Island once the Islanders win again.
Showing up en masse to a hockey game to show Bettman how much you want another city’s team isn’t going to get you one. It’ll just get you animosity, contempt, and a ton of irritation – which will make games fun when the Thrashers road trip to Quebec in ten years. You’ll get your team – just not ours.