February 22, 2011
ESPN's Pierre LeBrun reported over the weekend that the Atlanta Thrashers are at a rather perilous moment in their franchise's brief history:
The ownership situation is getting urgent in Atlanta. We were told this weekend that the league is trying mighty hard to find a new owner who's willing to keep the team in Atlanta.
The league's sole focus right now is to keep the team in Atlanta and given its ability to find new owners in Tampa, Buffalo and Phoenix, it's not unrealistic to think the league won't be able to pull it off again. However, should a new owner not be found in the next six to eight weeks, we're told the Thrashers could indeed be up for relocation and Winnipeg would very likely be the new home.
Whether you think there's smoke here or it's more dire news to drum up investors, the potential for an NHL team returning to Winnipeg as early as next season brings up a few interesting questions beyond geographic reconfiguration in the NHL's conferences.
Like, for example, if the players are already wise to this potential relocation, and if that's preventing the Thrashers from pursuing talent at the deadline.
That's what Glenn Healy, a guy with obvious NHLPA ties, reported on CBC's Hot Stove over the weekend, via Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press:
"Guess what name is appearing on a lot of players' no-move teams? Atlanta," Healy said. "Why? Because if the team goes to Winnipeg, it's not a desirable place for them to play their winters."
So not because Atlanta has made the playoffs once in its history and is far from guaranteed a spot this season? Well OK then.
Assuming Healy's premise is correct, it's another challenge in the NHL's potential return to Winnipeg: Attracting talent via free agency or through trades when the player can dictate where he wants to go.
But it may not be as challenging as saving the Thrashers, despite a new push to do so.
This should come as no surprise. Edmonton has been dealing with a similar stigma, which only hearkened to Noel's original point.
"You know what? In the '80s with Gretzky and the bunch, I don't think too many players were saying, 'I don't want to go to Edmonton,' " he said. "Create the environment and they'll play. And they'll love Winnipeg and they'll love Edmonton."
The indignation about getting dissed before the city even has a team, however, is noteworthy. "It's kind of a slap," Noel conceded. "I like Winnipeg. It's got a lot to offer. It's cold, but . . . you get those things. (The Moose) are run like a well-oiled machine, the way they run their franchise. And the locker-room is better than some NHL teams. For me, it's a slap (in the face) but you have to get over it."
Frozen tundras and places that make Lauren Pronger weepy aren't the other locations in the NHL that have to overpay to convince talent to relocate. The Los Angeles Kings, for example, have overpaid free agents in the past (like Rob Scuderi(notes)) to convince them to come out West.
Bottom line is that a successful team, strong management and a welcoming organization can sometimes overcome geographic challenges. And there's ever another franchise in Winnipeg, and these conditions are met, then players will be smiling like Anders Hedberg in the card above, though slightly less creepily. (Check out HOTH for another classic Jets hockey card.)
Finally, via reader Solo, the latest push to Save The Thrashers in a YouTube pitch: