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As many hockey fans are now aware, the Atlanta Thrashers are no more. Much like the Atlanta Flames before them, the financial reality of hockey in the market simply wasn’t viable. As a Canadian, it was pretty awesome to see the reaction from fans in Winnipeg when they learned they were getting a franchise again. They are very passionate fans and that cannot be a bad thing for the team coming in or the sport as a whole.
Who remembers this speech by Ed Olczyk speech when Winnipeg knew they had played their last game? It is a classic!
Atlanta held a pep rally to show how upset fans were the team was leaving, but it did not draw significant numbers to make an impression. In fact, I think I had more people attend my middle school graduation than they had show up. I’m not trying to knock the hard luck fans of Atlanta. Simply put, there was just not enough of a fan base there for the team. Even when they had a superstar in Ilya Kovalchuk, they had problems filling the seats. They never won a playoff game. I know every team has its hardcore fans, but if you want to attract the casual sports fan (in any market), winning is the key. In a town with the upstart Atlanta Hawks and the Atlanta Falcons, the Thrashers simply didn’t stand a chance if they were not winning.
All that being said, what lies ahead for the Atlanta Thrashers in terms of collectibles? That is a tough one to call at this point. One thing going for Thrashers fans is they have some really cool patch cards. The logos that the Atlanta Thrashers used made for some very unique cards along the way. There are many collectors who still will collect their stuff and I realized that there are quite a few collectors out there who collect items for defunct teams, which Atlanta know qualifies as. The Thrasher franchise has had very few true superstars and very few up and coming exciting rookies to chase (save Evander Kane) that have shown much promise so there likely won’t be someone on the Jets whose rookie card you would want to make sure you have in a Thrasher uniform.
In the long term I don’t believe Thrasher collectibles will have much impact on the hobby. The best use for any game-used Atlanta Thrashers jerseys that Upper Deck still has would be to use them in Flash Back Fabrics (which are typically one of the best insert sets from SPx in the past) and any kind of “journey” style card like was produced in SP Game Used this past year. In the end, they will probably simply fade to black, forgotten in the hobby. It’s sad, but true.
On the flip side, Winnipeg getting a franchise back will mean great things for that market. The “Drive to 13 000” ended recently, after the public was allowed to purchase season tickets, and the 13,000 seats were gone in just 17 minutes. The Winnipeg Jets have had a strong cult like following for many years in the hobby, recently as well. Many collectors seem to flock to anything where the player is wearing a Jets uniform.
Having them back in the fold will be a good thing for Canadian teams and in Canada in general. For Americans, I am not so sure. I think it is tough to sell TV rights in the USA with less American based teams, and the US Television deal seems to be something that is a huge deal on the bottom line for many American franchises. That could be especially true if Winnipeg ends up in the South East division for any amount of time. Leave out the extra travel that teams in the division will have to deal with, but I can’t see the Washington or Tampa Bay markets happy about having to sit through games when Winnipeg comes to town (not that it going to be much different then Atlanta in all reality), the size of the two respective cities isn’t exactly close. Players will like to play in a full arena however, and Winnipeg fans would love seeing top stars like Alexander Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and Eric Staal on a regular basis, even if it is just for one year.
Many of the issues that Winnipeg ran into back in the late 1990’s that forced them to move have now subsided. The one major point is the current strength of the Canadian dollar to that of the American green back. When you pay salaries and what not in American dollars and your revenues are in Canadian dollars, and you are only getting 60 cents in for every dollar spent, that just isn’t smart economics. A new arena, an owner that at this point seems committed to making things work, and a fan base that is ready for NHL hockey will send that city, and province into a tizzy. It should be fun to watch them over the next few years to see if they can maintain the enthusiasm that they have now.
Now the team needs a name. Many want the Jets name back; I am one of them, though I won’t be heartbroken if they change. If they do get it, I hope that they can work something with the Phoenix Coyotes. The Jets have some names up in their rafters that belong in Winnipeg if they are the jets. I’d love for them to get hung back up there where they belong.
What’s your take on the situation? What will the move mean to Atlanta, what will it mean for Winnipeg? Anything you would like to see Upper Deck to in upcoming 2011-12 releases that you think could be fun and worthy of release in product?
Did you get tickets in Winnipeg? We’d love to hear from you too.
Christopher Carmichael has been hockey fan of over 20 years. He has been an active member on various hobby related sites, most notably www.hobbyinsider.net, and is a moderator on www.cloutsnchara.com. Christopher also does some part time writing for the Insiders Edge (www.insidersedge.net for more details).