In 2011, True North Sports and Entertainment wanted to bring an NHL team back to Winnipeg, and had their sights on the Arizona Coyotes, who were the original Winnipeg Jets, but the league denied the group’s request. The group would go on to buy the Atlanta Thrashers and relocate the team to Winnipeg to be named the Jets. This was not the first time Atlanta lost an NHL team to Canada. The Flames played in Atlanta from 1972 to 1980. The Flames’ tenure in Atlanta had moderate success with six playoff appearances in their eight seasons, but the owner, Tom Cousins lost a lot of money due to his real estate business not making money, and the Flames struggling to draw a crowd. He sold the team a Calgary-based group in 1980. The Flames relocated to Calgary, Canada where they would win the Stanley Cup in 1989. Why has Atlanta had bad luck with NHL teams? One reason is the lack of success. The Thrashers first came into the league in 1999 as a second-chance opportunity, but only had one playoff appearance, when the Rangers swept them in the first round in 2007. One argument is that hockey is not popular in the Southern US, which is not true as the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators are selling out games, and the Vegas Golden Knights had the best season ever for a first-year team. I believe that the NHL has potential to come back to Atlanta, but they need an ownership that is willing to invest. Look at Atlanta United FC, in their two seasons of their existence, they have been the attraction to the city with attendance regularly breaking MLS records. If you had asked me two years ago, I would with no hesitation say that the NHL will never come back to Atlanta, but seeing the success with the MLS team made me reconsider. There have also been instances where cities lost two teams, and the third time being the charm. In the NBA, Chicago had the Stags and the Zephyrs before hitting it big with the Bulls, and Washington DC had two MLB teams before the Nationals, but they came in over three decades later. One issue is going to be where a new Atlanta NHL team is going to play. With the renovation of the State Farm Arena, formerly named Philips Arena, it appears to be focused on being a basketball-only facility, which shows that the city may not be interested in an NHL team anytime soon. If another NHL team is coming to Atlanta, they can play in the Infinite Energy Arena, where the Gladiators play. It only has 11,000 seats, but the aforementioned Winnipeg Jets play in a 10,000-seat arena, which was also home to a minor-league hockey team. There is potential for return for NHL in Atlanta, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. For now, watch the Gladiators for your local hockey fix.
Photo Credit: Associated Press.
Javier Jimenez-Abram is currently part of our team from The Wolf Sports team at the Wolf Internet Radio