I got a pretty good chuckle this morning when I cracked open the ol' Facebook feed to find that quite a few friends and acquaintances back in the ATL are apparently going apoplectic over the (reported, then denied, but still probably pending) departure of the Thrashers. There are a myriad of reasons why this is hilarious.
First, I'm a native son of Atlanta, and since my friends are all in my age group, I'd like to remind them: THAT'S NOT OUR TEAM! Not the way the Braves, Falcons and Hawks are. For Pete's sake, the Thrashers didn't even exist until we were all in our mid-to-late teens. There's no deep and abiding home-team love at stake here. It's just not the case. We were born into a hockey-less town, and to a hockey-less town we shall return. And that's fine. Actually, it's better than fine. I have a long-standing philosophy about NHL teams in places like Atlanta: If your geographical coordinates do not facilitate little kids learning to skate outdoors on frozen ponds in the winter, you shouldn't have a franchise. (And no, the artificially created rink at Centennial Olympic Park does not count.)
If you're a real hockey fan who hails from the 404 or 770, you did, or ought to have done, your grieving at one of two previous junctures:
1. When our briefly resident IHL team, the Knights, moved to Quebec after four wonderful years. I loved going to Knights games as a kid. The old Omni (RIP) would be rockin', and I'd sit in the stands and think about how I was going to marry Manon Rheaume someday. Yes, our goalie was the first and only female to ever play high-level pro hockey. Not only was she pretty damn good in the net, she was a fox to boot. Sigh. Also, I once saw winger Stan Drulia rip off a hat trick in 96 seconds of game clock. Which, you know, was pretty a spectacular thing to witness live. Suffice it to say, the Knights were awesome. I miss them.
2. When the Flames left for Calgary in 1980. If you remember that, it means you were a conscious and informed hockey fan in 1980. In which case, you're old. Sorry.
Let's take a second and ruminate on the trend here. Flames? Couldn't sell enough tickets, went to Canada. Knights? Couldn't sell enough tickets, went to Canada. Thrashers? Almost assuredly going to Canada, because, SURPIRSE!!!, they can't sell enough tickets.
The Flames lasted 8 years in the ATL: 1972-1980. The Knights, 1992-1996. The Thrashers, 1997-present. That's 26 combined years for three separate franchises, less than 1/3 of the Boston Bruins' existence. Clearly, Atlanta can't sustain a hockey team. And you know why? Because it's Atlanta!!! This is Braves territory. This is where the biggest defining sports characteristic of a resident is whether they root for Georgia Tech or UGA. (Of course, no matter which it is, we all hate Florida, FSU, and 'Bama equally.) Hell, the Falcons and Hawks have well-documented trouble in drawing good crowds, even in the midst of decent playoff runs. And someone thought a place with no hockey history and like two ice rinks within 100 miles of town was a good place to set up shop? After that same idea blatantly failed before? Twice?
What Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon, Jr. were thinking when they brought ATL the Thrashers is up for debate, but whatever "logic" they were employing failed to take the past into account. If and when the team does move to Winnipeg, it won't be because they're is perpetually awful. It will be because Atlanta just ain't a hockey town. And we knew this already, because we learned it a long time ago and then learned it again. Plus, Winnipeg ought to have a team. All major Canadian cities should. Atlanta? Let's stick to baseball and football, which we all know and love. At least that way we can keep selling tickets.