Atlanta Thrashers of the NHL: Relocated But Not Forgotten

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Atlanta Thrashers of the NHL: Relocated But Not Forgotten! Why did the Thrashers Relocate to Winnipeg? Who were the Thrashers’ best players?

Hello Everyone! Welcome to Sports Teller! Today, we will be going over the Atlanta Thrashers of the NHL: Relocated But Not Forgotten! In fact, we will be going over the history of the Atlanta Thrashers. Without further adieu, let’s begin!

Atlanta Thrashers of the NHL: Relocated But Not Forgotten

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The Birth of the Atlanta Thrashers

In June of 1997, the National Hockey League (NHL) announced plans for a 4-club expansion from 26 to 30 teams total. Those four cities received the following expansion clubs: Columbus, Nashville, Minnesota, and Atlanta. Each of those four clubs have gotten new arenas in place for their respective inaugural seasons. The NHL announced that the Thrashers would begin play in time for the 1999-2000 season.

The birth of the Thrashers turned out to be the return of the NHL to Atlanta. Before the league announced those expansion plans, Atlanta had a hockey team called the Knights (which played from 1992 until 1996). The Knights would relocate to Quebec to become the Rafales.

Wait! Atlanta Had Another NHL Team?

The capital city of Georgia was previously the home of the Atlanta Flames, which played at the Omni Coliseum from 1972 until 1980. Despite making five straight playoff appearances (1976-1980), game attendance and other financial concerns were the key issues for Atlanta’s first NHL team. The Flames would end up relocating to Calgary due to declining attendance and playing at an outdated venue. The Flames would go on to win the Stanley Cup in 1989.

The Many First for the Atlanta Thrashers

First Draft Pick and First Game in Team History

The Thrashers selected C Patrik Stefan as the team’s first ever overall pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. Stefan would play for Atlanta for six seasons and score 59 goals. The team played its first game in October 1999 at Philips Arena in Atlanta when they lost 4-1 to the New Jersey Devils. The Thrashers won its first game when they beat the Islanders 2-0 in New York. However, Atlanta would go on to finish dead last in the eastern conference with just 14 wins and 39 points for its inaugural season.

Who was the First Owner for the Thrashers?

The team’s first owners were from a group called Time Warner. The attendance for Thrashers games during the first years was pretty good as the fanbase adopted the team’s motto called “Believe in Blueland.” The motto was named after the team’s primary colors of blue. Even Hip Hop artist Lil Jon showed support for the team by wearing Thrashers jerseys. The team’s official mascot was Thrash the Thrasher. 

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Thrashers Superstars on the Rise

Dany Heatley-1st Thrashers Star

  • Selected as 2nd Overall Pick in 2000 NHL Draft
  • Won the Calder Trophy (NHL’s Rookie of the Year) in 2002 after scoring 26 goals and 41 assists
  • Scored 41 Goals in a Season One Year Later
  • Unfortunately, he was involved in 2003 auto crash that killed Thrashers teammate Dan Snyder
  • Faced vehicular homicide charges, but he got three years of probation
  • Asked for Trade in part of tragedy despite support from the team, players, fans & Snyder family
  • Dealt to Ottawa Senators in 2005 for RW Marian Hossa.

Ilya Kovalchuck-1st Big Name Superstar

  • Selected as the 1st overall pick in the 2001 draft
  • Scored 29 Goals and 22 Assists in Rookie Season
  • Achieved 40 or more goals in five straight seasons (2003-2009)
  • Co-winner for the Maurice Richard Trophy (Top Goal Scorer) in 2004
  • Traded to New Jersey Devils in 2010 Due to Pending Free Agency

Kari Lehtonen-Franchise Goalie

  • Selected as the 2nd overall goalie pick in the draft in 2002
  • Played for Atlanta from 2003 until 2009
  • All-time club leader with 94 wins and 204 games played
  • 2nd all-time for goals allowed average with 2.87
  • Traded to Dallas Stars in 2009

Bob Hartley-Franchise Head Coach

  • Coached the Thrashers from 2003 until 2007
  • Compiled a 136-118-37 record
  • Only head coach in team history to win over 100 games
  • Only head coach in team history to guide them to the playoffs
  • Fired after 0-6 start to 2007-2008 season

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Ownership Changes, All-Star Game, and Taste of Playoffs

Time Warner Sells the Thrashers; 1st Playoff Appearance

In 2003, Time Warner sold the Thrashers along with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks to Atlanta Spirit LLC. 2007 turned out to be a magical year for Atlanta as the team won the Southeast Division championship and made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. However, the Thrashers would get swept in the first round by the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Unfortunately, this is the only time that Atlanta won the division and made the playoffs.

NHL All-Star Game Comes to Atlanta

In 2008, the Thrashers hosted the NHL All-Star Game at Philips Arena. The game was originally awarded to Atlanta for 2005, but the season-long lockout led to the cancellation of the event. Therefore, the league award the 2008 game to Atlanta as compensation from the cancelled event back in 2005. It was the only time that the Thrashers hosted the mid-season classic.

Here’s What Led to the Relocation to Winnipeg

Financial Woes & Legal Matters Take a Toll on the Franchise

During the final years of the Thrashers, the team struggled financially with ticket sales and corporately with ownership issues. First, let’s talk about the attendance! The final couple seasons averaged at least 13,000 a game and the team was one of the bottom in the league in terms of attendance. Next, let’s talk about the ownership! According to the Associated Press, the Thrashers lost approximately $130 million over the final several years of the team’s existence. In fact, the AP also said that the franchise value decreased by at least $50 million in part of a lawsuit involving one of the co-owners. The legal case focused on ex-co-owner Steve Belkin ruining Atlanta Spirit’s attempt to sell the team over the past several seasons. The Thrashers’ ownership also filed legal action against a local law firm King & Spalding for making unethical suggestions regarding the Belkin situation. The Belkin dispute eventually ended when his minor stakes in the team were bought out.

Atlanta Spirit LLC Showing No Love for the Thrashers?

If financial woes and declining attendance do not makes things worse, the Atlanta Spirit LLC was reportedly interested in investing the future of the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena and not the Thrashers. Perhaps the reason why the ownership wanted to support the Hawks and not the Thrashers is due to the basketball team getting higher ticket sales. The Hawks averaged at least 16,000 per game from 2008 to 2010, compared to the hockey club’s 13,000 per game in that span.

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Here’s How the Relocation to Winnipeg Unfolded

In early 2011, the Atlanta Thrashers became subject for relocation and couple cities like Winnipeg and Kansas City were the candidates for their new home. Forbes and reported that Georgia-based investors like Stephen Rollins and Tom Glavine (Braves Pitcher) were interested in buying and keeping the team in Atlanta. However, Atlanta Spirit LLC saw a different opportunity. The ownership group sold the Thrashers to True North Sports & Entertainment, a Canadian firm. True North, who attempted to buy the then Phoenix Coyotes and move them at first (but failed), planned to relocate the Thrashers to Winnipeg. The relocation was approved by the NHL and the Atlanta Thrashers were no more! The relocation to Winnipeg was finalized in time for the 2011-2012 season. They became the revival of the Winnipeg Jets after the original team left in the 1990’s for Arizona.

How did the Thrasher Fans React to the Relocation? When did the Thrashers Play Their Final Game?

In light of the relocation rumors involving the Thrashers, the fanbase held a “Stay in Atlanta” support rally at the parking lot of Philips Arena. Thrash the Thrasher attended the rally and fans were dressed in hockey attire. Some of the fans held the following signs: Ground the Jets…Save the Birds, Keep ATL, Part of the NHL Family, Do the Right Thing Keep the Thrashers in Atlanta, and Willie O’Ree: Hockey is for Everyone…NHL: Except for Atlanta!

The Thrashers played their final game at Philips Arena in April 2011 when they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2. Their last win as an ATL franchise came against the New York Rangers 3-0 at Madison Square Garden.

Will the NHL Return to Atlanta Despite Recent Expansions for Vegas and Seattle?

Over the past couple years, the NHL saw expansion teams from the Vegas Golden Knights and the upcoming Seattle team set to play for 2021. In fact, Quebec City also bid for expansion, but was denied due to the Canadian Dollar issue. Even though the league witnessed a rise in team expansion talks recently, it doesn’t appear to be the same for Atlanta. As of now, there are no indications or possibilities of the NHL ever returning to Atlanta. The capital city is the only market in NHL history to lose not one, but two teams to relocation. If you love both hockey and Atlanta, the city has a minor league team called the Gladiators and they play in Duluth.

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