Thank you to the 90% of hockey fans in Winnipeg who have not bashed Atlanta or the sport during these last few months. To the other 10% (who I am convinced are all 15 years old and who don’t even remember the Jets), I’d just like to let you know that your vocal contingency is making an already difficult situation worse. Please try to refrain from gloating too much as the Board of Governors officially gives our team to you. And please, please refrain from telling any of us to "get over it," when we've had exactly 20 days since the announcement and a good many people in Winnipeg have been upset by the loss of the Jets for sixteen years.
Hockey’s the greatest sport in the world. It should grow to markets unexposed to it to give those people a chance to experience this great game. Moving an Atlanta team - a team that if given competent ownership would have a chance to succeed - to Winnipeg does nothing to grow the sport. It contracts it. I’ve always wanted a team back in Winnipeg, but not via relocation. Killing a growing market to satiate another makes no sense in the general NHL business scheme of things.
Of course, to hear the NHL’s statements on any of this, there are no fans in Atlanta. There is no market. This team didn’t sell out of 12,000 season tickets its first year in town. It didn’t pull over 17K a game that year. No, the playoffs weren’t a box office success at all - not being able to hear yourself think inside of an arena is a sign of a dead market, right? There were absolutely no sell-outs here ever. No one ever dared to walk down Centennial Olympic Park Drive chanting “HOSS-A HOSS-A” because of an unreal game that he had. Hockey fans are just a made-up creature here in Atlanta. We’re like the Whos. Except this time Horton can't convince anyone we exist.
Maybe that’s why the league has never directed a statement to us (aside from Bettman's pitiable one sentence). Maybe that’s why they never publicly recognized that the ownership and management killed this team, not lack of fan support - because how do you say something to someone who isn’t there? A fanbase that doesn’t exist doesn’t need a chance - no, doesn’t deserve a chance - to say goodbye.
Remember that, Winnipeg fans. As you got to say goodbye to the Jets in 1996 - as you saw Keith Tkachuk and Shane Doan walk down the tunnel for the last time - that’s not closure that we’ve had. The NHL might’ve treated you poorly back then, but keep in mind that you existed to the League on some level, just like you do now.
Us? Why, we’re just figments of your imagination.
Sure, Vladimir Sobotka could have won the Cup last night with the Boston Bruins had he not been sent to the Blues in a very lopsided deal that basically fleeced the Bruins of one of their best energy guys (an aside: that shows how good the Bruins are - lose three important players like Sobotka, Mark Stuart, and Blake Wheeler, and you're fine). But I think that Vodka is coping just fine. He signed a contract extension with the St. Louis Blues worth $3.9 million over the next three seasons. He started out on the fourth line, but by the end of the year was an assist-machine for Patrik Berglund. Injuries and everything else that went wrong with the team last year gave him a chance to show what he was capable of, and he seized upon that chance admirably.
Said Blues general manager Doug Armstrong:
"It's like dressing two players on a lot of nights. He can play left wing on your top line, be an anchor on your bottom two (lines), power play, kill penalties ... he's real versatile. You need two or three guys like that on a roster. I also think at his age, he's defined himself and we know what he's going to do now. He'll be able to provide more offense as he matures. But the type of player he is, he exemplifies what we want to be on the ice as competitors."
I can imagine the intimidation factor involved in this:
John Davidson apparently doesn't listen to my suggestions well. I tossed out Matt D'Agostini as the next free agent that the Blues should look into signing... he signs Chris Porter to a one year, two way contract. Porter wound up playing 45 games with St. Louis despite being an AHL caliber forward. He scored three goals and four assists in those 45 games, but his being called up was necessary considering that half of the team last season was horribly, terribly injured in some way or another.
Porter was set to test the UFA waters on July first, but I'm fairly sure that the realization that a bidding war wouldn't occur made the Blues' offer that much more desirable. Cam Janssen is also set to be an UFA on July 1st, but no news has leaked about those intense negotiations.
There was a tweet on the 19th from Mike Ozanian that caught my attention, mostly by making me laugh. It's just one line, no backstory, no substantiation, and the only mention of this anywhere: "Don't be surprised if St. Louis Blues move to Canada."
Ok, so now all teams with bad ownership situations are moving to the Great White North? How is this even practical? With the Thrashers it became increasingly apparent over time that something along the lines of a move to Canada was going to happen, as hard as it was to accept. Attendance was dropping, ownership was bumbling everything it touched. Once Phoenix went off the table for a year, it was as good as done.
Now, the Coyotes are still unstable because the chances the League is going to be able to wrangle $25 million out of the City of Glendale to cover losses on an annual basis isn't going to happen - and fans aren't exactly excited to come out for a team that they don't know will be there next season. If there is a candidate for relocation - and I hope that there isn't another one; two in two years isn't indicitave of a well run League - it's probably the Coyotes.
But wait... the Dallas Stars are facing bankruptcy, and have a wealthy Candian, Tom Gaglardi, as the leading candidate for purchasing the team. Is he going to move them to Canada? Probably not, because of all of the past success the Dallas Stars have had in their market - they're a moneymaker, but at least there's a tie to Canada somewhere in there.
Instead, Ozanian looked at the Blues. Why? Well, for starters there really haven't been any big investors to tie to the team as "the one to buy them." They've been up for official sale since March 17th, when Dave Checketts said he just couldn't afford them (and the Peoria Rivermen) anymore. Since then, nary a peep has come out regarding any progress on the sale. I suppose if you take that, factor in that Gary Bettman told RIM founder Jim Balsillie that if he played nice he could get his team (which Bill Daly is completely denying - because he did a swell job doing that with the Thrashers sale), and ta da. Instant news!
The Blues haven't made much ground on the sale of their team, and because Bettman told Balsillie that he could get his team, well of course the Blues are well on their way to Canada. Wouldn't be the first time there's been a rumor about this - Saskatoon Blues, anyone? And the Salomons? Come on - the team literally had three people working for them at one point. If the NHL didn't want to lose a market like St. Louis in the early 1980s, why would they now? And if the Blues can survive Nancy and Bill Laurie, you'd think they could survive this hiccup.
There's a pesky matter of the Blues being an attendance and ratings winner for the league. They were 7th in the league's attendance last season, averaging over 19,000 a game and sold out out 40 of 41 home games. You factor in the TV ratings, and the league would be insane to move.
Sure, there are state of the art arenas in Quebec City and Hamilton, but Quebec's hit a hiccup and Hamilton's smack dab in both the Toronto Maple Leafs' and Buffalo Sabres' territory.
But no, conjecture! A tweet without even a story to go with it! Balsillie! Thrashers moving! Yeah, why wouldn't the league lose one of it's top ten teams as far as attendance go to a market a fraction of the size? Makes sense to me.
All I want to do is write something about the Blues. I've had it up to here with the leaking BS from the sinking Thrashers ship - each piece of flotsam more frustrating than the first. I'm fairly tired of people saying that it's Atlanta's fault that the team left, when you have Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien both saying ownership sucked. I just wanted to write a post today about a giant blue pantsless rat walking in the Komen 5K in St. Louis, but hell. That post'd probably get comments on it from 12 year old 'Peggers about how St. Louis doesn't deserve hockey or some such bullshit like that, so why not write something about the Thrashers and how shady the deal was?
Bettman said that they couldn't find any local interested owners. Gearon said that the people that they had offering bids "couldn't afford season tickets."
Someone should mention that last line to Global Wellington Financial Corp. and Oriana Capital Partners, because they sounds like they can afford tons of season tickets. Heck, they sound like they can afford all three Atlanta Spirit properties - the Hawks, Thrashers, and Philips Arena. They placed a bid for $500 million for all three on May 20th, and apparently weren't taken seriously. Now they're back again, trying for the Hawks and Philips. Why you'd want to deal with the Atlanta Spirit more than once is beyond me, unless these guys really want a basketball team that badly.
Perhaps $500 million was considered too low for all three, and that's why they turned the deal down. It's funny, though, because it was still a legit bid. No mention of if due diligence was done or if any good faith negotiations were entered in to with this group. According to 36.1 (c) of the NHL By-Laws, they specifically state:
(d) Whether the present owner of the Club has made a good faith effort to find prospective purchases who are prepared to continue operating the Club in its present location and/or has engaged in good faith negotiations with such prospective purchasers.
Um, cam someone point me anywhere that the ASG has actually tried to enter into real, actual negotiations with anyone? I'm probably jumping the gun until more details of this whole thing comes out, but we're going to have a hell of a time digging our way out of this snow job by the time all is said and done.
But, of course, all of this incompetence is because of the fact that Atlanta doesn't deserve hockey.
EDIT: WSBTV has a source - who is unnamed (of course) but close to ASG who is saying that the USA Today report is false. Time for another episode of "Conflicting Reports With Atlanta And National Press!" If you don't understand why ATL fans are frustrated, I really hope that this helps.
Oh, good. Another season of making pointless "Little Nicky" jokes.
Ok, I know that I said that re-signing Matt D'Agostini should probably be the next RFA signing that the Blues cover, but this one's pretty ok too. Nikita Nikitin was one of the many (many) emergency defensive call-ups that the Blues had to rely on last season as their defensive corps were dropping like flies. Most got sent back to Peoria, but Nikitin hung around. He looked like a shaky AHL call-up initially, and then he got stronger. And stronger. And then finished out the season with the team on the third defensive pairing with either Roman Polak or Carlo Colaiacovo.
He only played 41 games (I say only - heck, that's half of the season!) with the team, netting a goal and eight assists. The Blues want to see him grow while at the same time voicing some confidence in him, so they announced today that they were re-signing him for one season in a one-way deal that'll see him get $600,000 (CapGeek says $800,000 - trying to figure out what's right).
The Blues've got themselves a solid defensive corps for next year. If they can all stay concussion/injury free. Is that so much to ask?
Five more years of helmet farts!
I've taken an unfortunate break from Blues blogging, what with all of the madness that are Thrashers relocation rumors. Common sense has gone out the window surrounding the Thrashers/Winnipeg Whatevers - not that the franchise ever had any to begin with. People telling Thrashers fans to "get over it" less than a week after they lost their team, name calling on message boards and blogs because you disagree with a point of view... being 12 years old and never seeing a Jets game in your life but still feeling the need to laugh at Atlanta fans and play economic professor (high demand = high price until you realize that the product is average to inferior, then demand decreases and prices and attendance drop - trust me, we in Atlanta know EXACTLY how that works). Yeah, when you have people crowing on message boards that they're paying $6,000 for six games to go see the Atlanta Thrashers, who are automatically more awesome now that they're in CANADA!, you know that common sense is out the window.
This is why it's so pleasant to shift my attention back to St. Louis. Sure, the Blues might be looking for some owners, but they're not going anywhere - selling out 40 of 41 games last season helps with that. They know the assets that they have and are willing to lock them up because they believe in their team and their team philosophy. Hell, they have a team philosophy. I love the Thrashers, but other than "try not to lose as many games this year, ok?" did the organization even ponder the idea of a philosophy? A motto? Anything? Poor ownership and an easily confused front office'll do that.
The Blues' front office, though, is locked in. John Davidson re-signed a contract extension as team president, and General Manager Doug Armstrong is proactive at locking up RFAs before July 1st. What a list of RFAs the Blues have, too. Before this week's locking up of key pieces, these were the guys who were RFAs: Patrik Berglund, TJ Oshie, BJ Crombeen, Vladimir Sobotka, Matt D'Agostini, Ryan Reaves, Roman Polak, and Nikita Nikitin. Quite a core little group of guys, no?
Luckily, the Blues felt the need to secure some of their places on the team. The first was Patrik Berglund. After a dominating performance in which he scored 8 goals and two assists to finish with a +7 rating (and finished second in scoring), as well as a much improved season last year that saw career highs in goals (22) and assists (30), the Blues could not let a chance to get him re-upped pass. They re-signed him for two more seasons at a cap hit of $2,250,000 a year. Upon expiration of his current contract, he's still an RFA, which means he can re-sign for an extended period of time and push back when he tests the UFA waters.
The next guys to be locked in were Roman Polak and Vladimir Sobotka. Polak got a hefty contract extension of five years at $2,750,000 a season. He's a great shut down, stay at home defenseman who has been more than reliable for the Blues. Also, he hasn't been injury prone except when Sidney Crosby tries to give him a hand-ectomy, so that's a plus as well. The Blues' penalty kill, who went from 1st in the league in 2009-2010 to 21st last season thanks to the loss of Mike Weaver, needs more shut down guys like Polak if they want to rebound and be successful.
Vladimir Sobotka was acquired from the Boston Bruins for the rights to defenseman David Warsofsky last off-season, and what a one-way lopsided deal that was. Sobe, playing mostly 3rd and 4th line minutes, scored 7 goals and 22 assists and was a key source of energy for the Blues while Oshie was out with a broken ankle. The Blues haven't yet locked up Sobotka, but are believed to be working on a three year contract extension.
So, after Vodka, who do the Blues get re-signed. Common sense says "Oshie!" because he's a fan favorite, the team's energy core, and he has so much potential. He also showed himself to be a bit of an immature flake last season, but hopefully that will fix itself with age. Matt D'Agostini, though, would be my bet for the next to get re-signed. The negotiations probably won't be as complicated as Oshie's and with 21 goals (25 assists) the former Hab has finally become what people expected him to be. Probably more so. He finished third on the team in goals behind David Backes and Berglund, and finished with a +8. Add in the fact that he's generally a healthy guy - he played all 82 games last season - and he's yet another core piece of the team that the Blues swiped from Montreal.
Now that the sale's final, the alcohol's been drunk at various wakes around the city last night, and we've all woken up this morning to the prospect of a hockey-free Atlanta market, the Thrashers' fans have to figure out what to do next. The sale might be final - but it - and the relocation - is final pending board of governors approval. So why not show the BOG that we care? Sure, Winnipeg's having their ticket drive. But our drive for signatures is free - which automatically makes it better.
Go to this petition and put your name down. It takes literally 2.5 seconds. Let's see how many we can get to show the BOG that we do love our team.
Ok, I lied. One more thing. The Winnipeg team (whatever they are) need to sell 13,000 season tickets to show the Board of Governors that they're a viable market. Stands to reason.
My Thrashers season tickets are in the equivilant of section 111. They are $999 a year here in Atlanta. In Winnipeg?
$4,230. That's more than four times the price. The yellow seats are $1,745. Granted, yes, that's in a slightly stronger Canadian dollar, but you get the point.
Enjoy paying out the nose for a five year committment to watch this team frustrate the hell out of you.
EDIT: I decided to look up income for the 'Peg. In 2010 median income was $70,510 (Canadian). Not too shabby. The average annual expenses? The most recent data I could find gave it as $55,821. So, basically, that gives each family $14,869 worth of disposable income (roughly).
Atlanta's median income - the 7th highest in the US, with ticket prices a quarter of some of those in Winnipeg, is $51,948. I'll add cost of living for a comparable year as WPG when I can find it. The internet isn't cooperating and I'm too tired to care.