Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Thrashers sale greeted with mixed reviews

Hockey writers speak their minds

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A sampling of some of the columns written about the Thrashers move to Winnipeg over the last few hours:

'This is how it ends: With the weasel of a commissioner not stepping foot in the city, with another season passing without a playoff game, with a lying ownership group maintaining it did all it could to save a franchise that in reality it spent most of seven years wrecking.

Atlanta has lost an NHL expansion team to a Canadian outpost for the second time. The Thrashers are going to Winnipeg just like the Flames went to Calgary in 1980. A press conference was held in Winnipeg, while the Thrashers sent out this warm-and-fuzzy news release: "The Atlanta Thrashers announced today that they have entered into an asset purchase agreement with True North Sports and Entertainment ..."

This isn't about the fans or the market or certainly Gary Bettman's fictional "covenant" with fans, which I believe he left in the same sock drawer with his conscience. It's about greed and abandonment, plain and simple. It's about a disingenuous ownership group, which had long lost any semblance of credibility, serving up fans swill and gruel and then wondering why the turnstiles sleep at night.

They'll tell you they care. They don't. They're walking away with a fat check. While you mourn the loss of a franchise, they're waving goodbye with one middle finger.

The NHL is leaving a city that never really was given a chance. It's going back to a city that it left 15 years ago and that has grown by about 60,000 people and a couple of doughnut shops since. They will be discussing this decision one day at business schools, right after the sections on Charles Ponzi and Enron.'

-- Jeff Schultz, Journal-Constitution

-- -- --

'Atlanta to Winnipeg marks the end of the great NHL pyramid scheme.

Whatever the league says Tuesday, and you can bet it will be complimentary, this is a bitter pill for the Gary Bettman administration to swallow, because it means that the Grand Vision is fraying at the corners.

It marks a first step toward something like common sense, which was always an element left out of the equation when Bettman's league began milking the gullible for expansion fees, awarding franchises based on little more than the cachet of having a recognizable American city's name on the NHL masthead.

Canada, with few exceptions, just wouldn't do. That was the view when the Nordiques left Quebec City for Denver, and the Jets were lost to Phoenix.

Winnipeg wouldn't sell a single ticket in Anaheim or Miami, any more than Edmonton or Calgary or Ottawa would, though at least those towns had buildings.

Better, the NHL felt, to have its franchises in places with name appeal.

Today's return to the geographical heart of our nation makes it seven Canadian franchises out of 30, and in time, if the rink is built and conditions are right, Quebec may well make it eight.

But as we've seen from the Phoenix fiasco, the NHL won't let go of an American market even when it's leaking oil like the Exxon Valdez, except in extraordinary circumstances.'

-- Cam Cole, Vancouver Sun

-- -- --

'The questions about the name, about next season's sure-to-be-bizarre schedule, about the competitiveness of the team (a non-playoff club that could be renovated if new ownership brings in a new hockey department), about the long-term financial viability of a team moving to what will be the league's smallest market and playing in its smallest building with a salary cap that has some small-market teams quietly grousing about how high it has floated since 2005, about the abandoned fans in Atlanta, all those questions are for another day.

No, today is a day to rejoice with the people of Winnipeg, who will be asked to open their wallets and pay some pretty high prices to watch the new, fast version of NHL hockey. Their WHA Jets pioneered that style of play when GM Rudy Pilous signed Hedberg, Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg, then other European stars Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson and Veli-Pekka Ketola, creating a thrilling club that won championships and accolades.

Now the game is ready for Winnipeg again.'

-- Stu Hackel, SI.com

-- -- --

'So hockey goes out in Atlanta not with a bang, but a whimper.

It goes meekly, a beaten dog with its tail tucked between its legs.

Driven out by foolish, incompetent owners, it goes into the welcoming arms of a city that couldn't hang on to its own NHL team the first time around.

Good for Winnipeg that it gets a second chance.

But good for the game?

That's another matter entirely and a question that won't be answered until the Jets Deux or Frostbitten Thrashers, whatever the former Thrashers will be called, go four or five more years without making the playoffs. We'll see how mediocrity plays in Winnipeg the second time around.

For all the flag-waving that the impending move of the Thrashers to Winnipeg has generated throughout Canada (or at least in much of the Canadian media), Winnipeg is a small outpost city in an unforgiving prairie. Players will not flock to play there. That is the reality.

Think Edmonton has it tough? That city has hosted five Stanley Cup parades, yet players stay away in droves. They will stay away in droves from Winnipeg, too, no matter how much the city embraces this team.'

-- Scott Burnside, ESPN.com.

--Complied by Ed Tait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 2, 2011 C4

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