NHL Rumors: Return of the Atlanta Thrashers?

Today’s NHL Rumors follows up on the latest regarding the NHL bringing back a franchise to Atlanta, Georgia, for the third time.

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According to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the NHL is not in expansion mode right now after recently welcoming the Seattle Kraken (2021) and Vegas Golden Knights (2017) into the league. Although there may not be any new teams joining the NHL, there’s constant talk about the Arizona Coyotes relocating after numerous failed attempts to secure a new arena in the Phoenix area.

However, rumors and discussions are circulating throughout the hockey community that the NHL is open to returning to Atlanta for the third time. In what could be one of the league’s most shocking moves of all time, returning to the city where two teams have failed would raise many questions regarding the NHL’s operations. 

NHL Rumors: Return of the Atlanta Thrashers?

Historically, Atlanta was home to two current NHL franchises, the Calgary Flames, once known as the Atlanta Flames (1972-1980), and the Winnipeg Jets, formerly the Atlanta Thrashers (1999-2011). Ultimately, due to financial problems that plagued both franchises for several years, both teams relocated to Canada and now have a thriving fanbase. 

Even though the Atlanta sports market has the Braves (MLB), Falcons (NFL), and Hawks (NBA), it makes sense to have all four major sports in one of the country’s top ten metropolitan areas, with a population over six million. Regarding the topic of returning to the Georgia capital, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly had this to say:

“I also think that rink location will be important with any decision to locate a franchise in Atlanta. I think if you use the Braves as an example, they struggled, as I understand it, attendance-wise for years, even though they had a very successful team on the field. Their latest stadium is in a perfect location and sells out regularly.”

Bill Daly to ESPN at the NHL/NHLPA player media tour on Tuesday

Unfortunately, this developing story is heartbreaking to fans who wish the NHL would return to Quebec City, the former home of the Quebec Nordiques, who left in 1995. Additionally, this is shocking news to other cities like Houston, Salt Lake, and Hamilton, all potential spots for the NHL to expand someday. 

As crazy as the idea is for Atlanta to regain a professional hockey team for the third time, the decision-makers in the NHL believe that the third time will be the charm, since things are quite different from before. According to Daly: 

“I think times have changed pretty dramatically and the market demographics have changed pretty dramatically since the first time we went there and then again in 1999,” he said. “I think a lot of bigger businesses are in Atlanta [now].”

Bill Daly to ESPN at the NHL/NHLPA player media tour on Tuesday

Realistically, the NHL wants corporate sponsors in cities with rich companies to invest in their products. Interestingly, they believe that relocating a team outside of the city limits would benefit the long-term success of a new franchise. However, that’s a unqiue way to look at the dynamics.

When Columbus got the Blue Jackets, they built a brand new arena downtown, which helped revitalize the area, which is the same thing that happened in Edmonton with Rogers Place, which led to the Ice District creation. Moreover, teams like the New York Rangers play in mid-town Manhattan and are easily accessible to anyone who live in the five boroughs. Additionally, the Ottawa Senators do not actually play in Ottawa, which has led to many financial struggles because it’s a hassle to get fans to the building. 

Even though every NHL city is different, and their respective fanbase all have their corks, attempting to revive another franchise in a city that has failed multiple times is quite a risky business move. If the MLB or NBA fail in a market, they pack up and relocate, never discussing the topic again. 

Considering the NHL is already the least-watched sport out of the four professional leagues in North America, dipping back into a dry well won’t do anything to attract fans like they would if they move to a place that appreciates hockey. Although these are only rumors at this point, there appears to be truth behind the possibility of the NHL returning to Atlanta for an unprecedented third time.