Jeff Barnett / Lantern photographer
When the NHL preseason kicked off last night, the Columbus Blue Jackets took on the Winnipeg Jets in a split-squad contest that, in my opinion, never should have been the schedule.
When the Atlanta Thrashers franchise was purchased by True North Sports and Entertainment and relocated to Winnipeg earlier this year, I took it personally.
Not only do I not understand the move from a business standpoint, but as a Chicago hockey fan, I was outraged when I first heard about it.
My initial concern was that a few of the former Blackhawks from my beloved 2010 Stanley Cup Championship team were playing on the Thrashers when the move was announced. Dustin Byfuglien, who is perhaps my favorite Blackhawk from the 2010 Chicago team, and Andrew Ladd will forever hold a special place in my heart, and to see them banished to the middle of nowhere was painful, to say the least.
Then, there was the issue that the Thrashers were my second-favorite NHL team, after the Blackhawks, of course. There were a few justifications for this. There was Byfuglien. He helped bring the Cup home to Chicago and then he brought my heart to Atlanta with him. Second, there’s the fact that my hometown Chicago Wolves were the American Hockey League affiliate of the Thrashers. Since the move, the Jets became affiliated with the Manitoba Moose, also owned by True North, leaving the Wolves to find a new team to affiliate with.
The Wolves found their new team in the Vancouver Canucks, an organization which I love to hate. I don’t really have a reason for my hostility toward the Canucks (I hated them before the insane rioting after last year’s Stanley Cup Final), but it’s hard to cheer for the Wolves knowing that they’re affiliated with a team I despise.
From a more rational, less-biased angle, I don’t get why True North decided to try its luck with a failing franchise in Winnipeg of all places. This is not Winnipeg’s first attempt at a professional hockey team. The original Winnipeg Jets joined the NHL in 1979, but the team moved to Phoenix and became the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996 due to financial issues in Winnipeg. I’m not sure what True North plans to change, but in my opinion, if it didn’t work out in Winnipeg the first time, it’s not going to work this time either.
Then there’s the issue that the NHL is more than likely going to have to shift its divisions to accommodate the move. For the 2011-2012 season, the Jets will remain in the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division, the same division they played in as the Thrashers. But next season, the league will likely realign the conferences rather than shifting Winnipeg alone. This could mean that long-standing rivalries will be split and that teams which have played each other for years may no longer do so, or do so less frequently. I don’t like it.
I understand that the Thrashers needed to do something. They were in financial trouble, and they needed a change. I just don’t think they’re going to find their solution in Winnipeg.