The chorus of former Atlanta Thrashers players criticizing the team’s ownership continues to grow.
Former Thrashers netminder Johan Hedberg joined the pile on the Atlanta Spirit party, telling NorthJersey.com’s Fire and Ice blog on Tuesday that ownership and not lack of fan support was one of the main reasons that Atlanta’s hockey team has one foot out the door.
“There’s no doubt that (Atlanta) could be a good hockey city,” Hedberg said. “But it needs to be done the right way. The ownership has never given it a chance to do that after it got off on the wrong foot.”
“Moose” was a popular Thrashers netminder for four years while the team was in Atlanta, before leaving to play for the New Jersey Devils this past season. Like many former NHL players, Hedberg likes the city so much that he keeps a home here in suburban Duluth, Ga. for the summer. Thus, Hedberg has a unique perspective on the ownership situation.
“We’ve kind of made this sort of our second home for five years now and, obviously, the Thrashers were the reason we came here in the first place,” he said. “I know all the people involved. I know all the people working in the front office and in hockey operations and I know a lot of the fans involved. They’re hard core fans that really don’t want to lose the team. So, I would have a feeling of sadness.”
Sadness indeed. Hedberg became the fourth player, former player or coach to criticize Atlanta’s ownership over the past week. Current player Chris Thorburn told reporters that he was “mad” at how the ownership seemingly didn’t want to keep the team on Saturday.
Former coach John Anderson echoed Thorburn’s comments about ownership’s motives yesterday and former Flames player Dan Bouchard ripped the organization for not weaving Flames history and Thrashers history together. Bouchard is one of a number of former Atlanta Flames who made his home hear after retiring from hockey.
The one common theme has been that Atlanta is a viable hockey market if you have good ownership.
“I believe this city can support a team and support it in a good way,” Hedberg said. “Obviously, it’s been some chaotic years pretty much from Day 1 with ownership not being on the same page and I think that has hurt the franchise quite a bit.”
Of course, the Atlanta Spirit has spent more time as owners in the court room than in their hockey team’s equipment room. First the current owners engaged in a five-year legal battle with rogue partner Steve Belkin over a trade for Joe Johnson in 2005.
Once that case was settled, they filed a legal malpractice claim against their lawyers, seeking damages for being unable to sell the Thrashers while the first legal case was pending. The Spirit claimed in their complaint that title to the Thrashers was clouded until the lawsuit with Belkin was settled in December 2010.
Now, they are trying to claim that they have been trying to unload the Thrashers in earnest for two years as they look to unload the team to Manitoba’s largest city on the quick with the possible support of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Up until now, Bettman has been protective of keeping franchises in their home markets, going to bat for cities like Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Tampa Bay and Edmonton by going the extra mile to find new owners to buy the teams.
Nevertheless, Atlanta could move to Winnipeg just two weeks after the league punted the Phoenix ownership saga for another season, without any genuine efforts by the Commissioner to broker a deal to keep the team in the nation’s eighth largest television market.
A deal to move the team to Winnipeg is said to be in its final stages with an announcement of Atlanta’s relocation to the Manitoba prairies “imminent.” Of course, an announcement was supposed to happen on Tuesday, but that did not materialize as lawyers continued to work on finalizing the deal.
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