Time for a goodwill tour of the seven remaining members of Atlanta Spirit, LLC. Regardless of their abilities to run the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers, the constant perceived fighting amongst the ownership group by the fans has led many to trace every franchise faux pas back to them. Bad trades by the Hawks? Distracted ownership. The Thrashers have one of the lowest NHL payrolls in the league? Trying to lower the team’s value.
Occasionally Atlanta Spirit have shown that they’re prepared to spend money, as when they offered Ilya Kovalchuk $101 million to stay in Atlanta – but that could be seen as the group being concerned about losing a marquee player. Having a cheap franchise is better than none at all. There also have been instances of the team’s ownership telling then GM Don Waddell to win at any cost during the playoffs, pressuring him to trade young assets for older players who promptly petered out after the season was over. This, also, devalued the franchise due to the decreased number of fans who came out.
Bruce Levenson attends Thrashers games regularly and is obviously interested in the team and their success, but without the stability that the ownership group needed, he was unable to green light any large trades or large payouts to players. The Thrashers are an example of a team run on the cheap – luckily, this season, it’s talented. There’ve been many years in the past when it’s been significantly less so.
As Jeff Schultz points out, it’s bad when a league commissioner has to come sit you down and talk to you, but that’s exactly what NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had to do. No one in the league wants another Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy/ownership search that could have been the stuff of TV reality shows (or, I believe was in Australia – one involving a failing rugby team that the fans bought). The Thrashers have enough rumors swirling around regarding relocation to Winnipeg or Quebec City without their owners fighting in court and ignoring the on-ice product.