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To Understand The Thrashers Relocation Story, First Understand Atlanta

The Atlanta Thrashers are probably going to move to Winnipeg. What is Atlanta, anyway?

Ask me where I'm from, and I'll have to tell you twice.

My mom moved here from Ohio. When I was in elementary school in Marietta, Georgia, my best friend was a Delaware transplant. In high school, our crew included a Russian, a Missourian and an Iowan. The best professor I had at Kennesaw State came from Philly. My wife is from Kansas; our wedding party included multiple groomsmen from states that begin with the letter M. Before joining SB Nation, I went into business with a guy whose family moved here from Pittsburgh. SB Nation Atlanta's staff includes multiple redeemed yankees and multiple writers from elsewhere around the Southeast.

When new people ask me where I'm from, I tell them I'm from Atlanta. With good reason, they always ask, "But where are you from originally?" Where are you from from? You can live in Atlanta for decades and never be an Atlantan, if you don't want to be.

One day, like so many other people do, the Atlanta Thrashers showed up as a guest of Ted Turner, who's from Cincinnati.

Lots of Atlantans who were born in Atlanta or elsewhere liked them. I've watched one hockey game in my life, the overtime Olympic gold medal game against Canada in 2010. It was awesome.

You can take my lifelong disinterest in hockey as evidence against Atlanta being a hockey market, since, after all, I run an Atlanta sports website. I would point out that I also don't care about the Braves* all that much, and submit that if you'd like all of SEC country to learn your name very quickly, the most efficient way might be to suggest that Atlanta's MLB team should be relocated due to lack of fan support. There are even people here who don't like college football, believe it or not.

Though he was the best or second-best team owner Atlanta has ever had -- New York native Arthur Blank is worth considering -- Turner handed the Thrashers keys to a bumbling collection of associates. They never wanted a NHL team, but it came with the purchase of every Atlanta Hawks, a team that came from St. Louis. They immediately set to work suing themselves while trying to unload the hockey thing.

The on-ice product was so listless you'd almost allege they were trying to force Atlanta to get rid of it for them.** Why wouldn't you? Well, their decisions with the NBA team were just as confounding -- they're paying the fifth- or sixth-best basketball player in their own division more money than they'll get from the sale of the Thrashers.*** 

I don't like Atlanta hockey, but I like Atlanta hockey fans. It would suck to see the city forever deprived of the NHL due to seven or 12 or so selfish rich guys. After the Flames left in 1980 when a Calgary group offered Tom Cousins a Godfather deal as his real estate empire slipped, it was surprising enough -- though not unjustified -- to see the city given another chance. If the Thrashers leave it will be 50 years before anybody even thinks of putting another NHL team in Atlanta, whether that's fair or not. Atlanta's first NHL try was the afterthought of a last-minute effort hacked together just to screw over the World Hockey Association, so let's think of the Thrashers as attempt No. 1.5.

But still, Atlanta has a lot of northern transplants. Hockey should've succeeded here either in the '70s or now, especially since the Flames were actually good. First, nothing was big here in the '70s, as far as I can tell. Second, Atlanta has a lot of rich black people, so therefore the Hawks should sell out every game.**** The city's proved by now that its sports market has no demographics, only an insistence that ownership care as much as we do.

When every other resident comes from a different city, they bring their own allegiances with them. Nobody's starting up new commitments to the local team if they local team doesn't care. What about the Capitals? D.C. is a transient town too. The Caps have also given their town seven division titles in three decades, which is slightly more alluring than two home playoff games in 11 years.

It's a cultural thing that doesn't translate well; we don't show up just to boo, as the northeastern sports cities to whom we're negatively compared do. Where you come from, fandom is measured by mass presence, but here it's measured by whether a team is worth enduring traffic for. Bad owners like the Atlanta Spirit Group or Daniel Snyder would rather have a house full of angry, paying customers than a half-empty one. But if ownership isn't sweating wins and losses, then we aren't either.

So even though I don't get hockey, I get why the Thrashers never caught on here. It's not because hockey comes from Canada and not from the south. Nothing comes from here anyway.*****

* The Braves came here from Wisconsin.

** One extensive conspiracy theory has the ASG shipping the Thrashers to Canada while selling the Hawks locally despite there being a local buyer interested in acquiring both. Mind asplode, but we are talking about the people who let the 26-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk go so they could lock up Joe Johnson through his mid-30s, thus the mind sort of takes a back seat anyway.

*** The NFL lockout is the story of team owners trying to take money from players to pay for stadiums that were bought on credit. This isn't how it's presented, but it's what's happening. Similarly, the Thrashers move isn't really about NHL attendance rankings.

**** Maybe the only joy of the Thrashers relocation story has been watching Canadians confidently educate each other on the strengths of a sports market 2,500 miles away. I've seen it called an excellent baseball OR basketball OR football OR auto racing OR college basketball (College basketball? Really? Yep.) town, but not a hockey town. Soon as you guys figure it out, let us know.

***** I mean, think about where college football itself came from. If Atlanta can become the home of an Ivy League sport's national championship play-in game, surely it could've sorta fallen in love more often than not with a committed NHL franchise.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.