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Next up for the NHL: The Atlanta Thrashers

Atlanta ThrashersWith attendance next to last and an ownership group clearly uninterested in running a hockey franchise, the next project for the NHL seems to be solving the ongoing problem that is the Atlanta Thrashers.

There’s a solid core of hockey fans in Atlanta, but not enough to fill the seats of Philips Arena when the Thrashers are in town. Attendance is up some 5 percent this season, according to team officials, but at 11,789 only the New York Islanders and Phoenix Coyotes draw fewer fans per game.

And NHL officials now openly question whether Atlanta can support hockey; Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly raised the issue at this week’s league meetings. The response from Don Waddell: yeah, we’re having issues, but we think the future of hockey is bright in Georgia.

Probably not unless someone new comes along. The owners of Atlanta Spirit, which owns the Thrashers and Atlanta Hawks (NHL) as well as the arena, are looking for investors to buy into the hockey team and perhaps rejuvenate things. There’s no doubt the hockey operations are solid; it’s the business side that’s lacking.

Still, if there’s any team in the NHL likely to move it’s the Thrashers. Commissioner Gary Bettman says the league needs to make every effort to keep the team in Atlanta, but that sentiment isn’t even shared in his own office, much less among owners. You can’t tell anyone who knows the game that the team wouldn’t do a lot better in Winnipeg, Quebec City or even Hamilton.

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