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Relocated NHL Teams: The Atlanta Thrashers

The Atlanta Thrashers were ice hockey team that played in the NHL from 1999 to 2011. The team was based at the Philips Arena in Atlanta. Today, the franchise that was the Thrashers is known as the Winnipeg Jets. The “Thrashers” nickname was borrowed from the state bird of Georgia which is the brown thrasher.

The Thrashers were disappointing in competition as they only made the playoffs once and were swiftly eliminated before going any further. They only have the 2007 division championship to show for their time in Atlanta. The Thrashers franchise began in 1999 as an expansion franchise for the NHL. It was owned by media mogul Ted Turner who at the time also owned the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and the Braves of the MLB through his company Turner Broadcasting Systems.

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The Thrashers’ woes on the field can be attributed to their poor drafting despite their manager Don Waddell being touted by the media as an excellent scout. By the team’s last season in Atlanta, all 11 of their 1999 draft picks were out of the NHL. Their first ever draft, Patrick Stefan was listed on as the worst first overall pick of all time. The Czech teenager had shown plenty of promise when playing with IHL outfit Long Beach Ice Dogs and the Thrashers decided to take a chance on him. After his first 72 games however, he had only scored 5 goals and 20 assists proving he was not quite ready for the big stage yet. He was sold to AHL franchise Chicago Wolves after only one season. The thrashers continued to draft poorly with players such as Boris Valabik in 2004, Grant Lewis (2004) and Alex Bourret in 2005 all flopping considerably.

The Thrashers’ best season in the NFL was 2006/07 in which they won their first and only division title. In the 2005/06 season, the Thrashers had recorded their first winning season (41-33-8) and continued the impressive form into the next season. Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk combined well in attack as they claimed 43 goals and 42 goals respectively. They finished the season with a record of 43-28-11, earning their first playoff spot and winning the South East Division title. Their point tally of 97 was also a franchise best. In the playoffs, they were to face the New York Rangers. The Thrashers were swept in four straight games bringing an end to their fairy tale run. That would remain the Thrashers’ only other winning season, apart from 2005/06 as they deteriorated to the familiar mediocrity of previous years.

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    Why Did The Thrashers Relocate?

    Despite poor on-field performance, fan turnout at the Phillips Arena remained around average for NHL teams. The team changed ownership a number of times during their stay in Atlanta. First following the acquisition of Turner Broadcasting Systems by Time Warner in 1996 and then the acquisition of Time Warner by America Online. With America Online going through financial difficulty, the team was sold to a group of investors called the Atlanta Spirit in 2003. Soon, the group which also owned the NBA’s Phoenix Suns got into an internal dispute over a trade in the NBA outfit. In a bid to buy out one of the partners Steve Belkin’s stake in the club at a lower price, some of the owners claimed that ice hockey would not work in Atlanta thus devaluing the team. Steve Belkin was bought out leaving the team $150 million in the red. The 2010-2012 season began with multiple changes including the promotion of longtime general manager to President of Hockey Operations, departure of head coach John Anderson and the promotion of Rick Dudley to general manager. In 2011, it was announced that the team would be sold to a Canadian group True North Sports and Entertainment which moved the team to Winnipeg in Canada. Atlanta had now lost their second NHL franchises, with the Atlanta Flames having left for Calgary, Alberta in 1980. The Thrashers were renamed Winnipeg Jets and are still active in the NFL today. The Thrashers name and logo were however to remain the property of Atlanta Spirit who hope to bring hockey back to Atlanta in the not so distant future.

    Who Played For The Atlanta Thrashers?

    Yannick Tremblay D 1999-2004
    Chris Tamer D 1999-2004
    Marc Savard C 2002-2006
    Chris Chelios D 2009/10
    Andy Sutton D 2001-2007
    Milian Hnilicka G 2000-2003
    Dany Heatley W 2001-2004
    Ilya Kovalchuk W 2001-2010
    Johan Hedberg G 2006-2010
    Slava Kozlov LW 2002-2010
    Niclas Havelid D 2005-2009
    Ondrej Pavelec G 2007-2011
    Rich Peverley C 2008-2011
    Pasi Nurminen G 2001-2004

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