Year of the Jets: Part I – January to May

| December 28, 2011 | 0 Comments

So another year has come and gone and what a year it has been especially for Winnipeg Fans. If I told you a year ago that on the 28th of December the Jets would be back and in 8th place in the Southeast you’d probably think I was insane and delusional. There were very few who thought that this was even possible let alone going to happen.

Lets take a look back at how this amazing year unfolded.

Last December it looked like the Coyotes would be saved and Winnipeg would be left without an NHL team. A new buyer had stepped forward and had the full endorsement of the NHL and the City Council. At the time there was rumblings about a watchdog group who was going to oppose the use of public funds but that was seen to be a small obstacle.

As January came and went those rumbling grew louder and the Goldwater Group brought hope yet again to Winnipeg Hockey fans. Countless Jets fans spent hours learning about municipal bonds and the Arizona State Constitution. Many of us watched city council meetings with a sense of awe and horror as the Gongdale circus dragged on and on.

Yet the real show was taking place in Georgia, what was going on in Arizona was nothing more than a red herring. In February one of the principals of the Atlanta Spirit group did an interview where he stated that they could not sustain further losses any longer and were looking to either sell or add investors for the Thrashers.

A year earlier there were rumblings about the Thrashers coming to Winnipeg that were quickly squashed by all parties involved. Now those rumors were back and this time they had some traction.

The NHL wasn’t as vocal in their support of the Thrashers as they were with other markets much to the dismay of their extremely small yet vocal and entitled fan base. Sure Bettman said that they don’t like to move teams yada yada but you could tell his heart wasn’t really in it.

Meanwhile back in Glendale Goldwater was successful in blocking the sale of the bonds which were the cornerstone of the deal. Their suitor quietly disappeared and the NHL forced the City Council to pony up another 25 million to cover losses for another year. The Coyotes had been saved again for at least another year and many fans in Winnipeg  were sure they would have to go through another winter without NHL hockey.

In Atlanta the talk of white knights coming in and saving the Thrashers started to churn. First there was Stephen Rollins a “filmmarker” who was putting together a group of investors. Then there was local hero and former Atlanta Brave Tom Glavine, followed by former NHL’er Anson Carter. All talked a good game but none of them had any money and the city wasn’t going to bail out the team like in Glendale.

My favorite savior was The Balkan. Shortly after the Spirit announced that they were looking to sell the team an Atlanta sports radio personality named John Kincade announced that he had found the person that was going to save the Thrashers. He gave this angel the code name The Balkan after a character on his favorite soap opera General Hospital. (I’m not making this up)

Kincade pumped this guy up for months and gave subtle hints about his background and wealth. He even went as far as tweeting a picture of the guy’s shoe since many believed that the Balkan didn’t really exist and was just someone Kincade created to try and fool the NHL into thinking there was a local buyer.

Turns out the Balkan was real. His name was JB Smith and he was a venture capitalist from Michigan. While he was real his money wasn’t. It only took about 5 minutes of research before the Balkan was deemed a joke and he went away very quickly.

Now the rumors were going crazy that True North and Atalanta Spirit were in negotiations for the team. Of course everyone denied everything and it looked like this was going to stay in the shadows for a while. Then came the bombshell.

Famed and highly respected Globe & Mail columnist Stephen Brunt wrote this infamous piece about the Thrashers moving to Winnipeg and the deal being done. Gary Bettman’s reaction to the article is priceless. Again everyone denied the story yet given Brunt’s reputation and the fact the paper he writes for is owned by one of True North’s partners made a lot of people take it as fact. Brunt wouldn’t have wrote the piece unless David Thomson was OK with it. The truth is Thomson was probably Brunt’s “highly placed” source. My buddy over at Lucky 7 Hockey has a great look into this.

Brunt claimed that there would be an announcement the following Tuesday. That day came and went with no deal being announced and the NHL was able to say “look he was wrong”. Other media tried to refute Brunt’s story yet everyone knew that he had gotten it right and that the announcement was just a matter of time.

On May 30th word started to leak about a press conference to formally announce the sale of the Thrashers to Winnipeg the following day. Media was being told to prepare and a stage was being set up at the forks. The city of Winnipeg started to buzz. For months a lot of the fans held their breath not wanting to get their hopes up.

Then on Tuesday May 31st it was official. Mark Chipman along with David Thomson and Gary Bettman announced that True North had completed the purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers. NHL was coming back to the River City. Bettman put in some conditions namely that Winnipeg would have to sell out every game and to do that True North announced the Drive to 13000.

The City along with the rest of the sporting world rejoiced. Hockey had returned home.

On Friday I’ll have June through December.

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Category: Jets News

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