So what happens when your favorite hockey team ceases to exist? I’m going to look at the demise of my beloved Atlanta Thrashers today.
Wait…there were actually Thrashers fans?
Low blow. Being from New Jersey, there was never a lack of NHL hockey on television. Every night, you can find New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders games on the local sports channels.
But why the Thrashers? With them taking ice for the first time in 1999, it was a great starting point to be a fan. They weren’t any one else’s team; they were mine. Great players like Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa made stops on the team. And plus, they’re from Atlanta which has brought us some of the best thing in the history of mankind. Coca Cola. Ted Turner. Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz. Mastodon. Do I need to say more?
Needless to say, this summer when it was announced that the Thrashers were sold, and packing up for a new home in Winnipeg, I was a bit disheartened. I was more than a typical out of market fan; I’ve actually made pilgrimages to the Phillips Arena to see them play (and lose).
And now that the Thrashers are now rechristened the Winnipeg Jets, it’s created a continuity problem that I don’t think that Marv Wolfman could sort out.
It’s a known fact that a sports team will potentially leave its fans for greener pastures. For continuity sake it’s important on how they do it. The Atlanta Flames headed west for colder pastures in Calgary, and Minneapolis’ North Stars heads south to Dallas for better barbeque. Ultimately, these organizations kept their team names, with some tweaking here and there in a new color scheme or two.
This is a lot like DC Comics’ legacy heroes, where someone new takes the mantle of a fallen or retired hero, like the various Batgirls, Blue Beetles and Flashes. They all have their own take on what it means to be that entity, but they respect their history.
Some sports teams completely change their identity after a move to distance themselves from their past. The Hartford Whalers transformed into the Carolina Hurricanes. Over in the basketball universe, the Oklahoma City Thunder has done everything in their power to distance the franchise from its history as the Seattle Super Sonics.
We see this type of behavior a lot in comics. Dick Grayson abandoned his Robin persona, costume and city to get out of Batman’s shadow to forge his own identity as Nightwing. Or Henry Pym, who has switched back and forth between five different aliases over the years.
This all brings us to the problem I have with supporting the Winnipeg Jets. I don’t really have a problem with the franchise moving from Atlanta to Winnipeg, and supporters of the two cities can argue why their location was a better choice for the team.
The problem is that this new team’s new name continuity makes no sense. The Winnipeg owners bought the Thrashers’ history in Atlanta, which includes the one 2007 South Eastern Division title and nine out of eleven losing seasons. I can see why a name change might be a good thing, as the Thrashers name doesn’t necessarily evoke images of a strong hockey team; instead you think of the skateboarding magazine or the bird indigenous to Georgia.
But naming them the Winnipeg Jets was just ridiculous? There already is a Winnipeg Jets—after they left town, they became the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996. They’re the team that has retired the numbers of the original Jets like Bobby Hull and Dale Hawerchuk. The history of the original Jets is now part of the Coyotes’ lineage.
So it’s really weird to name the new Winnipeg team the Jets. Its like someone who gets dumped by a woman named Rachel to keep going out with women who look like Rachel the First. Let it go.
There in a bit of a pickle. They’re no longer the Thrashers, but they’ll never be the Winnipeg Jets. It’s like a weird purgatory to be in. And unfortunately for the Winnipeg fans, they’re going to soon realize that this isn’t the Teemu Sellane Jets that they grew up idolizing, and they’re stuck with the perpetually up-and-coming Thrashers they made fun of for years.
What if the New York Islanders—who are perennially on the verge of leaving Long Island—were bought by an Atlanta based ownership group to be the new Atlanta Thrashers. Stranger things have happened. Anyway, if the new Thrashers decided to claim the four Stanley Cups that the Islanders one, and marketed themselves as a four-time championship team, hockey purists would flip their lids.
Nu-Jets fans aren’t getting the four WHA hockey titles and whatever pennants they captured. Those belong to the Phoenix Coyotes. Sorry.
I think Gary Bettman is going to have to have a Crisis of Infinite Teams.