The Atlanta Thrashers fan base is small. There it is; no arguments here. The team is second fiddle to several other teams in the Atlanta area including college football teams from Georgia and Georgia Tech, the Braves, and even the Falcons (still!). Hockey has yet to grab the sports fans in Atlanta like the True Blue fans wish it did. Atlanta sports fans wanted to jump on the bandwagon last year, but the team was out of the playoffs before we could blink.
That being said, there is a core of passionate, knowledgeable fans that lives and dies by the Thrashers every October through what we hope is deep into May and June. I read a lot of what is posted here at Hockeybuzz concerning all kinds of topics, and I get the feeling that fans of other teams think that the Thrashers don't matter, or that if we win or lose, that no one really loses any sleep over it. I'm here to tell you that it's VERY important to those core fans out there rooting on their beloved Thrashers. This team, and it's small but passionate fan base is at a serious crossroads.
The Thrash have come out and looked completely uninspired and out of sorts in their first 2 games, and have basically been whooped into a 0-2 record. Marian Hossa will be out tonight for our second home game versus the unbeaten and seemingly unbeatable Ottawa Senators, and we are looking at 8 of our next 11 games away from the friendly confines of Philips Arena. Most prognosticators have the Thrashers slated somewhere near the bottom of the Eastern Conference in preseason predictions, and the addition of 4 rookies into the starting lineup has even the biggest of homers wondering if this season could be a disaster.
Are we going to be done before 10 games are even played? It's a valid, not over zealous question that a lot of fans are asking right now. Aren't we supposed to build on our Southeast Division Championship, and continue to improve this year, making the playoffs again, and maybe winning a series this go around? I know that is what Marian Hossa is going to require if we want to keep him around for years to come. Many fans are seriously questioning Coach Hartley and his system, and many blame Don Waddell for poor draft choices, and the lack of a real impact player signing in the off season. Every team in the SE went out and got better, we are basically the same team as last year, maybe with more talent, but certainly less experience. This is what all true Thrasher fans hope for: To grow the great game of hockey in Atlanta, and make a Thrashers game night a marquis event in the city. Unfortunately, instead of feeling confident coming off our first ever division crown and playoff experience, fans have a serious lump in their bellies, wondering if the season is lost already.
Add it all up; 0-2, the Sens coming to town tonight, a brutal road trip on the horizon, questions on whether or not the rookies are ready, re-signing UFA Hossa, a coaches system that some think is not working, and questionable front office moves, or non-moves. Could it spell doom for the Thrashers this early? It's all still in front of them, the chance to succeed or fail is still yet to be decided, but I can definitely see why we have the nay-sayers. I don't claim to know much about the politics or the finances of the game, and therefore I don't claim to know about what makes a franchise stay or leave a particular city. I do know that if the Thrashers revert back to being an irrelevant team in the standings, it will be a devastating blow to hockey in Atlanta, one I don't know if it can survive.
I am a fan of the game of hockey...the one they play on the ice. You know, the game that is played by guys like Joe Sakic, Rod Brind 'Amour, Sidney Crosby, Scott Mellanby, and of course Garnet Exelby. The fate of hockey in Atlanta is in the players hands, starting tonight.
STEP IT UP BOYS! GIVE THE TRUE BLUE FANS WHAT WE CRAVE!