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When the Thrashers Left: The NHL’s Last Relocation

Looking at the National Hockey League’s most recent relocation can help develop realistic expectations for the Coyotes’ move to Utah.
Clyde Caplan
(Courtesy Flickr)


Relocation is one of the most dramatic occurrences in the realm of professional sports. When a team picks up and takes off, leaving the place they called home behind, it is very difficult. Within a matter of hours, the entire landscape of a sport changes and fans feel abandoned.

This month, it was made official that the National Hockey League’s Arizona Coyotes would be moving to Salt Lake City for the 2024-25 season. With the Coyotes’ move, there is much work to be done in the few months before the start of the NHL season. 

To get a better understanding of what this process might look like, the NHL’s previous relocations can be considered. For example, the Atlanta Thrashers’ move to Winnipeg — the most recent NHL relocation — could provide valuable insight into the process of moving cities.

Who Were the Thrashers?

The Thrashers, who joined the league in 1999, called Atlanta home for eleven years. In those years, the team saw quite a variety of success. In their first season as an NHL franchise, the team jumped off to a notably slow start. They earned an abysmal 39 points on the year, only winning 14 games.

In their seventh season of contention, the Thrashers made their first playoff appearance. First, Atlanta collected an impressive 97 points, the most they achieved during their tenure in Georgia. Despite winning the Southeast division, they couldn’t carry their success to the postseason. The Thrashers were quickly eliminated from the playoffs, being swept by the New York Rangers. Unbeknownst to players and fans, it would be the only playoff appearance for the Atlanta Thrashers.

In their final four seasons in Atlanta, the Thrashers only placed higher than fourth place in their division once. Additionally, the team went through four different coaches during these years. This well represented the struggles the team faced while their time in Atlanta dwindled.

Moving North

Following a disappointing 2010-11 season, where the Thrashers finished below .500 and missed the playoffs, the news was made official. On May 31, 2011, it was announced that True North Sports and Entertainment purchased the team and planned to move the franchise to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

While fans in Winnipeg, who lost the first iteration of the Jets to relocation, were ecstatic, the Thrashers fans were left behind, abandoned without their team. Like with the Coyotes’ recent relocation announcement, rumors of the move circulated well before being confirmed.

During this period of limbo, many fans attempted to hold on to hope. Prior to the official selling of the franchise, fans pleaded to keep the franchise in Atlanta. While the owners negotiated the sale of the team, fans planned a rally to emphasize Atlanta’s value as a hockey market.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman avoided validating the swirling rumors in early May. But as more time passed, the move looked more and more inevitable. By the end of the month, the sale was officially announced and the franchise’s move to Winnipeg was approved by the Board of Governors in June.

Similar to Utah’s new NHL franchise, uncertainty surrounding the team’s name was present when the Winnipeg move was first announced. When the relocation rumor started, many began theorizing potential names for the new team. Eventually, after the board approved the move, it was announced the team would use the “Jets” identity, the same as the franchise that left for Arizona in 1996.

In the short span of time between the official announcement of the move and the start of the 2011-12 NHL season, a new team identity, including logo and uniforms, was developed. In July, the team’s new logos were revealed, connecting a symbol to the city’s new franchise. Then, in September, just weeks before the start of the season, the uniform was officially unveiled.

What to Take Away

The relocation process is quite complicated. With the Coyotes’ move to Utah made official, one can look at the Thrashers’ relocation process to develop realistic expectations. The development of a new identity takes time, especially considering all of the other responsibilities that come with relocation, but it can definitely be achieved. The Jets produced their new look in even less time than the Utah franchise will have.


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About the Contributor
Jonah Marriott
Jonah Marriott, Sports Writer
(he/him) Jonah Marriott grew up in South Ogden, Utah, where he inherited his love for sports from his parents. He is a devout fan of each of Detroit’s major sports franchises, the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, and the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. He is pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering, with an emphasis in aerospace.

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