Now, let me see if I have this right, just so I know I'm being completely clear on the subject: Hockey team to Atlanta called the Flames. Flames out of Atlanta to Calgary. Hockey team to Winnipeg called the Jets. Hockey team out of Winnipeg to become the Phoenix Coyotes. Hockey team, the Thrashers, back into Atlanta. Atlanta Thrashers out of Atlanta to become the Winnipeg Jets. Is that right? Is this making any sense to anyone who isn't watching the NHL?
They were created as part of the four-team expansion that included the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers, and Minnesota Wild. Now, the Flames had been the NHL's first try in the southern United States, and while they had made the playoffs several times, they were also gone after eight years. This time, the NHL had gone southward gradually, experimentally placing teams in Florida and Texas and North Carolina before trying anything so rash as placing a new team in Atlanta. But on June 25, 1997, the NHL made its grand return to Atlanta to see if people still didn't care. The name Thrashers was chosen from a fan poll, despite being the runner-up to the old nickname, the Flames. Naming the new team after the old team wasn't going to work; the Flames had kept their name upon moving up to Calgary, and that tells you just how much the people of Atlanta know about hockey, or at least the NHL. The Trasher, by the way, is the official state bird of Georgia.
Beginning operations in 1999, the entry draft that year yielded Patrik Stefan and Luke Sellars. If those names don't mean anything to you, that's because both of them - as well as the nine other guys they picked - were out of the NHL by the team's final season of existence. Stefan played 414 games, more than any of the other picks, which isn't a high number of NHL games. Both Stefan and Sellars are listed as being among the biggest draft busts in the history of the NHL. This was a big shock because Stefan was not only hyped up by the media as a franchise guy (I'm guessing the media doing this hyping was the Atlanta media), but general manager Don Waddell was considered an outstanding scout. The Thrashers finished up their first season with a record of 14-61-7 for 39 points.
Fortunately, the 2000 draft produced a better result: Dany Heatley! In 2001, the team also made a fantastic pick in Ilya Kovalchuk. Both were named to the All-Rookie Team, and Heatley actually walked home with the Calder Trophy. They still didn't help the team to the playoffs, though.
With the Thrashers lack of success on the ice, the team needed to find a way to drum up some publicity off the ice. And in 2003, publicity found the Atlanta Thrashers in the worst possible way. Dany Heatley, a kid who was now officially an up and coming star in the league, was speeding his Ferrari through Atlanta with his teammate and friend Dan Snyder when he veered out of control and his car rushed headlong into a column and went kaboom. Heatley was lucky enough to escape with just a broken jaw, broken arm, sprained wrist, and a pair of torn knee ligaments. Snyder wasn't so lucky; his injuries yielded septic shock which took his life five days later. The Thrashers dedicated their season to Snyder's memory, wearing black patches with Snyder's number. Heatley went through the criminal court system for speeding and recklessness, but the charges were later dropped because his alcohol level was actually below the legal limit. The Thrashers did come out playing some inspired hockey that year, and even took the division lead for a short time, but they weren't able to keep it up. In late December, they ran through a streak where they went 1-17-3 through February. They finished second in their division, but tenth in their conference.
After the 2005 lockout, the Thrashers took a new approach to team building: Signing old veterans! Peter Bondra, Bobby Holik, Scott Mellanby, Jaroslav Modry, and Mike Dunham were welcomed to Atlanta. But at the time, Heatley, still understandably upset from his teammate's death, hadn't quite recovered. He believed he needed a change of scenery in order to distance himself from the memories of the accident, so he was swapped to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Marian Hossa. The 2006 season saw the Thrashers find success: They won 41 games, even though their goalies spent most of the year fighting injuries. They still missed the playoffs, but it was something to build on. And build they did: Even though their second-leading scorer, Marc Savard, departed in free agency for the Boston Bruins, the Thrashers still won 43 games and finally moved into that coveted playoff slot! Savard, by the way, played in the All-Star game that year, which was held in Atlanta. He was cheered by the Thrashers fans for the entire night. The team's first and only playoff appearance ended in a first round sweep by the New York Rangers.
Although the 76 points the Thrashers posted in 2008 matched their previous season's total, they still came in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, missing the playoffs. The team also couldn't find an agreement to extend the contract of Ilya Kovalchuk, and when he turned down two offers, the team decided to get what they could out of him and traded him to the New Jersey Devils. And oh yeah, their ownership group was also splitting apart! This time, it had something to do with percentage shares. You know, money. Losses, ownership struggles, a lukewarm fanbase…. The Thrashers were never exactly a model of stability. The relocation rumors saw all the usual suspects pop up: Kansas City; Quebec City; Hamilton; Winnipeg. In February 2011, the majority owner said the Thrashers would be looking for new investors, and while various local groups announced they intended to buy the Thrashers and keep them in Atlanta, they all fell through. I like to imagine that a few of them backed out after learning that the Thrashers didn't play baseball or football, and when informed of the truth, couldn't figure out what a hockey was. The team was sold to True North Sports and Entertainment, and in May of 2011, the deal to take the team to Winnipeg was done.
There was a lot of support there to bring back the old Jets name, so that's what True North and the NHL did. The general manager was changed, the coach was changed, but there were holdovers who are naturally still with the team. They saw the Jets go 37-35-10 for a surprisingly good 84 points in 2012, but that was only good enough for fourth place in their division. They missed the playoffs. Right now, they're again sitting just outside a playoff spot by two points. They could well get in if the few teams in front of them avoid a tank job.
The number of Bobby Hull was retired by the old Winnipeg Jets, so when the new Jets came calling, Evander Kane had to get permission from Hull to wear his Atlanta number. It's tough to say what the status of ANY number is with these guys right now. One number, for Thomas Steen was retired but yanked out of retirement for five games. Two numbers are retired with the Phoenix Coyotes for players with the old Jets. Later the Coyotes retired Dale Hawerchuk's number, forcing a current Jet to change. The status of number 37, which was Dan Snyder's number, is unknown. Some of the great players for the team have been Dany Heatley, Peter Bondra, Ilya Kovalchuk, Brent Sopel, Dustin Byfuglien, and Marian Hossa. Their current Captain is Andrew Ladd.
This team is still pretty young, and giving them any kind of real identity, especially after they've moved after so little time in their existence, just isn't possible or fair. There was that one playoff appearance, and that's pretty much it. Beyond that, well, I'm pretty sure no one wants to remember the car crash. The current identity of the Jets is based on the fact that there was an older team called the Winnipeg Jets, a WHA holdover. They were pretty bad most of the time, and they eventually became the Phoenix Coyotes.
Oh, these new teams. The Winnipeg Jets are not an extension or continuation of the older team that also went by that name. No one remembers them in Atlanta, and they can't even keep their player history straight. I want to be nicer with this team, but that's just not possible.