Thrashers bid tearful farewell to Atlanta

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She said the economic crisis and years of losing made it difficult for the franchise to succeed in a city that has three other major-league franchises, two minor-league teams and a strong tradition in college sports that revolves around Georgia and Georgia Tech.

“I just wish they could’ve been more successful as a team,” Chandler said.

The Winnipeg group, which includes Canadian billionaire David Thomson, began a dogged pursuit for another NHL team when it became clear both the Coyotes and the Thrashers were in serious financial trouble. The Atlanta owners claimed $130 million in losses since 2005.

The Coyotes are now owned by the league and likely would have returned to Winnipeg if suburban Glendale had not agreed to provide a $25 million subsidy for this year, then approved another for the 2011-12 season while the team tries to finalize an agreement with a prospective new owner.

In Atlanta, where the financially strapped city government is dealing with possible layoffs, there was never any consideration of bailing out the hockey team.

Bettman said the league didn’t want to leave Atlanta, a metro area with more than 5 million people and a more favorable TV market than Winnipeg, a city of less than 700,000. But, he added, there was no other option.

“We don’t like to move a franchise,” Bettman said. “We’re not happy about leaving Atlanta. This was never about whether Winnipeg is better than Atlanta. The decision to come to Winnipeg was only made after the Atlanta ownership made the decision they were going to sell even if it meant the club was going to leave Atlanta.”

Winnipeg’s new team could reclaim the Jets nickname, though a decision has not been reached. The Thrashers name _ which was coined by former owner Ted Turner and referred to the state bird of Georgia _ is not part of the deal.

That’s not a problem for the folks in Winnipeg.

They got the most important thing: a team.

“Our spirit is back!” said Braden Hill, decked out in a Jets jersey and hockey helmet, a Canadian flag draped on his back. “Our city lost it 15 years ago. Now it’s back.”

And the Thrashers are gone.

Just like the Flames.

“I want to thank all the Thrashers fans that supported us in Atlanta for my two years there. Very unfortunate there will be no NHL hockey,” tweeted Evander Kane, one of the team’s most promising young players. “I will miss the great people and city of Atlanta.”

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