Commentary: Winnipeg's gain can't match Atlanta's loss

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 21: Thrash, mascot of the Atlanta Thrashers, joins fans in the rally to help keep the team in Atlanta at Philips Arena on May 21, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. It has been announced the Thrashers will relocate to Winnipeg, Canada. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

We interrupt the back-patting in Manitoba for this bucket of cold water.

Picture yourself as a community relations employee for the Atlanta Thrashers.  For the last four or five years, you've worked 40 hours a week to develop the game of hockey in north Georgia, to mixed results.  Sure, there are still hills to be climbed, but by and large you've done an OK job of cultivating a fanbase, representing the Thrashers and the NHL to local youth and amateur leagues, and earning a paycheck for your family.

Your spouse has a good-paying job, your two kids are settled in school, you have a good house in a suburban neighborhood, and you have no desire to move.  Then, one day, your team's ownership announces that they've given up, that they've sold their franchise to another outfit that will relocate to another city, and that you and most of the other folks you've worked with for years will be out of a job, effective immediately.

Bad enough, right?  Now imagine learning about your impending layoff on Twitter, of all places, and watching a city 1,900 miles away throw a pep rally to celebrate the fact that the team you work for -- and by extension, your own job -- is moving to a new city.

This is the downside to the rejoicing in Winnipeg.  We just went through a plant closure in Garner a few weeks ago when the ConAgra plant closed, putting hundreds out of work.  Kannapolis went through it when Pillowtex closed in 2003.  Layoffs, unfortunately, are a way of life, and they're never easy to take.  But it's so much worse when some other group of people is publicly rejoicing at the expense of your job, your career, your very way of life.

The relocation of the Thrashers isn't about Andrew Ladd, or Tobias Enstrom, or Craig Ramsay, or Don Waddell.  (Well, maybe it's about Don Waddell a bit, but that's neither here nor there.)  Those folks will have jobs when the plane lands in Winnipeg.  The ticket sales staff, the game night crew, the community relations folks, the media-relations interns who will no longer be able to get their feet wet in the NHL with a franchise conveniently located in town -- those are the people for whom this sale is a disaster.

A hockey team, in a way, is like a television news operation.  The faces of the organization are the ones you see every night -- anchors, meteorologists, reporters.  But they don't have a job to do if not for the people you don't see -- camera operators, producers, editors, technicians.  If WRAL picked up and relocated its entire news operation to Topeka tomorrow, there's little doubt that they would extend the offer to David Crabtree, Greg Fishel and Jeff Gravley to move with them.  But what about the intern in the Weather Center from N.C. State who suddenly loses his opportunity to train for a future career?  It's not like he's going to transfer to the University of Kansas.

So, sure, let's hear it for the NHL returning a seventh team to Canada.  Hoorah and all that.  But let's not forget that the relocation of the Thrashers to Winnipeg comes with costs that can't be covered by a relocation fee or a purchase price.  There are good people in Atlanta, people who had nothing to do with the ownership squabbles and sideshows, who are about to find themselves out of work.

And no matter what happens in Winnipeg this afternoon, that is not worth celebrating.

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