Tonight the Atlanta Thrashers take on the Minnesota Wild but the main event is not the game but the Season Ticket Holder Meeting that starts at 5:30 with GM Don Waddell and all the other management people who lurk around the edges. I suspect that we will see more emotion and passion in that get together than we will on the ice during the game that follows.
There is a full fledged season ticket holder revolt in progress. One enterprising fan even made a YouTube video
to express his frustration (My favorite part "Vice President, General Manger and Coach all have the same personality. Probably because they are all the same person"). Fans are angry about a wide variety of things but the main issues are the price increases, poor hockey product, discounted tickets and reduced perks.
For me it is all about the poor hockey product and discounted tickets. Frankly I don't care about the price increase--I would pay more significantly more money to see quality NHL hockey if I moved to Detroit, Pittsburgh, Denver or San Jose. Our prices here are better than in many other NHL cities. But we haven't seen quality NHL hockey in Atlanta but for one season and that's the real problem. Far too many gambles and chances have not bad off as the franchise has made a serious of poor decisions about player personnel. In 2005-06 and 2006-08 this team spent more money than most NHL teams and the on ice product did not match the investment.
Then on top of that, the organization has continued to annoy their most loyal supporters by offering deeply discounted tickets for virtually every single game on the schedule. Just this week Travel Zoo is offering tickets at two thirds off face value (click here
). Look I don't mind paying a bit more for my season tickets--but I do mind paying more when I could save a lot of money by just waiting for single ticket discounts. If the discounts had been limited and targeted this would not be causing such a ruckus. I understand the need to target some groups to grow the fan base--in fact I support that practice. But the targeting has not been selective or exclusive enough and that is the real problem.
One poster asked me what I would ask at the meeting tonight so here are the four questions I would like to see asked.
Question #1 "In the eight seasons you're managed the Thrashers the team has finished 28th, 28th, 30th, 23rd, 21st, 19th, 12th, 29th (that's one above average season in 8 seasons). In that same time period the Thrashers defense has ranked 28th, 29th, 30th, 30th, 25th, 24th, 15th, 28th (that's one average season out of 8 season). I'm a hockey consumer--please tell me why should I keep buying this product? Given the team's track record tell me why should I have any confidence that the defense will be better?"
Question #2 "In my hand I have 7 offers to buy Thrashers tickets at half off or at a very substantial discount including some weekend games. Why should I pay more money for season tickets? I've heard that the team is promising that discounted tickets will be reduced next year--will you give us a price protection guarantee?"
Question #3 "Where is the accountability of this team? Why has Slava Kozlov never been scratched? Why does Popovic continue to sit when he is outplaying other veterans? You recently said that you had 8 defensemen and their play would determine who would dress each night. Can you look me in the eye and tell me that Garnett Exelby and Alexei Zhitnik deserve to play ahead of Mark Popovic and Joel Kwiatkowski?"
Question #4 "Where is the passion? Why is it that the most emotion that we fans have seen all season is from their Coach/GM on Wednesday? Why is it that nobody gets angry or pissed off? Why do they not show up for back-to-back games? Where is the character and leadership? Is anyone in the locker room ever made to feel uncomfortable after a pathetic on ice effort?
If there is one positive sign in all this it is that that management appears to be hearing the complaints filtering up from the masses. I know that many of you season ticket holders have written personal emails to your ticket reps and the owners expressing your displeasure. Some of the requests have been granted such as a STH-only entrance and more events with players (I mentioned this one myself to Jonathan Tillman, I said a practice or skating event without a Thrasher player or coach out on the ice is just an hour of free ice time--nice, but nothing special). Word is also leaking out that GM Don Waddell has told ticket reps that the team will make major improvements this summer and add two quality defensemen and a center. But many of you are taking a Missourian "show me" approach and telling them you will not renew until the draft takes place this summer.
Craig Custance over at the AJC has been asking hard questions and has some very interesting quotes in both his story
and his blog
. A couple of highlights and comments:
"I’d heard that Kovalchuk told Russian reporters that he thought some teammates left early for summer vacation." Well he's just stating the obvious and both of them are also fellow Russian players which probably is embarrsing to him.
“If a guy is having a bad night, you have to pick him up instead of hammering him further into the ice.”--I think this is mostly baloney and here's why--people either respond to pressure or they pout. If they don't respond to pressure they are not the players that are going to win you a Cup.
I've worked jobs where if I didn't perform I would get yelled at or fired--and guess what I worked harder. Yes, yelling at a guy might not help a guy's confidence--but it might lead him to work harder which is necessary to get out of a slump. Do you think that teams when the Stanley Cup because their coach gives them warm cookies in the locker room to boost the Stanly Cup? The Stanley Cup playoffs are nothing but one pressure filled moment after another. If a highly paid player doesn't perform here in Atlanta he doesn't have to worry about anything, he will not be benched, he will not be called out by coaches or teammates in public, he certainly will not be traded or sent to the minors. There are no major consequences for poor play.Don Waddell: "I know nobody wants to hear it, but we're still a young franchise," Well compared to Nashville and Minnesota and Columbus we are clearly 3rd out of our four--at the 4th place team replaced their GM so you can't count on him screwing up the Blue Jackets anymore. The performance has been consistently below average when you look at the other comparable franchises who all have limited budgets just like the Thrashers.Garnett Exleby: "When things are going badly, frustration gets higher and guys try to do too much to make a difference. And that, in the end, makes it worse," Exelby said. "I think I fall into that category." Kudos to Exelby who is the only person to take some personal responsibility for the team's failures in Craig's article.