Good question, take it away Bettman...
We complain all the time here about media members who take the easy way out when talking about the Islanders. Whether it's a story about Michael Grabner that brings up Rick DiPietro for no reason other than to laugh about his contract, or a story that focuses on when Garth Snow was a backup goalie instead of on his success since then, we hear it all the time. When it comes to the Thrashers leaving for Winnipeg, the easiest way out is to write an article blaming the fans and their poor attendance. For the most part they can't defend themselves in the media.
I'll admit I was hard on Atlanta fans too. But that comes from being a Mets fan, and the Braves being one of the best teams in the NL for far too long. It seemed like during those times that fans in Atlanta didn't even care about the team despite them winning. At first they stopped showing up for regular season games. Now that I can see, as the baseball season is ridiculously long. But then they stopped showing up for the playoffs too. There were stories of fans of opposing teams getting playoff tickets for so much cheaper in Atlanta it was worth the drive down there. So since then I've never had a high regard for Atlanta sports fans, and I was wrong.
We've seen franchises survive the brink and bounce back in a big way. The be all, end all is no longer the product on the ice. For example, look at the Predators. The new ownership took steps to integrate themselves with the fans.
It's pretty obvious now that the Atlanta Spirit Group had no intention to even listen or care about the fans. All they ever wanted was to cash out ASAP. They didn't even pretend that wasn't their purpose. The original agreement for the franchise gave them an out and they took it immediately. They could have taken the time to find someone who wanted to keep the team in Atlanta. Maybe if people had been given more then a week to try to save the team, something might have come through.
But going through multiple message boards for the Thrashers, including Bird Watchers Anonymous, you realize just as quickly that Atlanta fans are just as passionate fans as just about any other fans in the league. They have their Ozzyfans, TMCs, BCIslesmans, Benhasna's among many others who are just as dedicated to their team. In what world is it fair that the Phoenix Coyotes are given every chance in the world to be saved, but within a week the Thrashers go from ending the season to being no more?
If there's one thing that NHL fans have learned from all this, you can't trust Bettman. Too quickly he went from unwilling to move any time, to allowing the Thrashers to move. One key thing people have pointed out was that the reason for expansion to the Sunbelt was for the league to have a nationwide footprint. With the signing of a 10 year deal with NBC the league might have found itself without a "pressing need" to have a nationwide footprint. Suddenly it wasn't the be all end all to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix or the Thrashers in Atlanta.
In all of this mess, it was the fans who were thrown by the wayside, and the fans who were blamed for the team leaving. If the Islanders had moved, or the Coyotes had moved, the same arguments would be made that it was the fans' fault. If the Islanders had moved, the first thing people would have pointed to was the poor attendance for the first half of the season. No one would mention the many outside factors that would effect attendance.
So before you blame the fans for the Thrashers moving, take a look around. How easily could the shoe be on the other foot? How hard would you all be fighting and screaming that the team moving had noting to do with our failings as fans? How many places would ignore the failings of ownership and the front office, and mock those who have the least amount of ability to fight back?
It's a new league. Sure it helps having a good team on the ice, but NHL teams today are going to have to take the extra step and integrate themselves with the community. People have a lot more options then they used to available to them. If you want them to come to the games instead of DVR'ing them it is going to take work. Access to media and information is reaching unimaginable heights from just 10 years ago. If the owners are unwilling to change for this day and age, then it's on them when attendance falters and not the fans.