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Will Support Wane For The New Winnipeg Franchise?

The fans of Winnipeg got their wish today, with the NHL announcing the move of the Atlanta Thrashers to the Canadian city.

With the initial jubilation over, fans now need to ask themselves - can they consistently support their new team?

The Thrashers move north with a sub-.500 record. In their brief 11-year history, the team put together just three winning seasons. They won the division once, in 2006-07, marking their only playoff appearance. They bowed out in four straight to the New York Rangers, where the only noteworthy play was an Ilya Kovalchuk elbow to Sean Avery.

The franchise also failed to keep their big stars. Players like Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa all became potential franchise cornerstones to leave the team through trade and free agency. The inability to build a consistent winner constantly plagued general manager Don Waddell.

It's not all doom and gloom. New GM Rick Dudley's traded for several former Blackhawks, bringing to the locker room a winning pedigree. For the first half of last season, the team looked like it would break their playoff drought. But they fell off during the second half of the season, dropping out of the playoffs and finishing 12th in the conference.

There are some pieces in place for immediate success. But the Thrashers head north as one of the league's biggest question marks. The initial euphoria of hockey in Winnipeg should help drive ticket sales. But if they struggle, support may wane.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addressed that situation in today's press conference, saying "this isn't going to work very well unless this building is sold out every night." His expectations are clear, and the team's drive to sell 13,000 season tickets begins tomorrow. If they can achieve that mark, it should satisfy the NHL Board of Governors, who meet June 21 to officially approve the deal.

Hockey triumphantly returned to Winnipeg today. The energy and support thrown behind this team will lead to sellout crowds next season. But if they struggle, and the team can't compete, will the fans still support the team? It's the answer to that question that will determine the success or failure of the newest Winnipeg franchise.