Glenn Healy of Hockey Night in Canada has seen the pro game from many angles over the past quarter-century.
Healy played for four teams in a career that lasted over 14 years. It was a typical career in that most players don't get too comfortable in any one location, as they could be getting a phone call telling them they're moving on to another town.
While the players from the Thrashers will have several other teammates going through the same situation at the same time, there's still some upheaval to each player's personal life and family life.
Healy even played for a couple of minor league franchises that teetered and eventually folded. We spoke to him just before the NHL's move to Winnipeg, and what it might entail for the individual player.
CBCSports.ca: What would the team or the NHLPA have in place to help a player who's moving cities?
GH: Each player would get a relocation fee from the [collective bargaining agreement], but I would imagine the organization would build up its infrastructure to help in the transition. It wouldn’t be a NHLPA matter. I would imagine that the club would have people in place, feet on the ground, to make the transition as easy as possible.
It’s no different than getting traded from team to team. You get to a team and you’re given a list – family doctor names, schools, here’s the areas where most players live. All the things that are kind of thrown on the lap of the wives of these players. Players – we just kind of pick up the pieces and go. It’s the wives that have the burden of making sure everything’s done appropriately for their families. They're the heroes in the whole equation.
CBCSports.ca: It's interesting you say that, because the landscape changed for Winnipeg to Atlanta's group of players coming over from rumours of the Phoenix team, which is older and presumably with more families. In general, is there a network of contacts known to people in the league as far as various services they'll need to address in any given city?
GH: On any team that you go to, particularly when you go to a Canadian city like Winnipeg where there’s going to be a phenomenal environment, if they close the deal, that’s a pretty strong leadership group. I would imagine they would probably conduct themselves first class in every manner. I would imagine they would be one of the better organizations [in the NHL] because of their commitment to this.
CBCSports.ca: Didn't you play for a minor league team that folded?
GH: New Haven would have been the one. The owner actually pitched a team on the roof of the arena to save the team.
CBCSports.ca: So what's it like to go from a struggling franchise to a place that's either a major market or hockey mad? You played in the NHL in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto.
GH: I would imagine that as much as players like to play in different cities around the U.S., I’m sure that the kind of buzz of playing in front of a full crowd every night and the buzz of having an ownership group that’s strong and committed to winning and making the team a championship team, that’s what you play the game for. You play the game for Stanley Cups and winning. You don’t play the game for weather.
These guys are going to step into a situation where they've got ownership that's dedicated to winning, a fan base that's dedicated to their team, and a city that's passionate about their sport.
I don't think anyone ever has to explain to anyone who's played in Atlanta, why the players have been paying escrow. It's not good seats available there, it's good sections.
CBCSports.ca: This is the first time since I think California to Cleveland in the 1970s that an NHL franchise is moving from warm weather location to cold. You don't think any of the players will care about that type of change?
GH: I talked to a coach who coached the Jets and he told me in all his years there, only one player complained [about the weather] so what does that tell you?
CBCSports.ca: When the first reports that this might be reality hit a couple weeks ago, Thrashers goalie Chris Mason said he was in the dark about what was going on. As a former NHLPA official is that a necessary evil of high-level negotiations like this, or does it rankle you?
GH: I think they should be involved, definitely. You're there [as a union] to help with the player's transition. You've got all these players and their families . But it's a delicate balance because you have a team that hasn't left and you can probably see the finish line, but you just don't know when.