Third Time’s the Charm: is the NHL Headed Back to Atlanta?

10:00 AM EST
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Kaja Antic
10:00 AM EST
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A New Arena = A New Opportunity?

The Metro Atlanta area in the northwest corner of Georgia is potentially getting a new arena.

A project named The Gathering at South Forsyth has been proposed approximately 30 miles (48.3 kilometres) from State Farm Arena, the site where both of Atlanta’s former NHL teams played before they both relocated to Canada, decades apart.

The Atlanta Flames played in the city from 1972-1980, before moving to Calgary and becoming the current-day Flames. The Atlanta Thrashers played in the same location from 1999-2011, moving to Winnipeg to become the 21st-century rendition of the Winnipeg Jets.

Both the Flames and Thrashers played in Atlanta proper, as the Omni Coliseum which hosted the Flames was demolished to make way for Phillips Arena — which was renamed as State Farm Arena seven years after the Thrashers left for Winnipeg.

Currently, State Farm Arena is only being used by the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.

They Got Hockey Down in Georgia (Oh Yeah)

The Gathering at South Forsyth is a proposed multi-use “live, work, play” district in Forsyth County in the southern state of Georgia. An 18,000-seat arena is part of this $2 billion project on a 101-acre plot of land projected to hold a community center, a hotel, and a fire station, as well as the hope for Georgia’s third attempt at an NHL team.

Aside from the two relocated NHL teams, the ECHL operates two teams in the state of Georgia, with the Atlanta Gladiators playing in Duluth, GA, and the new Savannah Ghost Pirates playing in Savannah, GA. The Gladiators are affiliated with the NHL’s Nashville Predators and the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, and former NHL player Anson Carter is a minority owner of the franchise.

The Ghost Pirates held their inaugural season in 2022-23, and are affiliated with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights and the AHL’s Henderson Silver Knights.

The Gladiators held an average of 4,696 attendees per game during the 2022-23 season, while the Ghost Pirates had an average of 6,802 attendees per game during their inaugural season.

This high interest in professional hockey outside of the NHL shows there is an audience for the sport in Georgia, and could be capitalized upon if the NHL chose to return to the southern state.

Goaltender Tyler Parks makes a save in the Atlanta Gladiators uniform during a game on November 13th, 2022. (Photo via Dale Zanine)

Georgia on my Mind (But Not the NHL’s)

While there may be some distant hope that this billion-dollar investment will bring the NHL back to Atlanta, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that the league is “not in expansion mode,” mentioning Atlanta as a city with interest in expanding the NHL once again, though expansion is not “close to the front burner” for the league at the moment.

As for the Forsyth County plans moving forward, the county’s board has approved the creation of a financial plan, looking into the next steps in building this proposed development. There is still a significant wait time for the potential production of this new arena, leaving enough time for Bettman to change his mind on possible expansion.

Also, with the uncertain future of the Arizona Coyotes staying in Arizona, Georgia might not have to wait for expansion, only for a cross-country relocation. While Atlanta is not high-up on proposed destination lists for the Coyotes should they have to leave the desert, there’s a distant possibility for a quicker path to Georgia’s third NHL team.

While we wait for answers with the Forsyth County plans, Atlanta hockey is still growing a community without the NHL’s presence. The Atlanta Gladiators even brought back the Thrashers for some home games throughout the ECHL season, wearing different eras of Thrasher home jerseys from the early 2000s. This proposed arena gives the NHL another potential look at the Atlanta area, with the added bonus of the market continuing to grow with the ECHL in the southern state.

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