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Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg: Beginning of the end for 'Sun Belt' NHL?

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In the 1990s, the NHL sought to grow the sport by expanding the game into to new cities in the South, the home of many northern expats, burgeoning populations, and large media markets. New or relocated franchises in Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Arizona, and Texas marked the future of the sport, the thinking went. At last, the ice-free South would cotton on to the gladiatorial aspects of the fast-paced sport.

On the ice, at least, the switch has worked. Among the teams that have won a Stanley Cup in the 18 years since the last Canadian champion: Tampa Bay, Dallas, Anaheim, Denver, and Carolina (Raleigh, N.C.).

Off the ice, however, the financial reasons for the shift have largely evaporated. The 2004-05 lockout resulted in a strong league salary cap that has held down costs, allowing well-run teams in small markets like Winnipeg to compete. Moreover, the Canadian dollar has strengthened, meaning that Canadian teams are no longer taking in money in weak Canadian dollars and then paying it out to players in strong US currency.

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