Monday, May 30, 2011

A Eulogy: The Atlanta Thrashers

So, this is it. Per Bob Mackenzie, the Thrashers-to-Winnipeg saga may end as early as Tuesday, with the last few bits of red tape to jump through. And while TSN has definitely been wrong before, this feels a little different. This feels like the end through-and-through, and it's certainly a disheartening Memorial Day for Thrashers fans.

And the worst part? This never should have happened.

The NHL granted the Atlanta Spirit the Thrashers, a franchise they never wanted to run. After six year of lies, lawsuits, and contempt it is all so evident now: they intended to but the Hawks, Thrashers, and Philips Arena and flip the Thrashers for a profit after purchase. This never happened and lawsuits amongst the ownership cluster that is headed by Michael Gearon and Bruce Levenson prevented a sale of the Thrashers to a local buyer. Then, the details emerged.

The Thrashers ownership never gave the Thrashers a chance; they admitted they know nothing about hockey and told fans to "deal with it" at a Town Hall meeting. They lied and put an inferior product on the ice, and fans responded with their wallets. The Thrashers attendance has eclipsed 15,000 6 times in their 11 year history. But under Atlanta Spirit, fans refused to pay the ticket prices under awful ownership. Hm. Didn't they do that in Chicago under Bill Wirtz? Isn't that now the toughest ticket in hockey?

But there's nothing left to be said about that. Not to the NHL, anyways. Gary Bettman put this team here and refused to have the guts to back it up. While the NHL dragged out a very public and very lengthy case to keep the Coyotes in Phoenix (despite averaging about 12,000 in attendance over their last two PLAYOFF seasons) the NHL turned it's back on Atlanta. Local buyers step forward and were ignored. The NHL didn't even use it's final chip--hard-balling Levenson and Gearon for part of the $110 million sale fee--to try and force the owners to sell locally. Because it's not about that to them. It's not about the facts: how youth hockey has grown ten-fold in Georgia since the Thrashers existence. That there are more corporate dollars, seven times as many people in Atlanta, a much better TV market to accompany that $2 billion TV contract the NHL just signed, or the fact that the ownership ran the franchise into the ground. No, that doesn't matter. What matters is the $60 million relocation fee to be split up amongst the Board of Governors should they pass the deal which many said they have already verbally passed. And so we, as fans, get to "deal with it".

So thanks, Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon. Oh, and thank you too Gary Bettman. Perhaps three of the most two-faced people in all of sports. Thank you to the NHL for turning it's back on Atlanta while fighting for Phoenix, New York, and Nashville. Thanks. Us Thrashers fans, who do exist contrary to TSN and other popular beliefs, thank you sincerely.

Levenson and Gearon, I hope you take this to your grave. You are worthless scum. I hope that when you're on your death bed, you think of me. The kid who lives 1,200 miles away and dumped money into your sham of a cause. Who spent thousands of dollars to see his team play a home game. I hope you think of the kids who fell in love with the great game of hockey and who are having it ripped away. I hope you think of the late T.R. Benning and his wife Maria, better known as the "Kiss Cam Couple" at every Thrashers home game. I hope you think of Thrash pounding that foolish drum. I hope you think of the two sold out playoff games. I'm sure you do; you made money. I hope you think of Dan Snyder's eager face showing up to practice ready to give his all. I hope you think of how you've ripped away a second franchise from the great city of Atlanta all because of your ineptitude and greed.

Same goes for you, Bettman. You're a coward. You turned your back on this franchise after blocking several sales of several other teams. And why, Gary? Oh, yes, I forgot about that $60 million relocation fee. For someone who preached "growing the game", this seems like an awful strange way to grow it: by ripping it away from a "non-traditional market" over money. It's a shame, really. And I hope you think of that in your final moments too. If you don't think of Atlanta, at least think of your cowardice. To never even show your face when the times got tough. It shows a lot about this league that has been proven corrupted (thank you Colin Campbell) and cares about the almighty dollar over player safety.

This is it, Thrashers fans. Should the announcement come this week I'll be shutting this blog down. Thanks to all who have read it. I have no regrets about the past 11 seasons. I am proud to be, and will always be, a Thrashers fan. My love for the game will continue and I'll likely adopt the Hurricanes as my new favorite team. And for Gearon, Levenson, and Bettman: take it you your grave, you scum. You can take my team but you can never take away my love for the game. I know that I, for one, refuse to "deal with it."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Thrashers and I..

Well, as the Thrashers fate in Atlanta gets tossed and turned about like a ship on rough seas, Ben over at Blueland Blog has asked us to recount our first Thrashers game and what turned us into a fan. My story is not that earth-shattering, but maybe unique in a sense.

I grew up in Maine. I live in Maine now and have lived here for my 21-year existence. Hockey has been in my blood since I was born. I turned my family into a hockey family after attending Portland Pirates (in the AHL) games as a young kid. It's been about 17 or 18 years since my first Pirates game, but I still have season tickets. I played hockey my whole life and still do, playing all through high school and in prep school thereafter.

I've always followed hockey avidly. It would surprise my teachers, peers, and probably my family how many stats I would know or how many random players and scores I could recount. But growing up, I never had a favorite NHL team. When I was about nine years old I wanted to learn how to speak French and move to Montreal and play for the Canadiens. That never materialized, if you didn't notice. But then the Thrashers entered the league. As a young kid I thought, "wow, they have cool jerseys!" and labeled myself a Thrashers fan. When you're 10 years old, who you support isn't that big of a deal.

When I turned 13 (the 2002-2003 season) I started listening to every game on the Internet radio. I was only able to watch 2 or 3 games a year, when they'd play the Bruins or be on national TV (yes, that actually happened). I still listened intently every night until we finally got the Center Ice package and I was able to watch every game. It would keep me going; I would sit in school, counting down the minutes until each game each night.

The first game I went to was in 2001 in Boston. I was an 11-year-old kid and I think I was rewarded with tickets for good grades on a report card. The Thrashers won that game, and my favorite player (and former Pirate) Andrew Brunette scored the game-winning goal. I then began making regular trips to Boston to see the team as I grew older. I've been to pretty much every game in Boston since 2006, but haven't seen them win there since 2007.

Afterwards, my love for the team never wavered. I never missed a game on TV or on the radio, and if I had to I was constantly checking for updates. This is MY team and no one was going to tell me otherwise. Kovy, Heater, Pasi...these were my guys and I loved them. I always felt that one day, this team would be at the top of the hockey world, and unfortunately as we see them inching closer they are on the verge of being snatched away from us.

After seeing the team play in Boston a few times, my dream then became to see the Thrashers play in Atlanta. I was lucky enough to fly down last winter with my mother and see two games; a 2-1 shootout win over the Rangers and an 8-1 loss at the hands of the Capitals. But it didn't matter; to see the team in Blueland was what I had always hoped for. After my initial trip (when it snowed, which was wild) I decided that I wanted to call Atlanta home some day. While many Atlantans may have varying opinions, I think it's a fantastic city. But the real lure for me is the Thrashers. Once I graduate, I want to skedaddle to Atlanta and call it home.

After my initial trip, I drove down on two other occasions. I went in March of 2010 on spring break and saw 3 games and drove down to see one game this past season, a 4-3 SO win over Philly. I've traveled to Madison Square Garden, Buffalo, and Philadelphia to see the Thrashers and would like to venture to other rinks. I can't get enough; to see the team play is my favorite thing to do, and when the calendar flips to September there's only one thing on my mind: Thrashers hockey.

I look back over the last decade of my life and can't imagine what it would be without it. We've all seen the ups and downs. The playoffs were so invigorating and I hope to the heavens that we can see them IN ATLANTA again. There were the near misses. Hell, I cried the day Dan Snyder died. This has been my team my whole life and I live 1,200 miles away. And you know what? It still breaks my heart to think about them moving.

Sure, I would love to follow the players and support them in Winnipeg. But I simply can't bring myself to stand along side other Winnipeg fans who have made it so clear they want to steal MY team. I honestly don't know what I'd do without the Thrashers over the past decade, and I can only imagine how my life would change without them in the future. Hockey is my blood and the Thrashers are the heart that keeps it pumping, every year for 82 (and once in a blue moon, 86!) games a year.

Here's to hoping, Thrashers fans. We all have a story like this. We all have a reason that we love our team. We all have fond memories of growing up watching games, getting hooked at our first live game, and heck, some of us even have met our significant others through hockey. And so, as this grueling sea-saw battle continues with gutless owners and Winnipeg scum, it is the fans that get lost in the shuffle. The fans that have devoted their time and their money, their lives and their hearts to a hockey team that may walk away into the Winnipeg sunset (if the sun even rises there?). If they do leave, it's been an incredible run despite the lack of on-ice success. And if they is going to be so nice to lift Lord Stanley's Cup, streaming live into your Winnipeg living room.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

And Here We Go Again...Relocation Rumors Resurface

As if they ever actually went away, but still...rumors of a Thrashers re-location as early as next season have resurfaced thanks to Canadian boy Darren Dredger on TSN's playoff pre-game show yesterday evening. Dredger claimed that a deal with Matthew Hulsizer is possible to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Arizona, which would immediately shift that National Hockey League's focus to moving the Thrashers to Winnipeg. His comments were backed up by this hardly informative TSN article this afternoon.

These rumors have been swirling for a while now, but this is legitimate do-or-die time for the fate of the Thrashers. Tom Glavine, who won two Cy Young awards for the Braves, spoke up last week in support of the Thrashers, including citing he would be interested in organizing a group of investors to keep the team in Atlanta. His efforts would be superhuman and crucial for the team's existence without a doubt. But the fact that the NHL would move Atlanta over Phoenix is mind-boggling, regardless of a Hulsizer sale or not.

The Thrashers finished 27th in attendance in 2010-2011, an average of 1,200 more per game than the Coyotes and 2,400 more than the New York Islanders. According to a 2010 Forbes article the Thrashers are the 29th most valuable team in the 30-team league, second-to-last to only the Coyotes. The Thrashers are valued at around $135 million, but what is missed here is what they could be valued at.

Citing some recent examples, the Pittsburgh Penguins were valued at $101 million in 2004, falling into bankruptcy and hearing these same relocation rumors. The team drafted well, developed a winner, and are now the 9th most valuable team in the NHL at $235 million. Are the Thrashers in line for a 232% increase in team value? Likely not. But the Thrashers are on a winning track, something that the city of Atlanta will embrace. Nothing will kill a team like bad ownership, and this current ownership group has run the team into the ground. With a new, committed owner in Atlanta and the team on an upward tick, there is no doubt the team could be profitable in the city of Atlanta.

Other teams that struggled in the early 2000s include the Chicago Blackhawks (who saw a $122 million value increase from 2004 to 2010)and the Washington Capitals ($82 million) have all come out of relative financial swoons. The Coyotes, since 2004, are valued at $2 million less over the six year time frame. The Thrashers are worth $30 million MORE over that same time period, which was about when the Atlanta Spirit group bought the team.

The owners claim to be bleeding money, but with all the lawsuits and contempt it's hard to feel sympathy. The team has appreciated in value since their purchase, so even a loss over the last couple of seasons (they definitely didn't lose money in 2005-2006 or 2006-2007 when the attendance averaged over 15,500 both seasons) turns into more or less of a wash considering the appreciation in value. And if the loss of money is so taxing on their wallets, the multi-million dollar lawsuits should probably be avoided as well so as they can make sure there is still food on the table at the end of the day.

The point is this: moving the Thrashers would be a stupid, typical Gary Bettman maneuver. Hockey is growing in Georgia, whether the NHL understands this or not. Since 1998-1999, the year before the Thrashers existence, youth hockey participation in Georgia has grown more per capita than any other state, by quite a bit, in the last decade. Ironically, youth hockey numbers declining in Canada, though all of that is admittedly relative.

While citing youth hockey numbers seems irrelevant, the fact of the matter is this: the Thrashers are helping grow hockey in a non-traditional market and the kids playing youth hockey in Georgia are going to grow up Thrashers fans the same way kids playing in Massachusetts grow up Bruins fans and those in up-state New York become Sabres fans. This is what helps a franchise grow, something the Thrashers have not had sufficient time to do.

It's hard to grow a fan base when there is no tradition. If, and likely when, the Thrashers string together a couple of post-season runs this fan base WILL grow. This is almost undoubted. In Phoenix that hasn't been the case. Despite icing very good teams the past two seasons, attendance numbers have been horrific. Yet, for some reason, the NHL wants to keep the team in Phoenix and exile Atlanta to the doldrums of Winnipeg. It's practically been proven that when the Thrashers have a legitimate playoff contender, people will support them. In 2006-2007, the team's only playoff season, the Thrashers sold out 11 (27%) of their regular season games and played in front of deafening, standing room only crowds in the post-season. The team can and will catch on in Atlanta if the ownership is settled and the team continues it's rise in the NHL's power rankings on the ice.

The last point is a simple one...population. The Atlanta metro area is home to 5,300,000 people according to the 2010 census. Winnipeg is home to just south of 700,000 people according to the 2006 census. The corporate dollars in Atlanta are simply unmatchable by Winnipeg. Atlanta ranks fourth in the United States in Fortune 500 companies. Winnipeg...not so much. The corporate opportunities, if tapped properly, are boundless in Atlanta. Not to mention that Philips Arena was ranked the number five concert and events venue IN THE WORLD according to Pollstar statistics in 2010. Winnipeg would be playing in a dive of an arena that frankly would be a fifth tier rink in comparsion to the fantastic venues around the NHL, let alone Atlanta.

The bottom line is this: moving the Thrashers would be asinine from a growth of the game and a financial perspective. And if time is running out on the Thrashers, it's time for the NHL to look in the mirror and see that fans everywhere are suffering from an ownership inept of running a gas station, let alone a professional hockey franchise.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Season Review Part 2: The Bad

In part two of the season review, we discuss the bad of the Thrashers season. While there were plenty of good moments to discuss, the season certainly had it's low points. In the next few paragraphs, we break them apart here.

January and February Tailspin.

After the Thrashers beat the Panthers in regulation on January 5th, the Thrashers entered a horrific tailspin that eventually cost them a post-season berth. Starting on January 7th with a 9-3 drubbing on home ice to Toronto, the Thrashers began a 2-4-3 run to close out January and a miserable 2-7-2 February streak that all but doomed the team. A 7-6-1 March and a 1-4-0 April weren't enough for the team to claw back into playoff position, and they ended up missing the dance by 13 points. From January 5th on, the Thrashers went 12-21-6. If they had gone a measly 18-14-7 during that stretch, which is the difference of 6 wins instead of 6 losses, the team would have been in.

There are many could have, would have, should have moments that the Thrashers would like to have back and there were a plethora of reasons for the struggles. The goaltending and power play that had been so effective in the first half fell apart. The penalty kill nose-dived in a horrific way. The team got away from the hockey they had played in the first half and it cost them. The bright side, however, is that the team played playoff hockey for the better part of three months, only adding experience to a young roster.

Zach Bogosian's Regression.

Many would put this in the "ugly" category (coming next blog!), but Bogosian made strides in his game over the second half of the year. Bogosian's numbers were down from his first two seasons, when he averaged over 9 goals and 11 assists. He finished 2010-2011 with 5 goals and 12 assists, but most staggeringly a -27 plus-minus, good for 5th worst in the NHL. 6th worst? Ilya Kovalchuk, at -26. In Bogosian's defense, he was playing against top line pairs. But there were times when Bogosian looked lost in his own end. Bogosian still has the chance to be a special player. He's big, strong, has an excellent shot and is a fantastic skater. He still can't have a legal beer yet, so there's no reason for the team to give up on him, but next year is a pivotal year in Bogosian's development.

Penalty Kill Struggles.

Despite finishing strong, the Thrashers finished 27th in the NHL with a 77.5% penalty kill. While I in no way intend to criticize Craig Ramsay, he is supposed to be a defensive specialist and the penalty kill fell from 82.2%. As kids like Alex Burmistrov and Bryan Little adapt, the penalty could be a quick, effective unit that even has some scoring prowess. The alarming thing from the 2010-2011 season is that the Thrashers were shorthanded only 285 times, good for 14th in the league. The discipline, as a whole was there, but the team gave up the 3rd most power play goals in the NHL. Moving forward, the penalty kill should be an area of concern for the Thrashers. Man, wouldn't it be nice to have Marty Reasoner out there?

Chris Mason.

Chris Mason was brought in on a 2-year deal for pretty good value, but he was nothing short of atrocious for the Thrashers this season. He was 13-13-3, which is respectable, but he finished with a .892 save percentage and a bloated 3.39 GAA. Mason is definitely a dependable goaltender, but the Thrashers will need more from him in 2011-2012 as Ondrej Pavelec continues to develop into a number one.

Back-to-back Goals in Under Two Minutes.

This has been covered at length in various places, but it is definitely a huge area of concern for the Thrashers moving forward. The Thrashers allowed back-to-back goals in under two minutes 27 times this season, going 3-15-3 in games in which they did. In the three overtime losses, if they had not allowed back-to-back goals they hypothetically would have had three more points. Three of the games were one-goal games (with empty netters) meaning they would have had three more points. That would have put them 7 points out of the playoffs alone, and who's to say what would have happened in other games where consecutive goals killed any momentum?

It's a team character issue, perhaps due to youth, perhaps due to identity. The most important shifts in hockey are the ones after goals, no matter who scores. If the opponent scores, the next line has to be committed to playing in the offensive end and keeping the team off the scoresheet. This didn't happen this season, and it was one of the glaring factors in the team missing the post-season.

Getting It Done In Regulation.

The Thrashers only had 19 regulation wins this season, good for last in the Eastern Conference. Wanna make the playoffs? A good step is getting the job done before the extra frame. The Thrashers lacked a killer instinct this season, too often allowing teams to get back into games and drag it into overtime. In fact, the only team with fewer regulation wins was the Colorado Avalanche with 18. The 2011-2012 Thrashers need to find a way to bury teams when they have the chance and close things out in regulation.

Next up will the the ugly of the 2010-2011 Thrashers season. What were your qualms with the 2010-2011 Thrashers? What were your "bad" points from the previous year? Post in the comments section below.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Season Review Part 1: The Good

So, now that the dust has settled from the Thrashers season and I have my laptop back, it's time to look at the 2010-2011 season. I will be doing a three part series, featuring the good, the bad, and the ugly. We start today with the good things, despite the fact I had to think way back to December to come up with some. Cynicism aside, the good from the 2010-2011 Atlanta Thrashers season.

Hot Start.

While the team's impressive start turned out to be a tease, in hindsight you have to look at the positives here. The team proved that, when playing at what GM Rick Dudley termed an "optimal level", this team can be something special. The start included a stretch of six straight wins over the Islanders, Bruins, Red Wings, Canadiens, Capitals, and Avalanche when they outscored their opponents 22-5. We'll talk about consistency in the next part of this series, but the Thrashers proved that when healthy and playing a committed game they can be a legitimate threat in the NHL.

Captain Ladd.

Andrew Ladd came into the 2010-2011 season as a role player for most of his career despite being drafted 4th overall in 2004. With two Stanley Cups under his belt, Ladd has been a winner wherever he's gone and was named the 8th captain in Thrashers history on November 18th. Ladd took the duties to heart, posting a career and team high 59 points (29 G, 30 A), eclipsing his previous career high in goals by a dozen. Ladd is a restricted free agent this summer and contracts with the team are on-going. Locking up Ladd is a priority, as he emerged this season as a legitimate goal scoring threat with leadership the Thrashers haven't had in a long, long time.

Big Buff's Big Breakout.

Many questioned the team's decision to move Dustin Byfuglien back to defense after his dominating performance in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. The move paid big dividends, with Byfuglien doubling the Thrashers franchise record for goals by a defenseman (with 20, including 6 game-winners), earning an assistant captain position, and being named an NHL All-Star. Byfuglien's production tailed off a little in the second half and there are still questions about whether or not he should be a forward, but overall Byfuglien had a solid season and brought a winning attitude and flair to a team in desperate need of it.

Long-term Contracts.

With much uncertainty in Atlanta about the future of the team, Dustin Byfuglien and Mark Stuart both signing long-term deals were a huge stepping stone for the future of the team on the ice. Byfuglien was locked up for five seasons, tied with Ilya Kovalchuk for the longest contract in the franchise's existence. Mark Stuart extended his contract just 10 days after he was acquired from Boston. Locking up Stuart and Byfuglien solidifies a defense that already has Toby Enstrom and Ron Hainsey locked up through 2013. The fact that two significant pieces were willing to commit to Atlanta long-term is a huge positive for the team moving forward.

There were some other positives to note this season. Most notably were the play of Evander Kane, who proved he can be a dominant player. Bryan Little had a fine season, playing great two-way hockey. Eric Boulton and Chris Thorburn both had career seasons, including Boulton's first career hat trick. Alex Burmistrov started and finished the season extremely well, despite an expected lull in the middle as he adjusted to the NHL level of play. Burmistrov has legitimate top-line talent and hockey sense. Blake Wheeler showed that he can be a legitimate scoring threat after coming over from a flat-lining stint in Boston.

Going forward the Thrashers are in a very good piece. They are yet again a piece or two away from not only being a playoff contender. The difference between being a piece away this time and in years past is having a competent GM. We'll see how this summer plays out, but the Thrashers definitely put a lot of building blocks in place in the 2010-2011 season.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Thrashers Season Still Lined With Positives

With the Thrashers sitting seven points out of a playoff berth heading into Friday's tilt with the league-leading Vancouver Canucks, the odds of heading to the playoffs for the first time since 2006-2007 are highly unlikely. An 8-1-0 or 7-0-2 clip are likely required for the Thrashers to make it, which frankly doesn't happen to frequently in the NHL, especially for a team as inconsistent as the Thrashers.

In hindsight it's hard to see where things fell apart for the Thrashers, a team that seemed destined for the post-season in mid-December. But when all is said and done the 2010-2011 campaign is marked with positives as the Thrashers move forward.

Most importantly has been the "big game" experience for several of the Thrashers most important building blocks. Zach Bogosian, Evander Kane, Alexander Burmistrov and Ondrej Pavelec have all played huge roles for the Thrashers this season. As the team progresses forward, these kids will be the building blocks for the Thrashers. In the same way the Chicago Blackhawks did, it is important to rely on your kids and let them grow as a unit. Looking to the future the Thrashers will have most of their team back for next season. That kind of continuity is crucial in building a legitimate contender.

Kane has emerged as a legitimate power forward in the NHL. He has game-breaking ability as seen in a huge comeback win over Philadelphia and a pivotal win over the Rangers back on February 11th. As the team moves forward, Kane will be counted on to carry the team the same way Jonathan Toews is in Chicago. Kane has the complete package, with grit and skill and leadership capabilities that the team will need going forward.

Zach Bogosian has seen a one-eighty in his play as of late. Bogosian seems to understand that when he uses his skating to his advantage he is a much better player. Bogosian still has a ceiling as an elite defenseman. He can shoot, skate and has a physical edge to his game. Bogosian is already logging top-line minutes and will be counted on even more next season as the Thrashers will again push for their second playoff berth in franchise history.

Ondrej Pavelec has shown signs of brilliance this season. He has legitimate number one goalie written all over him. His next step is to put it together for a complete season. With Chris Mason's encouraging play lately, the two have the ability to complete a very formidable tandem moving forward.

The emergence of Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien have been crucial for the Thrashers as well. Ladd has already potted a career-high 27 goals with increased ice time and has shown tremendous leadership as well. Having a legitimate captain in place will only bode well for the Thrashers down the road. Ladd is flourishing in a scoring role, something he's never had throughout his career. He has seized the opportunity, as has Byfuglien, and the team will look to it's two big guns as it progresses.

Alex Burmistrov has added a little physical edge to his game and has an incredible amount of raw talent. While it may have been best to send Burmistrov back to juniors this season, the NHL experience will undoubtedly prove worthy. Having better adjusted to the NHL game, Burmistrov will be counted on more next season to win big face-offs and contribute more offensively. I look for Burmistrov to add to his goal total, perhaps optimistically finishing around 15 in his sophomore campaign.

One of the most important things for a team in the cap era is to keep it's core of young players together. With Bogosian, Pavelec, Little, Kane, Burmistrov, Ladd, Wheeler, and Schremp all at RFA status and Dustin Byfuglien, Mark Stuart, Chris Thorburn and Toby Enstrom all locked up through next season, the team looks to have its top players in tact for years to come. This will only prove to be important for the Thrashers, with a new coaching staff and a management overhaul. The team will grow naturally; keeping them together is important in the bigger picture.

While the team will likely be golfing in April this year, the experience of a playoff battle and going through the ups-and-downs this season can be viewed as positives. If you look at Chicago's progression, they missed the playoffs in 2007-2008, made it in 2008-2009 and made a run and then won the Cup in 2010. While the Thrashers aren't quite as talented as the Blackhawks, the point is this: having a core and keeping it are invaluable in the post-lockout era. While this season may have ended in disappointment, the future is still brighter than ever in Atlanta.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Thrashers New Toys: How Does It All Shake Out?

A busy few weeks for Thrashers GM Rick Dudley have concluded with today's NHL Trade Deadline. While the league as a whole was relatively quiet, with only 16 trades (there were 31 last year), the Thrashers were one of the busier teams on deadline day. The Thrashers sit four points out of a playoff spot and are hoping that a few moves today could lead to big things as the true stretch drive begins. Here is our breakdown of the Thrashers moves today, including waiver pick-ups and re-signings:


Looking back, it should have been obvious Patrick Rissmiller would be moved after getting the call up for one game last week (19 different scouts were at his only game as a Thrasher in Buffalo). But the big news is Niclas Bergfors, a centerpiece in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade a year ago. Bergfors notched 19 goals and 27 assists in his 79-game Thrashers career, both respectable numbers. But Bergfors got the infamous "enigmatic" label, which translates to "streaky" which can translate to lots of losses when you're not streaking the right way. As reported by Chris Vivlamore in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Rick Dudley agreed: "Bergy is a streaky player. We were in a situation where we needed him to be streaky the other way."

In return the Thrashers add a rental player in Dvorak, though with the Thrashers recent re-signing of Mark Stuart (more on that momentarily) nothing is out of the question. Dvorak was playing top penalty kill minutes in Florida, the 2nd best PK in the NHL. The Thrashers PK has plummeted to 28th in the NHL, only ahead of Colorado and Edmonton. It should come as no surprise that those are the two worst teams in the Western Conference. It should also come as no surprise that of the bottom-10 teams in the NHL in penalty kill, 7 of them are sitting outside the playoff picture. The moral? Adding a solid penalty killer could help the Thrashers immensely in winning games. Dvorak is also a big body with some scoring touch and fits much more nicely into Craig Ramsay's system than Bergfors, despite having much less talent. The ability to flip Rissmiller for a 5th-round pick is also helpful, as the Thrashers get some sort of an asset for a player that didn't figure into their plans at all. For what it's worth, the Thrashers took goaltender Fredrik Pettersson-Wentzel, who is a highly touted Swedish prospect, and Yasin Cisse with their 5th rounders in 2010.

Overall, the trade works out well for the Thrashers because of their subsequent move:


After giving up Bergfors, the Thrashers promplty swooped in and claimed Rob Schremp, the immensely talented forward off the waiver wire. Schremp's talent has never translated into results, with only 17 goals in 96 NHL games, but Schremp is only 24 and could benefit from a change of scenery. Schremp does have character questions which could come forth in Atlanta, but under Ramsay the move may work out, especially if Schremp has scoring talent around him.


Having seen Festerling play in Portland with the Pirates several years ago as a Ducks prospect, I can say that there are things to like about his game. He's got decent size for a defenseman and is a solid skater. He is a defensive defenseman but has 83 games of NHL experience. You can never have too many defenseman, and moving an AHL goalie will open up opportunities for prospects Edward Pasquale and Chris Carrozzi. I like this move as a whole, as minor as it may be.


As I mentioned in today's deadline blog I thought that a 7th rounder was adequate compensation for Modin. As it turns out, that's exactly what they got. While 7th round picks rarely translate to NHL talent, Modin was going to be the odd man out in Atlanta, likely play few of the remaining 19 games, and really had no place on the Thrashers. By getting even the least significant of assets in return, it was still a necessary move for the Thrashers.


Finally, the Thrashers were able to re-sign Mark Stuart for the next three years at a total of $5.1 million. It says a lot about Stuart, who has only played four games for the Thrashers. The ultimate team guy, Stuart skates well and could find some more offensive upside in Craig Ramsay's system. Stuart has already fought twice in a Thrashers uniform and has shown his willingness to stick up for his teammates. Stuart oozes character, something the Thrashers haven't always had, and is a nice piece for the Thrashers moving forward.


It was an active trade deadline for the team, and while many suggest the team moved laterally, I believe they have improved. They shedded some dead weight in Modin and MacIntyre, improved their Achilles heel in the penalty kill, and added a center with tremendous skill and hopefully unrealized 20-goal potential. Preceeding the deadline, the Thrashers added Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart, both of whom who have made a big impact already (Wheeler has 3 points in 4 games) and both of whom figure in the long term plans.

While many believe that more could have been had for Bergfors, I'm inclined to disagree. Fans frequently complain about his defensive play, hustle, and inconsistency. If fans can see these things, NHL scouts certainly can as well. Dvorak is a decent return for someone who could end up being a bust. There is the chance Bergfors will be a perennial 20-goal scorer, but his potential was probably not going to be realized in Atlanta's system.

Overall, the Thrashers had a solid day and now hopefully the continuity of the roster will lead them back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006-2007.