What’s Happening Today with: Atlanta Thrashers
February 17, 2011 Leave a comment
Year one of the post-Ilya Kovalchuk era has gone the way the Atlanta Thrashers management team had hoped. Kovalchuk forced his way out of Atlanta last season, and the Thrashers obliged, trading him to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Johnny Oduya, rookie forward Niclas Bergfors, prospect Patrice Cormier and a draft pick. In the off-season, the Thrashers continued their transformation. The team replaced coach John Anderson with former Boston Bruins assistant Craig Ramsey. The Thrashers also had a change in the front office, hiring a new General Manager for the first time in team history. With former GM Don Waddell promoted to President of Hockey Operations, the team announced assistant GM Rick Dudley would take the reigns as acting GM.
Within days of being named to the position, Dudley completed a nine-player trade with defending Stanley Cup champion, the Chicago Blackhawks, that brought in veteran defenseman Brent Sopel, budding star defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, center Ben Eager and Akim Alui. In a separate trade with the Blackhawks, Dudley was also able to acquire star winger Andrew Ladd, who now serves as the team’s captain.
Between the trades and the talent the Thrashers have been able to develop, Atlanta has shown promise this season towards making the playoffs. Between the offensive output from the likes of Ladd, Byfuglien, young defenseman Tobias Enstrom and center Evander Kane, the Thrashers have been able to match the numbers of some of the top teams in the NHL.
While the offense hasn’t missed a beat without a star scorer on the level of Kovalchuk, what the team has in offense, lacks in defense. With their two best defensemen playing offensive-minded roles, the team has struggled on the penalty kill. As a team, the Thrashers rank 29th out of 30 NHL teams with a 76.4% penalty kill.
Also, the one area the Thrashers have historically struggled to fill is the role of goaltender. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec, in his first year as the team’s primary goaltender, is having a stronger season than most anticipated. But, at 2.59 goals allowed average, Pavelec is 20th of 40 goalies with the games to qualify in the rankings. As a team, the Thrashers are allowing 3.1 goals a game, 26th in the NHL.
With promising talent serving as offensive defenseman, the team will continue to search for stronger players on the blue line. Sopel, at 34, is helping the development of these players, but doesn’t have the youth the Thrashers would like as their number one defender. Look for the Thrashers to make a move at the approaching trade deadline to shore up this need.
Though the team has their holes, the Thrashers are competing. Currently tied for ninth in the Eastern Conference standings, Atlanta is only two points behind the eight and final seed in the East, the Carolina Hurricanes. With 24 games remaining, there is ample time for the team to make up the two point difference. Of those 24 games, the Thrashers have five games remaining with the three teams ahead of them or tied (New York Rangers, Hurricanes, and the Buffalo Sabres).
The Thrashers are competing a lot sooner than the average Atlanta fan had expected. Thanks to strong play from their young players and the veteran presence from players such as Sopel and center Nik Antropov, Atlanta has a chance to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07, their only playoff appearance in franchise history.