Will Atlanta Thrashers Be a Contender or Miss the Playoffs Yet Again?
The Atlanta Thrashers once again missed the playoffs during the 2008-09 season and were left with many issues to resolve.
In order to be in playoff contention for the 2009-10 season, the Thrashers have thus far resolved many of these issues.
But there are still questions concerning the Thrashers' organization.
Will they solve the problem of an average D-line?
Will players following Ilya Kovalchuk become high caliber players to help make a playoff push?
Will the playoffs be a reality this season?
And the biggest question of all, will Kovalchuk re-sign with Atlanta when he becomes a free agent?
The Thrashers had a fairly young blue-line lineup last season. No one really led the defense, and their average size was near the 200 pounds mark.
A trade with Toronto will add the 244-pound, 32-year-old Pavel Kubina to the Thrashers' lineup.
This is just the blue-liner they needed. Kubina's experience and size is the best addition to this defense crowd.
Aside from Kovalchuk, there is no more ammunition in the Thrashers' lineup. No game changers.
This has been a need for a couple of years now: the need for a few more guns to be added to the roster.
Atlanta got an NHL-caliber player to add to their roster in this year's draft: Evander Kane. He will be an addition, and is expected to play with the Thrashers this season.
He will undoubtedly add a spark to this team, but will it be enough?
Atlanta's roster is full of forwards that make for a 27th place NHL team. These players are support players that are being put in dynamic roles in which they don't belong.
Atlanta needs to add more game changers.
The signing of Nik Antropov will not only impact the Thrashers, but the whole division. His size combined with his ability to make plays will be the perfect complement to Kovalchuk's speed and deadly accurate shot.
Antropov and Kovalchuk have already played together in a Russian league and already developed chemistry. I predict Kovy passing Ovy for the Maurice Richard Trophy in 2010.
Atlanta cannot rely completely on Antropov and Kovalchuk. They still have $20 million left in their salary cap, but only have 14 of the minimum 20 players needed to sign.
If they can re-sign players at average salaries, they can come out with anywhere around $3 million to $6 million.
This leaves them plenty of room to add on another right wing to their roster.
Alexei Kovalev, Maxim Afinogenov, and Miroslav Satan are still on the market and would fall between the available cap space left after the re-signing process.
If Atlanta can create a first line that is feared when their skates hit the ice, it will make the team play much better as a whole. Instead of relying on just one player, having three at your disposal allows other players to feel more confident on the team.
The combination of having Kari Lehtonen (if he re-signs) in goal, Pavel Kubina leading the defense, and Kovalchuk, Antropov, and hopefully one more dynamo leading the forwards, I can guarantee a playoff berth going to the Atlanta Thrashers.
If a superstar lineup can be made this offseason, Kovalchuk will have a difficult decision on his hands. It will become even harder if Atlanta makes a great run in the playoffs.
Many teams will be out to get the superstar, but he will choose the team that best fits him in terms of a Stanley Cup that will be able to afford him.
Will Atlanta be that team?
I think they can be if they can continue to make stellar transactions during this offseason.
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