The Atlanta Thrashers finished second in the Northeast Division last year. It's too bad for Atlanta because second place in the division was only good enough for 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
Finishing second in the division seems to be the only possible expectation for the Thrashers considering the dominance of the Washington Capitals within their division. The second-place finish was the best Atlanta has finished since 2006-07 when it won the division and reached the playoffs for the only time in the franchise's 11-year existence.
The Thrashers will definitely be worth keeping an eye on this season, not because of high expectations, but because this season represents a radical change in direction for the franchise. Without a doubt, after pairing Ilya Kovalchuk and Marion Hossa together and not being able to win a single playoff game, a change of direction is sorely needed.
If the goal is to win the Stanley Cup the Thrashers did the best job they could in the offseason of imitating the reigning champion Chicago Blackhawks, bringing aboard six players who etched their name on Lord Stanley’s Cup this past June.
They also completely purged the front office and coaching staff. It did not take them long either: just three days after the 2009-10 campaign concluded, coach John Anderson and his staff were out. The only General Manager the Thrashers ever knew, Don Waddell, became President of Hockey Operations and Rick Dudley took over GM duties.
Former Boston Bruins assistant coach Craig Ramsay was hired as head coach and through the summer Ramsay built his staff with assistants from different staffs around the league.
Many of these were risky moves, but it was clear with the lack of progress and dearth of fan approval that departures from the status quo had to be made.
Atlanta finished with 83 points last season, 88 were needed to reach the playoffs. Completely blowing up the roster may not have seemed necessary, but Atlanta management must have felt that this team was more than five points away from being a postseason contender.
The Atlanta Thrashers schedule opens at home against division favorites Washington on Friday, Oct. 8. Atlanta then begins a four-game road trip that starts in Tampa Bay and winds up on the West Coast from Los Angeles to Anaheim and then San Jose. Eight of Atlanta’s first 12 games are on the road.
Like a seasoned Black Friday shopper, Atlanta must have waited in line overnight for the Blackhawks fire sale to begin. They brought on board the high-character and versatile Dustin Byfuglien, winger Ben Eager, forwards Akim Aliu and Andrew Ladd and defensemen Brent Sopel. Atlanta only had to shed prospects and draft picks in the purge of the Blackhawks.
Free agent losses included Colby Armstrong to Toronto and Johan Hedberg to New Jersey. Armstrong will be sorely missed and the loss of Hedberg would have also been felt more acutely had Atlanta not brought in veteran goalie Chris Mason from St. Louis. Mason will spell Ondrej Pavelec in net. Pavelec started 42 games last season and finished with a 3.29 GAA compared to Hedberg’s 2.62 in 47 games.
Former winger Maxim Afinogenov is off to Russia to play in the KHL after scoring 24 goals last season. His 61 total points were second on the team only to center Nik Antropov.
Atlanta Thrashers Predictions: Outlook
There was nothing but upgrades all the way from the GM to the assistant coaches for Atlanta, but those should not pay dividends for at least another season. On the ice there was nothing but downgrades. Nobody can match Ilya Kovalchuck’s ability and the scoring from Afinogenov will be sorely missed as will the intangibles a Colby Armstrong brings to the team or the goaltending ability of Hedberg.
The Atlanta Thrashers should be one of the hungriest teams in the league after never having won a playoff game, but now the roster is chock-full of players in danger of a Stanley Cup hangover. The first year of this new experiment has ‘doom’ written all over it.
Atlanta Thrashers NHL Odds
The Atlanta Thrashers have longshot odds to win the Southeast Division (+2000), but then again doesn’t everybody besides the Capitals? Atlanta’s odds to win the Eastern Conference are +4000, the only teams with worse odds are the Panthers and Islanders. If you are looking for a lottery-sized payout, Atlanta is +80,000 to win the Stanley Cup. Their ‘over/under’ for season point total is 82.5. NHL odds are courtesy of BetUS.
NHL Predictions for Atlanta Thrashers
A year after finishing with 83 points the Thrashers’ over/under is 82.5 and that is without their two biggest offensive weapons and goalie issues. Atlanta will struggle to replace Kovalchuck, especially, and the whole Chicago Blackhawk reunion may backfire in a big way. Atlanta will come nowhere near 82.5 points.