Could the answer to the Atlanta Thrashers horrible slide have to do with the lingering rumors of the team’s sale?
It is not inconceivable that rampant talk involving the team’s financial woes combined with all the stories suggesting the team may move to either Winnipeg or Quebec have resulted in a negative effect on its players.
The Hockey News recently ran a story identifying Atlanta as one of the three worst cities for a player to land.
The Thrashers were the success story of the NHL for most of the first half of the season. General Manager Rick Dudley and Coach Craig Ramsay deftly assembled a team vastly different from the Thrashers squad that just missed the playoffs after Ilya Kovalchuk’s departure.
Ridding the team of payroll with the departure of the troublesome Ilya Kovalchuk, Max Afinogenov, Clarke MacArthur, Pavel Kubina, Slava Kozlov, Todd White and others suggested to many preseason analysts that the Thrashers had all but given up the season and were on their way out of Phillips Arena quick, fast and in a hurry.
When the season began and the Thrashers won with regularity, scribes still found it difficult to believe the team was for real.
It took nearly 30-plus games for analysts to predict that the team would make the playoffs.
Dudley and Ramsay succeeded in engineering some remarkable trades while assembling a mixture of underachieving players with inconsistent NHL performances but undeniable junior hockey credentials and leadership experience.
The results at least in the first half were impressive enough to forecast Dudley and Ramsay for Executive and Coach of the Year honors.
The bottom started to fall out when rumors started to surface that the team was for sale and the Atlanta Spirit LLC partners were in court more than they were at hockey games.
Atlanta fans who had been disappointed so many times previously did not return as fast as the ownership would like, but there were signs that the fanbase was slowly returning.
With the losing streak unresolved, the Thrashers now are playing for a lot more than just the playoffs.
The team is now playing for their very life in Atlanta. Bloggers have referred to the recent turn of events as "an inevitable swan dive."
Without success, the ownership has sought investors and possible buyers, but it is unlikely anyone will take a serious look at a non-playoff team especially in today’s recessionary climate.
The bottom line for the Atlanta Thrashers is simple. The team must make the playoffs and fix their internal problems with haste.
Anything else could mean the loss of a team on the verge of becoming the story of the year just 11 games ago.
It will take leadership from Andrew Ladd and perhaps a few personnel moves by Ramsay and Dudley to right the ship before it is too late.
With key games on the horizon the time for action is right now.