The Atlanta Thrashers have officially been eliminated from playoff contention for yet another season.
It is difficult for Thrasher fans to fight back their disappointment and now consider what will come next for the team.
The Thrashers missed the playoffs because of several factors some are obvious and others not so obvious.
One of the obvious reasons is that they did not win enough games to qualify for the postseason.
The Thrashers just could not right their ship when all-star defenseman Toby Enstrom was forced out of the lineup with an injury. Enstrom’s departure created a ripple effect that seemed to take much of the air out of the team’s sails and diminish an impressive first half of performance.
Secondly, the opposition adjusted to Dustin Byfuglien's strengths and effectively neutralized the Thrashers' offensive scheme, resulting in a long string of heart-wrenching losses.
Big Buf, who leads all NHL defensemen with 20 goals, was at one time on track to score 27 for the season. With Enstrom on the sideline, it was easy to key in on the Thrashers other all-star defenseman and it worked, decreasing his productivity.
Thirdly, goaltending was inconsistent. Ondrej Pavelec was fantastic in the first half of the season but mostly average in the second half. Pavelec was one of the reasons the team got off to a great start and looked like they were a shoe-in to make the playoffs. Backup goaltender Chris Mason did not play well enough to allow Pavelec much time to rest or nurse any nagging injuries.
The biggest problem the team faced most of the second half was the constant rumors of the team moving.
In almost any newspaper and in every hockey related publication, there was some mention of the Thrashers moving. One week it was Winnipeg, then Quebec.
A Thrashers player who I spoke with but asked not to be quoted said ” No matter how hard you try to concentrate on just playing the game those rumors of the team leaving Atlanta do have an effect on player morale.”
Upon further analysis there are some bright spots.
The team frequently displayed a competitive resilience that has not been seen in many years. Many of the games they were lost were close contests often decide in the third period or by one goal.
The team also has a stable of good forwards and defensemen, including Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, Andrew Ladd, Mark Stuart, Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom, Johnny Oduya, Bryan Little and Pavelec.
All season, many real fans could see that the team was one player, a tier one or two forward away from a team that can compete every night.
Remember, it was just two years ago that the Thrashers almost exclusively relied on star forward Ilya Kovalchuk to win games. The team management must be commended for remaking the team into a competitive as well as cost efficient unit.
It is both sad and a bit telling that the Thrashers have come close to the same record without Kovy in the roster and a more balanced forward alignment.
Fans and team management have to be frustrated about the Thrashers inability to make the postseason but sometimes it is darkest before the dawn.
For the Thrashers we can only hope that is true.