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Atlanta Thrashers: Five Questions Facing the Thrashers in the Upcoming Season

Jason FeigelContributor ISeptember 19, 2009

PITTSBURGH - MARCH 17: Johan Hedberg #1 of the Atlanta Thrashers puts the net back on its moorings in his game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 17, 2009 at the Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Top Five Questions for the Atlanta Thrashers

1) Goaltending

There are, unfortunately, many issues for this team and goaltending is probably at the top of the list this year. With Kari Lehtonen coming back from another injury and surgery, can he get back into the form he had when Atlanta drafted him and stay healthy for the rest of the season when he gets back on the ice.

Thrasher fans are fine knowing that “Moose” Johan Hedberg is a very capable backup and can fill in if Kari starts off bad or gets injured again.

They still have Ondrej Pavelec, who is coming off knee surgery himself and didn’t progress like the Atlanta brass had hoped but actually regressed with his play. Granted, he didn’t have a great team or even a good defense in front of him in Chicago, but his stunt at the start of last season didn’t help either (for those that don’t know or remember, Pavelec threatened not to report to the AHL).

So we’ll see who, if anybody, gets traded when Kari is healthy, or if Ondrej leaves for Europe.

2) Defense

Everyone knows about Zach Bogosian, Ron Hainsey and Tobias Enstrom, and what they can do on the ice. Insert Pavel Kubina for Garnet Exelby. While the Thrashers gain more offense with Kubina, I feel like they lose some intensity and the threat of someone who could lay out a forward with a good clean hit along the boards at anytime.

It looks like a great top four, but the back end is iffy at best. With Nathan Oystrick, Boris Valabik, Anssi Salmela and try-out invitee Mark Popovic fighting it out for the last three spots. Oystrick and Valabik are looking good for two of those spots (unless they fall off the face of the earth in camp). 

Valabik needs to get quicker and stop taking lazy penalties or else he’s going to be sitting in the press box a lot in favor of Salmela.

3) Secondary Scoring

Beyond Ilya and Slava Kozlov the Thrashers have a mix and match of players to fill out the rest of the four lines. Three big keys are going to be Nik Antropov scoring at least 70 points to prove that the lucrative contract he received was actually a good move by Don Waddell. The other two key guys are Bryan Little and Rich Peverley.

Can Little keep progressing and get to the 40 goal, 80 plateau that he is capable of? As for Peverley, can he continue where he left off last year scoring points game after game or disappear and be threatened with a trip to the AHL (which is the reason Atlanta got him in the first place).

4) Coaching

Can John Anderson continue preaching his ways of the game, or if the team gets off to a bad start, will the players stop listening and go in the drain? By the end of last season, it had seemed that the players were making strides as a team along with playing John’s system pretty well.

If that continues and the new guys come in and make a seamless transition, the team could be in pretty good shape not to be picking in the top five again next June.

5) Ilya Kovalchuk Contract Situation

Is he going to re-sign or not? Everyone knows that Ilya wants a lot of money and how hesitant the Thrashers are about big long contracts (see Marian Hossa), but if the team starts well and is still in contention around the trade deadline, will he be dealt by Waddell?

Waddell has had a history of making bad trades and signings throughout his tenure with this organization (Alexei Zhitnik trade just to name one of the many).

I know that Ilya has stated he would like to re-sign and is happy with the players that they have acquired this offseason, but us fans know that the team is not much better and far from contenders.

Maybe, just maybe, the drafting of Evander Kane and some of the talent that will be back and forth between Chicago and Atlanta (Spencer Machacek, Joey Crabb, Angelo Esposito just to name a couple) can keep Ilya interested in staying for a few more years. We’ll see next March.

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