Finally, it’s time to drop the puck. After a long offseason for Thrashers fans, that time can’t come soon enough. A couple of key additions as well as a couple key subtractions are what the Atlanta Thrashers are hoping to take hold of in their journey to another playoffs berth. This time, they’re no longer content with one round of the playoffs.
There is little argument that the 2009 offseason is the most important offseason in franchise history for the Thrashers. Captain Ilya Kovalchuk will enter the final year of his contract, and General Manger Don Waddell is desperate to keep the team’s most recognizable name on the squad long-term.
Despite an atrocious first half of the season, the Thrashers finished 22-19 the last half of the season, finishing .500 or greater for February, March, and April. They went 9-4 for the month of March. Does this mean Atlanta is a playoffs winner? Far too early to tell, but this does mean that the Thrashers will need to start the way they finished—strong—if they want to make their first playoffs appearance since leading the Southeast in 2007.
Atlanta has two major additions: Pavel Kubina who helped Tampa Bay’s defense to a Stanley Cup title in 2004. Since joining the Maple Leafs, he has 101 points and -3 in 215 games. Thrown in to Atlanta’s top-6 is Nik Antropov who played with Ilya Kovalchuk during the 2004-2005 NHL lockout. He has 304 points and +53 in 527 games, all but 18 with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
They also have added by subtraction. By the latter half of the 08-09 season, the Thrashers have chipped off ineffective players like Erik Christensen, Jason Williams, and Mathieu Schneider. Free agents like Eric Perrin will not be considered in the coming lineup.
Keys to success for the Thrashers:
- Consistency! The Thrashers may be the streakiest team of the last decade.
- Healthy and/or consistent goaltending on both Kari Lehtonen and Johan Hedberg. Drew MacIntyre and Ondrej Pavelec will also try to earn a spot on the full-time roster.
- Penalty killing is a must-improve. The Thrashers finished with the worst PK last season at 76% and the second-most PPGA at 32.
- No distractions due to the Kovalchuk situation. If he wants to sign at all, he won’t do it before October. The ownership, general manager, coach, and rest of the team should show Kovalchuk that they are committed to winning in the playoffs.
- Confidence. Coach John Anderson’s system has won multiple championships for the Chicago Wolves in the IHL and AHL. According to the AJC, the players finally realize the importance of trusting the coach and their linemates.
- A strong first six games. The Thrashers will open against Tampa Bay at home, and play five games on the road after.
This team shouldn’t be discounted for playoff contention, but the only real way to tell if Atlanta has improved is to see when the puck drops.