Atlanta Thrashers Mid-Season Report

After the terrible tragedy, not much was expected of Atlanta. But they started this very emotionally charged season with a bang, coming out of the gate quickly. And that spirited play continued after the emotion of the early season, due in large part to Bob Hartley who has done an incredible job of keeping this team together.

Ilya Kovalchuk filled the offensive void left by Heatley’s absence and took this team as his own, carrying them at times. And despite losing one of the better forwards in the league, the Thrashers have surprisingly been one of the best offensive teams in the league, playing a wide-open and entertaining style of hockey. Unfortunately, the defense has been less than stellar. And a rash of injuries is now starting to plague the team. We’ll see if Hartley has any more tricks left in his bag.


Offense: Kovalchuk, Savard, Kozlov, McEachern and Kaberle have led a very impressive display of offense thus far. The grinders have a lot to do with that as well; Cowan, Petrovicky and Robitaille have chipped in more than most would have thought.

Coaching: Bob Hartley has given this team the confidence that they can win every night despite the fact that most other teams have more talent. And he has held them together emotionally as well, a factor which is more important than any other given the circumstances of this season.

New ownership: Anything that gets the team away from AOL/Time Warner is a good thing. From what little I’ve seen, the new owners have a dedication and passion for making this a good team. Money should not be an issue, no matter what the outcome of the new CBA will be.


Defense: Inconsistency on the defensive side has been a big problem for Atlanta this year, and is something that needs to be addressed if the team is going to fight for a playoff spot. They’ve shown at times they can play a defensive game, but it isn’t always there.

Injuries: Losing two starters from the outset wasn’t a great omen for a team that wasn’t very deep to begin with. But Atlanta made the best of it. Now they will be tested again. Tremblay and Majesky have already missed significant portions of the season, Savard came back from torn ligaments but is out again with a concussion, Cowan and Aubin are also out with concussions, Lindsay is gone for the season, Sutton is out indefinitely with a broken foot, Klocuek is as ever hurt.

Dan Snyder: The biggest down of them all. For the players, the emotion of his passing has slightly diminished, to the point where they can each accept what has happened and move on. But that emotion will never completely fade, he will always be a part of each players’ thoughts. That’s what I have witnessed by closely watching these players. There will always be reminders of Dan Snyder, but each man on the team is doing his best to turn those reminders into something positive. It can’t always be done, but I have seen that the effort to do so is there. As for Dany Heatley, his burden is overwhelming. One large step in his return to a semblance of normality will be teammate Slava Kozlov, who unfortunately went through a very similar experience 12 years ago.

Grades – Forwards

Ilya Kovalchuk: So young, so passionate, so skilled. Leads the league in scoring despite having a rotating group of line mates for the entire season. The sky is the limit. A+

Marc Savard: Despite tearing ligaments in his ankle, he came back quickly and continued to show his tremendous offensive skill. And yes, he is definitely a first line center. A

Slava Kozlov: Very calm on the ice, he makes the players around him better. Has a knack for scoring at crucial times. A-

Shawn McEachern: Leads by example, always plays hard no matter what. And his increased offense has been a pleasant surprise. B+

Jeff Cowan: Does the dirty work, and very surprisingly has added some offense to his game. When healthy, he makes the team much tougher to play against. B+

Patrick Stefan: Looks good at times, looks bad at times. The skill is there, but he still hasn’t exactly figured out what his game is going to be. C-

Ronald Petrovicky: The energy guy who somehow has turned into a goal-scorer. Plays every shift like it’s his last. A steal from the waiver draft. B+

Randy Robitaille: Hasn’t been flashy, but has been effective. Could be better if he added a bit more consistency to his game. B-

Serge Aubin: Has played well despite being put in some offensive situations for the first time. Injured recently, which does hurt the team. B

JP Vigier: Started off playing very physical which helped his game, but has gotten out of that habit recently. And his game has suffered for it. C-

Ben Simon: Played his role as agitator well since the trade. B-

Francis Lessard: Team goon, but has shown more discipline recently. Always works hard despite limited skill. C-

Bill Lindsay: Another hard worker, brought up as a veteran presence. But unfortunately his season is now over after surgery to repair a fracture larynx. C-

Zdenek Blatny: Limited games but has done his job thus far. B-

Grades – Defensemen

Garnet Exelby: A brutal hitter, but doesn’t get out of position because of it. Has shown great technique and poise for a rookie defenseman. A future brick wall for the team. A+

Andy Sutton: A monster on skates, but needs to use that size more and make some better decisions in his own end. Despite the faults, he has played very well and his injury will hurt the team. B+

Frank Kaberle: Not overly physical, but he is rarely if ever out of position. And he is finally showing that passing ability that he has always had. B+

Ivan Majesky: Solid in his own end, has been good when paired with Exelby. Just getting back from a knee injury, tough to say how that will impact his play. B

Chris Tamer: His leadership is his biggest asset, his slowness of foot might outweigh that on the negative side. Still a good warrior to have around. C-

Yannick Tremblay: Not always the most consistent Dman. And needs to realize the goal is only 6 feet wide, not 20. Needs improvement. D+

Daniel Tjarnqvist: An enigma, looks good on occasion and looks downright horrid on others. Needs to find that comfort zone. C-

Tomas Kloucek: Has looked decent when healthy, which is a rare thing. Hard to depend on a Dman who is apparently made of cheap glass. C-

Grades – Goaltenders

Pasi Nurminen: Acrobatic and flashy in his style, he has played well thus far. Recently he has had some bad games, mostly due to the fact that he is wearing down a bit. First time being the starter in the NHL, it was expected. Needs some rest, but he should be fine. B

Byron Dafoe: It was tough for him playing very little early in the season, but he handled it well. Has shown some signs of life in the last month, but spot duty in goal probably won’t help his play all that much. We’ll see though. C+

Grades – Coaches

Bob Hartley: He is the glue for this team. He has given the players a winners mentality. Demanding and hard, what the Thrashers have desperately needed. An excellent teacher and motivator, he drives each player to be better. And so far, that is working. At the mid-way point, one of the leaders for the Adams. A+

Brad McCrimmon: He is the tactician for the team. His experience and knowledge of the defensive game has been important to this team, despite their lackluster stat of goals against. His contributions are a bit tough to see right now, but they will pay off in the future. A-

Steve Weekes: Primarily the defensive coach, but as a former NHL goalie he works with the netminders as well. Another intense individual, he does a good job in keeping the players focused. B+

Possible Changes

With pretty much every team bunkering themselves in from a money standpoint, changes will potentially be very risky. That being said, the Thrashers need to look for someone to captain their blueline. Someone who has been through the wars. As the deadline approaches, we’ll have a better view of who can be brought in. But Atlanta desperately needs to get that defenseman if they are still in the hunt after the next two months. This team has never mortgaged the future to get a player (never had the opportunity to before actually), and they won’t do it this time. The GM and his staff are too smart for that. They may over-pay a little, but nothing damaging to the future.

As for the name of this defenseman, pick one that fits the description and could be available. I sure as hell don’t know. I’ve never thrown out names of potentials, mostly because I don’t have a clue who my GM is looking towards. And I’m definitely not gonna start now, even if it would be fun just to toss around a few names. I’ll leave the name-game up to you.

From an offensive perspective, Atlanta needs little help. All they need is to get healthy and stay that way. Although getting a veteran for a reasonable draft pick seems like something this team would do if the opportunity presents itself.

What to Expect the Rest of the Way

That’s one hell of a question. Trying to guess what will become of this team has led to an awful lot of bad guesses thus far. They have done better than anyone thought (including me) and under some tough circumstances. When they struggle and people are starting to count them out, they rebound. I only know one thing for certain; this team will never quit. They have been installed with a sense of resiliency. Some obstacles may prove to be too much in the end, but I know that they won’t quit trying this season. That will show in their play for the remainder of the year.

I’ve never once said anything about how the Thrashers will finish the year. But for the first time, I will. If they can survive their injuries, I can see this team making the playoffs. Maybe winning the division or just sneaking into that last playoff spot. Why do I think this? Because they have heart, and a coach that gets the best out of his players. Some of you may think that I’ve over-done this emotional vibe quite a bit, but there is a reason behind it. Whatever you may think of the situation, this season for the Thrashers is and will always be about that emotion. For the family and friends, players and coaches, management and staff; those feelings won’t go away. All they can do is make the best of it.

8 Responses to Atlanta Thrashers Mid-Season Report

  1. AfroCon says:

    I don’t know the Trashers that much but one thing is for sure, they are in a weak division which is why I don’t have any problems seeing them win their division because frankly, other than Tampa, I don’t see Florida, Carolina or Washington making a run for it.

    You never know what can happen of course with injuries and sudden winning streaks so we’ll see…

  2. MossRocks says:

    …how the grades are reflective of your overall comments. How is there an A+, two B+’s and a B for a defensive core that’s given up 126 goals? And how does ‘defensive coach’ Steve Weekes get a B+?

    Two questions: Does the fact that Kovalchuk is still -5 despite massive offensive production worry you? Secondly, I really, really like Exelby but since when does 6A, 6P and a -8 get you an A+? Actually, let’s make it three – what’s the future of Stefan? He is starting to look out of place on this team.

    Overall, this was an excellent midseason report.

  3. d_only_Flames_Fan says:

    Everyone has a tendency to overrate their own teams. Dont worry about it, we’re only allowed to make fun of them if they cheer for the damn leafs.

  4. d_only_Flames_Fan says:

    make fun of them for it, that is

  5. Habfanforever says:

    I think Kovalchuk will leave his mark in the NHL in a good way. He has stated that he wanted to be the best player in the NHL out of Russia. He is a proud player and a fierce competitor on top of all his skills. Even though over the years, Europeans were criticized for showing little or no heart in important games or having somewhat less interest in the Stanley cup as North Americans, I think Kovalchuk is the kind of European who will push himself away from popular belief.

    I also think that he may help Heatley regain his form after the tragedy and the two of them can head Atlanta into a more than promising future.

    I’m just wondering how long will it be until we see Lehtonen.

  6. cwthrash says:

    The grades aren’t entirely reflective of my overall comments when it comes to the Dmen. The forwards in front of them have a decent amount to do with the overall defense of the team, and it goes without saying that the goalies do as well. And the Dmen I gave bad grades to have been the cause for more than a few problems this season. If I gave a percentage of each Dman’s contribution to the overall defensive effort, there might have been more of a balance. Such a breakdown is way beyond me, given I only view the team from a fan’s perspective and have no real knowledge of the team.

    But I think that it’s more of a team effort in that category of goals against, not simply a reflection on how each individual defenseman has performed. I graded them according to my perception of how they’ve performed thus far. A bit biased probably, but not too bad I hope.

    To your questions:

    1) Doesn’t worry me too much about Kovalchuk. He is making a great effort this year to be better defensively. He will most likely never be a two-way player, but he is trying his best. That’s about all I can ask of any player, especially one with such offensive gifts.

    2) For Exelby, it’s his presence as a rookie. Granted, his stats don’t scream out great. But given the circumstances of the team and the fact that he is a rookie that has be given so much responsibility, he has been an enormous help to the team. Hartley trusts him as much as anyone on a weak defensive team, and he comes through most times. Maybe I could have taken off the + for him, but an A nonetheless.

    3) Your guess is as good as mine about Patrick. He’s up, he’s down. I honestly don’t know. Can’t say if I’m a supporter or a detractor at this point.

    Glad that you hit me with some good questions about my report. Rare for me to get scrutinized productively here about Atlanta. Something I’ve been wanting more of, makes me think more about what I write.

  7. cwthrash says:

    Lehtonen is being brought along slowly.

    Goaltending is tough enough, but to play that position against a North American style for the first time requires some practice. That’s what the organization feels, even though he was the best goalie for the past two years in the Finnish League, regarded as the second best pro league in the world behind the NHL.

    At the least, he’ll finish this year in the AHL. Unless Atlanta really tanks towards the end and gives him a couple games at the end of the season (hopefully that won’t happen). His progress and acclimation will of course be the ultimate factor. But the team won’t hesitate to keep him in the AHL for at least part of next year if they feel it necessary, especially since the present situation in goal is favorable. Lehtonen himself said that it might take one year, it might take two years in the minors to be ready for the NHL; he doesn’t know. But he wants to be fully prepared when he gets on the roster for good.

    We know he’s got the skills, and it looks very much like he has the mentality to grow with the position. It might take another year or so, but it should be worth the wait for us Thrasher fans.

  8. Lint07 says:

    The Threashers are very impressive this season. I said it once and I’ll say it again, If before the trade deadline they acquire a solid defensive d-men, when Heatley comes back they’ll probably finish between 6th and 8th and be the most dangerous team of the East in the playoffs. I wouldn’t like to be the team facing them.

    I was impressed at how much Hartley truts Kovalchuk the other day.. In the game against my Habs, Atlanata had 4 x 2mins PP and 1 x 4mins PP for a total of 12 minutes. On that total, Kovalchuk stayed on the ice 11 minutes and 40 seconds, including the entire 4 minute power play. Heatley’s comeback will get some pressure out of Kovalchuk’s shoulder, which is a good thing.

    Good article!

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