Playoffs a Necessity for the Thrashers

The Atlanta Thrashers were one of the teams at the trade deadline to make a major splash acquiring one of the more marquee players available. In adding a player like Keith Tkachuk, the team feels it has the necessary ingredients to make a big push for the playoffs. The team also acquired veterans Pascal Dupuis, Eric Belanger and Alexei Zhitnik giving the Thrashers sufficient depth to compete in the very tight Eastern Conference.

After those deals were consummated, many questioned the sanity of GM Don Waddell as he paid a significant price to acquire those 4 players at the deadline. All in all, Waddell has given up his first round pick in 2007 and potentially 2008 (in the Tkachuk deal), his 2nd round picks in 2007 and 2008 (one to acquire Vishnevski who in turn was traded for Belanger and one in the Tkachuk deal), a 3rd round pick and 2 former first round picks (Braydon Coburn and Alex Bourret) for 3 rentals and one expensive veteran past his prime.

The problem though is Waddell simply had to do something to improve his team’s chances at making the playoffs. After being comfortably in first in the Southeast Division and having a firm grip on the 3rd seed, the Thrashers slipped badly and are now hanging on to 6th precariously. Atlanta is one team that needs to make the playoffs. The stability and sustainability of the franchise depends on it.

Atlanta, despite a good team with legitimate star power, is a franchise that has a dwindling fan base (they play to just 86 percent capacity) and one that has seen some of their expansion cousins in Minnesota and Nashville already making a playoff appearance. The team came close last season and now need to take the next step. Missing the playoffs again will be devastating for the team and its long term future. It will also be devasting for Waddell and his coach Bob Hartley’s future.

This is why the team needed to make such a splash at the deadline. In the cap world, mortgaging that much of the future is not the ideal thing to do as really success will come from being able to surround their star players with good, cheap young talent that will allow cap flexibility. This takes some excellent drafting and that is hard to do when you move all your top picks in trades. But at the same time, teams have to weigh what matters most and for some like Atlanta, a playoff berth is far more important than anything else.

Indeed Atlanta paid a stiff price. Likely though in their eyes they could afford to. Many were shocked at the Zhitnik for Coburn deal as Coburn was deemed to be one of the teams better prospects. But Atlanta has built up a stable of good young defenceman that may cushion the blow of losing a future NHL regular. Boris Valabik was a top 10 pick in 2004 and the team is really high on the 6’7 monster on defence. While he’ll need some seasoning, he is the physical presence they need. Mark Popovic and Nathan Oystrick are both playing well for one of the best teams in the AHL and have good offensive potential. Grant Lewis who is playing in the NCAA currently is a steady stay at home blueliner who has played well in the US junior program. So while Coburn was a bright prospect, the Thrashers likely felt they could afford to give him up for someone who could help them now and next season.

Moving Bourret and that many draft picks was very odd as it could be a while before the team can replenish their cupboard of forwards that is quickly becoming bare. But Atlanta perhaps felt they had enough young talent up front. Bryan Little is probably their young player not with the team currently. He is projected to be one of their top centres for years to come. While a little older than most prospects, Darren Haydar may have a future with the team. He is currently one of the leading scorers in the AHL. His linemate in Chicago, Brett Sterling has been a scoring machine as the top goal getter in the A and his emergence probably allowed Bourret, another goal scorer, to be expendable. The team also has Riley Holzapfel and Jim Slater with the current club that could provide Atlanta with a solid defensive presence up front. So Atlanta does have a good mix of scorers and role players that may contribute at some point in the future.

Ilya Kovalchuk of course is still under 25 and is the team’s franchise player. Marian Hossa is only 28 and in the prime of his career and yet another franchise type the Thrashers are building around. Kari Lehtonen is only 22 and one of the best young goalies in the NHL. These 3 players are the core of the franchise and because none are old by any stretch, the future of the team is still in relatively good hands despite a large portion of picks and players being shipped out. Any success or failure will hinge on these 3, so Waddell likely was comfortable moving the potential bit parts the he has accumulated and getting help for the current squad.
While Tkachuk is not a natural centre, he has been playing there all season for the Blues and the team deemed him to be the best available at that position once Peter Forsberg became unavailable. So the Thrashers are hoping he fits well with Kovalchuk. This should give them excellent scoring balance as the 2nd line features Hossa and Slava Kozlov providing Atlanta with a formidable 1-2 scoring lines. Atlanta was also a team that lacked speed and depth on the 3rd and 4th lines but that problem should be solved with the acquisitions of Belanger and Dupuis. Belanger will also help with faceoffs which is yet another weakness in the team that Waddell addressed.

On defence, the team needed more mobility and a steadier defensive presence and they hope Zhitnik fits that bill. He has been used on past teams as the key shutdown guy and has fared well. He also brings more playoff experience to the backend. The team already had the likes of Niklas Havelid and Steve McCarthy to provide some offence but it will be Zhitnik who will add more to the powerplay from the point. And players such as Andy Sutton, Greg Devries and Garnet Exelby have not really done a great job in their own end as expected.

Like all teams, everything will ride on goaltending and while the team did not add any help to this position, it was already a strength for the Thrashers. The problem is the duo of Lehtonen and Johan Hedberg have been inconsistent of late and it has cost Atlanta points in the standings. Regardless of what they acquired, all the teams hopes will depend on Lehtonen or Hedberg.

Atlanta has done the job filling the required needs to make a big playoff push. With the talent they have, they could cause some problems in the playoffs and be a real darkhorse in the East. A long playoff run will go a long way to helping Atlanta build a stronger fan base and increase interest in the team. But if their plans do not work out, it could be a long few years for the Thrashers that could put the team’s future in jeopardy.

6 Responses to Playoffs a Necessity for the Thrashers

  1. ThomasHawks says:

    I dont understand how come they give up Bourret for Dupuis???po fort.

  2. rangers914 says:

    as a ranger fan i was thrilled to get Alex Bourett for a 3rd liner winger at best in dupuis atlanta might has well traded them a 1st round draft choice which is basically what they did

    the ranger front office said that if they had not traded up to draft marc stall in the 05' draft it is very likely that they would have chosen alex bourett

    alll in all atlanta is on a one way street to cup or bust theyve thrown away theyre next 5 years to try and win a cup with a team this year that is not up to par with the other league powers like new jersey and buffalo

  3. wingerxxx says:

    It's hard to blame Waddell for making moves.  It is definitely make or break time for Atlanta right now.  The problem I have is the player he chose to try and put his team over the top.

    Tkachuk is a maddening player.  He could definitely have been one of the all time greats, given his combination of power and skill.  But let's face it, he is on the downside of his career.  His wheels are going on him, as seen in the Olympics last year.  

    Waddell could have made a run for Bill Guerin, who can actually perform in the playoffs.  Or even try for Forsberg, who would have addressed a need of the team's…a center.  Regardless of his injury issues.  But he decided to trade the farm for Keith Tkachuk.  I've said it on here before, and I'll say it again….he's proven time and again that he is not a difference maker.  St. Louis made the same mistake with him.  They traded the farm for him too, and at the time, they were a pretty good team. 

    Compounding this is that they will have Tkachuk playing center, where he is not at his best.  So, you give up a huge package for a player who is not only a colossal playoff disappointment, but won't be playing at his natural position of left wing. 

    Considering Tkachuk's past, and the fact that he is just not a go-to guy when it counts….I just don't like how this looks.  I don't believe that "just making the playoffs" is a legitimate goal.  That's a lot like saying that you would settle for second best.  I don't care what your team's history is, or the capacity of the crowds you are playing to.  If you want to make moves, you do it to win.  And win when it counts.  The Thrashers have decided on the wrong player for this purpose.  Yes, Zhitnik helps the blueline, but he hasn't exactly been a proven playoff performer either.  And Tkachuk is the centerpiece of Atlanta's deadline performance. 

  4. NjDEVSFN says:

    I'm glad the Devils don't have to play these guys any more. 1-7 vs them since last season, so I've had enough with them!

    They made moves because the ownership needs to get into the playoffs or else the future of the team is in true doubt.

    Come playoff time, I may still NOT want to play these guys.

  5. AHLoldie says:

    I don't think the Atlanta Thrashers are any different than any of the other 25 or 26 teams that will lose money in the regular season.  Here in Pittsburgh, it is well documented that the Pens have to go at least two rounds in the playoffs to break even, and that is with their low payroll.  The other teams are in the same boat unless they have fantastic TV revenues.  When you're paying 40 Mil in salaries, you just can't make that back in 41 home games when you have to cover all expenses.  That's why the league knows it can't put a team in Winnipeg or Quebec.  Both the NHL and the fans would love it but it's fiscally impossible.

  6. cecilturtle says:

    Unlike Rangers914, I feel Dupuis is a forward that could play on any of the top 4 lines.  Dupuis is a great defensive player with world class speed who scores about 20 goals each year… Look for him to earn at least 2 million $$$ next year when he signs his free agent contract.  I'm just glad the Devils are strapped $$$ with the cap because Dupuis is the exact type player NJ seems to fill their roster with every year.  Anyway, maybe Bourret was too much to give up for Dupuis and also a 3rd round draft pick???  But I could see Dupuis being one of the best players for Atlanta down the stretch and into the playoffs…  Actually, including all the other tradeline deals Atl made, the only thing that I could envission stopping Atlanta from making the playoffs and having a very very very successful run towards the cup,,, is a Mark Messier type guarentee by Don Waddell about  their certain upcoming playoff success!


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