2010-11 NHL season preview: Atlanta Thrashers

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for studlydudley.jpgLast season: (35-34-13, 83 points, 2nd in Southeast Division, 10th in Eastern Conference) Considering that the Thrashers got rid of Ilya Kovalchuk and Kari Lehtonen, it’s a solid testament to the team that they actually stayed in playoff contention until (just about) the very end. Still, it’s probably best that former GM Don Waddell, who is now the team president, might leave the personnel decisions to new GM Rick Dudley, even if Dudley hasn’t received high marks from Jeremy Roenick.

Head coach: Dudley (and by extension, the Thrashers) are being accused of being a Southeast version of the Chicago Blackhawks. Ramsay’s been an assistant coach for ages and a head coach for brief periods of time, most recently with the Boston Bruins, so experience shouldn’t be an issue. New ideas and innovative thoughts? Well, we’ll have to wait and see.

Key departures: F Maxim Afinogenov, F Clarke MacArthur, F Colby Armstrong, F Johan Hedberg, D Pavel Kubina, F Todd White. Really, the biggest departures happened before last season concluded, with two should-have-been franchise players in Kovalchuk and Lehtonen leaving via trades. Afinogenov put up a nice bit of points last season (61), but his one-dimensional game won’t be missed. Both MacArthur and Armstrong wanted far more money than they were worth while Hedberg was squeezed out and Kubina left via free agency. The only guy that left during the offseason they really should miss is Kubina.

Key arrivals: G Chris Mason, F/D Dustin Byfuglien, F Ben Eager, F Akim Aliu, D Brent Sopel, F Andrew Ladd, F Nigel Dawes. Much like he makes waves when he cannon balls into swimming pools, the trade to bring Byfuglien is the splashy move. Mason, however, might be the bigger acquisition. The other two trends in Atlanta were a) adding former Chicago Blackhawks and b) adding black players. Both are interesting strategies, with the latter being a clever play on local demographics (while hopefully being a good opportunity for minority hockey players).

byfuglieninatlanta.jpgUnder pressure: The team will have a grace period for at least a year, but perhaps Byfuglien will be under the heat a little bit. The pressure would be greater if the big guy came into camp overweight or played at the more numbers-oriented position of forward, but as a defenseman, that might be diffused a little bit. Other than that, management is under the most scrutiny.

Protecting the house: Mason brings a nice amount of experience and stability to a goaltending position that was often in a state of chaos with departed former No. 1 Lehtonen (Mason can also bring an astounding, Abe Lincoln reminiscent playoff beard to the table if Atlanta gets that far). Ondrej Pavelec showed flashes of brilliance last year and it’s good that he’ll either be a backup or a 1b because it didn’t seem like he was quite ready for the top job. This duo of goalies is better than the steady-but-unspectacular pair in Tampa Bay.

I was inclined to say that Byfuglien is better off as a forward since that’s a thinner position while Atlanta might be (borderline) stacked on D. The team has a host of solid-to-good offensive types, with Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and Ron Hainsey drawing the biggest minutes. Johnny Oduya (the kids like to call him, “Oh do ya?”) and Brent Sopel round up a group that might lack a true elite player but looks impressively deep on paper.

Top line we’d like to see: Evander Kane-Bryan Little-Byfuglien. I’m not the world’s biggest Nik Antropov fan, so I opted for this old trio of forwards. Kane is an up-and-coming forward who might be most famous for dropping the Penguins’ Matt Cooke with one punch. Little is an underrated scorer who is one season removed from a 30-goal campaign. Byfuglien is a crease-crashing nightmare when he’s focused. Sure, this is a pretty impotent top line, but it would be fun to watch.

Oh captain, my captain: The Thrashers haven’t had a captain since Kovalchuk was traded, and honestly, there isn’t an obvious choice for that position right now. Maybe Bogosian becomes a star and leader, perhaps Little takes on a bigger role or maybe the team waits for a voice to emerge in the locker room. But, really, you shouldn’t just name a captain for the sake of naming a captain, so don’t begrudge the team for taking its time.

slaterfightshartnell.jpgStreet fighting man:  Ben Eager gets into scraps (though he often comes out on the losing end) while Eric Boulton was their top pugilist last season. Chris Thorburn and Jim Slater are still hanging out in Atlanta. Boulton hasn’t seen a fight he didn’t like much either, leading the team with 13 fights last season. Let’s just say that Atlanta might not be that much tougher to beat on the scoreboard this season, but you’ll leave their games sore and bruised far more often.

Best-case scenario: Atlanta harnesses its greatest strengths (defense, stable goaltending) and bludgeons their way to a solid sixth seed. That combination bodes well for a match against a weak Northeast Division winner (likely Buffalo or Boston) that provides a favorable opponent. The Thrashers sneak into the second round, but then their lack of forward talent is exposed.

Worst-case scenario: Byfuglien floats through the regular season while the Thrashers struggle mightily to score goals. Bogosian doesn’t make the jump many hope for, leaving Atlanta with a bunch of second pairing-caliber defensemen. Ramsay appears better suited for an assistant role. The Thrashers find themselves in the Florida Panthers zone of being too good for a lottery pick but too bad for a playoff spot.

Keeping it real: Atlanta is truly an unique entity in the Southeast Division. While the Capitals, Lightning and Hurricane are built to run and score, the Thrashers seem like they’re built to bully. Their defense is pretty deep, but not quite great while their goalies are solid but short of star status. The forward group is pretty thin, though, and that’s what will keep them from being a playoff team. They might benefit from tanking to add a blue-chip offensive weapon, but they’ll likely be on the bubble and finish just a few points short of a playoff berth.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, Atlanta gets a 2. The Thrashers should be fairly competitive if they can create goals from the blue line out and don’t be surprised if they manage to sneak into a seventh or eighth seed. Still, they don’t seem like they’re quite ‘there’ yet. I’d love to see them snag a solid-to-great center or two next summer to help complete the puzzle.

Scroll Down For:

    Former Avs tough guy Bordeleau signs with the Devils … in Cardiff, Wales

    DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 02:  George Parros #15 of the Montreal Canadiens and Patrick Bordeleau #58 of the Colorado Avalanche engage in a fight in the first period at Pepsi Center on November 2, 2013 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
    Getty Images
    Leave a comment

    Patrick Bordeleau is on his way to play for the Devils — of the Elite Ice Hockey League in the United Kingdom.

    The Cardiff Devils announced that they have agreed to terms on a contract with Bordeleau, who played 129 games in the National Hockey League with the Colorado Avalanche.

    In his time with the Avs, from 2013 to 2015, the 30-year-old forward — who stands an imposing six-foot-six-inches tall and 225 pounds — scored eight goals and 16 points with 185 penalty minutes.

    As you can see from the clip below, he was known more for fisticuffs than finesse.

    That has the club in Cardiff all kinds of excited about this signing.

    From the Devils:

    Aside from his reputation as an enforcer, the level of skill and ability of Patrick Bordeleau arose the attention of Devils player coach Andrew Lord who is delighted to add him to the roster.

    “Patrick Bordeleau brings an awesome dynamic of size, energy and physical play.  He skates well and will add a great presence to our forward unit while also playing quality minutes.  He played multiple seasons in the NHL and his experience and character will be huge for our group.”   

    Last month, another former NHL tough guy, Jay Rosehill, signed in the EIHL with the Braehead Clan, which continued a trend that has seen a number of pugilists continue their careers in the UK.

    Blues to name Pietrangelo 21st captain in franchise history

    St. Louis Blues' Alex Pietrangelo (27) skates against the Chicago Blackhawks' in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)
    Getty
    6 Comments

    Shortly after the Blues’ PR department unveiled a “major announcement” scheduled for Thursday, the Post-Dispatch broke news that Alex Pietrangelo will become the team’s new captain.

    It’s a big honor for the talented defenseman, who joins the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger, Scott Stevens, Brian Sutter, Bernie Federko and Al Arbour as those that have captained the Blues.

    Pietrangelo, 26, was taken fourth overall by St. Louis  in 2008 and has spent his entire professional career within the organization.

    A staple of the Team Canada blueline and a two-time NHL 2nd team All-Star, Pietrangelo inherits the captaincy from David Backes, who wore the “C” for five years before signing with Boston in free agency.

    Pietrangelo had previously served as one of Backes’ alternates — first earning his “A” in 2013 — along with forward Alex Steen, who’s served as an alternate since 2011. It’s logical to assume Steen will retain his role in the leadership group, but it will be interesting to see who gets the other alternate captaincy.

    Poll: Is moving Larkin to center the right move?

    NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 11: Dylan Larkin #71 of the Detroit Red Wings leans on the bench during a timeout during the game against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 11, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey.  The Devils defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Getty
    4 Comments

    This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

    It wasn’t that long ago — 2013, in fact — that Detroit had a wealth of options down the middle. Pavel Datsyuk, Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg all played center with regularity.

    Now, only the latter remains.

    We bring this up because, earlier this summer, Detroit GM Ken Holland announced that prized rookie standout Dylan Larkin would be making the shift to center.

    Larkin, who bucked tradition by making the Red Wings as a 19-year-old last year, enjoyed a banner freshman campaign, scoring 45 points in 80 games to finish fifth in Calder voting.

    But a large chunk of that success came playing wing on a line centered by Zetterberg, who “took a lot of the responsibility off Dylan,” according to Holland.

    The for/against debate here is pretty straightforward.

    Holland said the “long-term” plan is to have Larkin be a center in Detroit, so why not get that process underway now? That move, combined with the addition of Frans Nielsen, would allow Zetterberg to return to the wing (and potentially play alongside Nielsen.) The more options head coach Jeff Blashill has at his disposal, the more creative he can get at forward.

    But would it be too much, too soon for Larkin?

    There’s already the looming specter of a sophomore slump, and it’s important to remember he faded down the stretch last season, as the rigors of a full NHL campaign took their toll. He was largely shielded from faceoff duty (and still finished at just 41 percent), only turned 20 just over three weeks ago, and Blashill could go Zetterberg-Nielsen-Luke GlendeningRiley Sheahan down the middle quite easily.

    As per usual, we now turn it over to you. Vote away:

    Under Pressure: Ken Holland

    Colorado Avalanche v Detroit Red Wings
    Getty
    8 Comments

    This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

    There’s no denying Ken Holland’s been feeling the heat in Detroit for a while now.

    But this season, the temperature could become unbearable.

    There are three pressing concerns as the Red Wings look to make the playoffs for a 26th consecutive campaign, all of which fall directly into Holland’s lap:

    1) Can the Wings survive without Pavel Datsyuk?

    2) What will they do in goal?

    3) How will they fix their defense?

    To address the first issue, Holland went out and spent $31.5 million in free agency on Frans Nielsen, a good-but-not-great center that turns 33 next season. Nielsen is defensively responsible and a fairly consistent scorer — a perennial 45-to-55 point guy — but lacks Datsyuk’s playmaking ability and deft skill set.

    (Though to be fair to Nielsen, most do.)

    Still, a solution’s a solution. Nielsen comes to Detroit in relative high regard, earning a handful of Selke votes every season, and was one of the best options available to replace Datsyuk, which was never going to be an easy task.

    So onto the goaltending.

    The situation at hand — with Petr Mrazek (presumably) the club’s No. 1, and Jimmy Howard now in a backup role — is tough for everybody involved. It’s tough for Howard, who is 32 and pulls in $5.29 million annually, an albatrossian combination with regards to potential trades.

    It’s tough for Mrazek, who now faces the added pressure of making good money himself ($4M annually), but is still coming off a year in which he lost the starting gig to Howard, only to regain it halfway through the playoffs.

    The situation is tough for Holland, too.

    Sinking nearly $10 million into the position was all his doing, and he doesn’t seem to know how to get out of it. He’s flip-flopped on Howard — first saying he’s thought “lots” about trading him, only to later envision a scenario in which Howard sticks around.

    Then, there’s the defense.

    Holland’s made no secret of the fact he’d “love to get a top-three defenseman” in the door, and was reportedly in talks with Anaheim about a potential Cam Fowler trade. But as we saw with Edmonton trading Taylor Hall to get Adam Larsson, the acquisition price for good blueliners is sky high.

    Which could be why Holland hasn’t addressed the position yet.

    At the time of writing, Detroit will enter this season with a top-seven group of Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green, Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Kronwall, Brendan Smith, Alexey Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet.

    It’s a good group, but one with warts. There’s not an elite level guy, and it’s not especially young. Green is 30, Ericsson is 32 and Kronwall’s 35… and was just dropped from Sweden’s World Cup team due to a knee injury.

    Add it all up, and you’ve got a team with more questions than answers.

    And a GM who sounds like he knows the pressure is on.

    “I don’t know that there are more than five or six legitimate Stanley Cup contenders; we’re probably not in that group,” he said, per NHL.com. “After that five or six, there are 20 teams without much difference between them. We’re in that group of 20.

    “Certainly there are lots of questions about our team.”