This spring Baseball Prospectus
(one of my favorite websites) did a series they called "Hope and Faith" in which they previewed every single major league baseball team and listed reasons for their fans to have hope. They were inspired by the dramatic turnaround of the once doormat Detroit Tigers who went all the way to the World Series. Today's post will be in a similar vein, I'm not making any predictions today, but I am listing some reasons to be optomistic.
The Stanley Cup playoffs frequently host great cinderella stories as low seeded teams make their charge. In recent years we have seen unhearled teams like Edmonton, Calgary, Carolina (2002 version), and Washington make it to the Finals. I put together a list of the last 10 Finals teams below and you can see that in the last four SC Finals a team that finished outside of the top 10 in the league advanced to the championship round.
Stanley Cup Finals and Regular Season Ranking
2006 Carolina 4th, Edmonton 14th
2004 Tampa Bay 2nd, Calgary 12th
2003 New Jersey 4th, Anaheim 11th
2002 Detroit 1st, Carolina 16th
2001 Colorado 1st, New Jersey3rd
2000 New Jersey 4th, Dallas 6th
1999 Dallas 1st,Buffalo 9th
1998 Detroit 3rd,Washington 8th
1997 Detroit 5th,Philadelphia 3rd
1996 Colorado 2nd, Florida 7th
On the surface the Thrashers do not seem like good candidates to make a run for the Finals. They finished 12th in the overall standings and if you take away the shootout goals, they were actually outscored by their opponents during the regular season.
So why should Thrasher fans have hope?
The playoff Thrashers are better than the regular season Thrashers. No club made more dramatic personnel additions than Atlanta did as they added Tkachuk, Zhitnik, Belanger and Dupuis in exchange for Metropolit, McCarthy (scratched), Rucchin (IR) and Vishnevski. This team is significantly better and it shows. Before the trading deadline the Thrashers were outscored by their opponents -13 and after the trading deadline they were a +11. If you project those numbers out to a full 82 game season the pre-trade Thrashers would have ranked just 21st in the NHL in goal differential while the post-trade Thrasher would have ranked 7th in the NHL.
This is not an inexperienced Thrasher team. I was going to list off the number of career playoff games the Thrashers have on their roster compared to other teams, but Ben at the Blueland Blog
beat me to it (click over and check out the list if you haven't seen it already). The Thrashers are NOT inexperienced when it comes to the playoffs. The only playoff rookies on this roster are Kovalchuk, Sutton, Exelby, Vigier, Boulton and Lehtonen. If you think that sounds like a lot go look at Pittsburgh where a full 12 of their 20 players had never played a single playoff game until last night.
Kari Lehtonen is a proven playoff performer. OK not in the NHL playoffs, but I think that people forget about the fact that he was the 2001 Playoff MVP as a teenager playing against men in the Finnish Elite League. Then he came over to North American and reached the Finals with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. He had the best GAA in the AHL playoffs in 2005. The man has already faced numerous pressure packed games and played well.
Game breakers. The Thrashers have several of them now. With just one shot Kovalchuk could win an overtime game. Hossa can single handly beat defensemen to the net. Slave Kozlov scored many huge playoff games with the Red Wings in their two cup runs. Tkachuk in front of the net could get that crucial redirect goal. The Thrashers have impact players that other teams have to fear or at least respect.
So there you have it. No one knows what the playoffs will bring, but there are plenty of reasons to get excited if you're a fan of the Atlanta Thrashers.