Eliot and the Future of theThrashers

I listened to the post-game show on the way home after the win over Ottawa and  Dan Kamal and Darren Eliot had an interesting discussion about the current and future Thrashers. Darren Eliot made three points I'd like to comment on. I agree with him on two comments and I think he's totally wrong about the other one.

Topic #1 Colby Armstrong is working well on 2nd line.

Eliot made the observation that the REASON Armstrong has fit in so well with that line is that they like to work the puck down low and along the boards and Armstrong's game fits that style of play very well. Armstrong has the skill to give and receive short passes and he will hit people along the boards to free up pucks.

Looking ahead to the future the big question is this: what is the optimal place for Colby Armstrong to play? If the Thrashers are going to make the playoffs they need a strong 3rd line--a line that can not only slow or stop the opposition's best forwards but also score some goals. In my opinion I'd rather see Armstrong reunited with Marty Reasoner--those two together give the Thrashers an above average 3rd line (If you're going to make the playoffs you need to be above average at multiple spots on your roster).

If I'm GM of the Thrashers that means shopping for a scoring RW to play on the 2nd line--but you don't want to target a RW who gets most of his points off the rush--you need a guy who can cycle and making short passes.

Topic #2 The measure of a goaltender is Wins not SV% or GAA.

This is just silly in my opinion. Wins are the product of defense and offense. The goaltender has zero control over one of those elements and a lot of control over the other one. If Kari Lehtonen faces 35 shots and only allows 2 goals and losses a hockey game--is it his fault if the Thrashers only score 1 goal? If Johan Hedberg allows 3 goals but the Thrashers offense puts up 5 and the team wins--does Hedberg really deserve credit? Are goaltenders supposed to score now too?

Looking ahead to the future I want Hedberg replaced. He is simply a below average goalie on a team that allows far too many goals. The Thrashers MUST get better performance out of their back up slot. Lehtonen can not be counted on to play 65-70 games which means it is imperative to have a STRONG back up and Hedberg has extremely poor numbers in both SV% and GAA.

I realize the Johan Hedberg is a great person and everyone loves him. They all talk about his "leadership" abilities. But answer this question: Is Hedberg's "leadership" worth the extra 10-15 goals he allows compared to other back up goaltenders around the NHL? If Hedberg's "leadeship" is so powerful and important why hasn't the team qualified for the playoffs more often during his time here? If Hedberg's "leadership" was so crucial this team wouldn't have been on a 63 point pace for the first 44 games of the year.

In my opinion, if the Thrashers want to contend they need Pavelec as the #2 rather than Hedberg--they simply can't afford to give away the extra goals.

Topic #3 The Thrashers must improve the PK next season.

Eliot said that Atlanta must improve on goals allowed and the most obvious place is the penalty kill. Attention to the PK unit might affect off season decisions. Darren didn't speculate about which players might hurt by this focus on the PK--so I'll step up and speculate.

The PK has been brutal for two years. One year ago the PK was poor and the Thrasher best PK guy Marian Hossa was traded to Pittsburgh. Reasoner was brought in and basically replaced Hossa--which means that the Thrashers didn't really improve their PK they just treaded water.

So if the Thrashers are going to take a hard look at the PK in making off season decisions let's take a hard look at who is getting the job done and who is not. At the top we see that Colin Stuart and Todd White are the top ranked PKers. Stuart played the 1st half in the minors and his rating gets a big boost because of his SH goals. That rating over states his value a bit, but I did notice that Stuart had a strong rating in 18 games with the Thrashers in 2007-08. Todd White has been very effective this year and last year. Early on Coach Anderson tried to avoid loading up his offensive guys with PK minutes but eventually adjusted to the reality that many of the checkers are inferior at the PK and started giving Todd White more SH ice time.

Forwards who average at least 30 seconds of PK time

(BTH Rating: how much better or worse is the Thrashers PK when that player is on the ice)

Rank Player BTN Rating
1 Stuart +3.85
2 White +3.74
3 Reasoner +0.38
4 Crabb +0.19
5 Perrin -0.01
6 Peverley -0.64
7 Slater -2.91
8 Armstrong -4.37

 

Reasoner, Crabb, Perrin and Peverley are all near the team average--and average for the Thrashers is "not good" compared to other teams. I presume Perrin will not be back. Reasoner, Crabb and Peverley are not a major problem if paired with other good PK guys.

So which guys are dragging the team down on the PK the most? Slater and Armstrong. In 2007-08 Armstrong was pretty average and he has slipped badly this year. On other hand Slater was dead last in terms of PK effectiveness in 2007-08 and he is nealry dead last in 2008-09--where I come from we call that a "trend" and not a good one.Two season's worth of data say that one of two things is true 1) Jim Slater is a brutal penalty killer or b) Jim Slater is the unluckiest penalty killer. I'll let you pick.

Slater is an RFA this summer. He's is a very poor PK guy because his lateral mobility is awful for such a fast skater. He doesn't score very much either. There are better 4th line players who could be had for the league minimum of $500,000--did I mention that Slater is over paid on a team with a tight salary budget? The rational decision is to replace Slater with an effective 4th line guy who can help IMPROVE the PK unit.

Defensemen who average at least 30 seconds of PK time.

(BTH Rating: how much better or worse is the Thrashers PK when that player is on the ice)

Rank Player BTN Rating
1 Bogosian +6.44
2 Oystrick +1.74
3 Valabik +1.28
4 Schneider +0.75
5 Hainsey +0.29
6 Enstrom -0.17
7 Havelid -1.48
8 Exelby -5.46

 

When we look at the defensemen, Schneider and Havelid are both gone. The good news is that Bogosian and Valabik have put up some very strong PK numbers.  Valabik's big reach really helps him take away passing lanes and his skating is much less an issue because the opposing forwards are more stationary on the PP. In the middle we have both Hainsey and Enstrom who are so-so this year on the PK.

At the bottom we find Havelid (gone) and Exelby who was unbelievably bad out there. So far this year Exelby has been out on the ice for 25 PPGA in just 52 games. Think about that for a second--that means Exelby has been on the ice for an opposition PP Goal EVERY OTHER GAME. That's simply astonishing when you consider that Exelby averages a little over 2 minutes of PK ice time per game. When the X man is on the ice his super power is to make the opposition PP click!

Conclusion

The Thrashers are playing much better, but even at their current rate (since Jan. 12th) they would still just miss the playoffs. The Thrashers MUST MAKE HARD DECISONS to qualify for the post-season next year. The MUST improve their backup goalie position (we can do better than Hedberg), they MUST improve their PK forwards (we can do better than Slater), the MUST improve their PK defense (we can do better than XLB) and they MUST find a 2nd line wing RW who can play a cycle game.

If management makes tough choices and parts ways with popular but ineffecive players then this summer I'll have to start saving my money for playoff tickets. If they rationalize away these roster problems then they are not serious about doing what the playoffs will require.

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