Greetings readers. Here is a summary of the STH Meeting. Sorry it took so long but my move got in the way of blogging today. It is really long, but I know folks that were not there might want lots of details.
Last night the Thrashers had their first Townhall Meeting with season ticket holders since the start of the season. Despite all of the many losing seasons Don Waddell usually finds a way to charm the crowd (I've said before he might have a brighter future in politics than he does in hockey management.) and last night he brought out Kovalchuk as a mood changer (to wild applause). It was straight out of Wag The Dog. Over the on Chicken, the user LetNoneIn termed it a "dog and kovy show" which made me laugh.
Compared to past meetings this one was pretty joy-less for both the fans and the GM. If you check out Gamera's pictures the body language of both the fans and Don Waddell is "not good" to put it mildly. Waddell looked like someone who was expecting to get the stuffing taken out of him and the fans looked like the jilted partner in a marriage that is about to end. It's a like a marriage where the parties are too poor to afford a divorce so they're still living together waiting for something to give.
OK, on to the Q and A. Usually Don prefaces these eventts with a 10-15 spiel covering the positives and negative of the team to set the mood. He essentially skipped that and said "have at it."
First question was on the ownership lawsuit. Virtually every STH knows this is a major problem now and it needed to be asked. On the other hand, DW has to watch what he says about his employers. Waddell stated the obvious that "it needs to be resolved" but he pointed out that the the Thrashers were well above the cap floor most of the year ($40.7) and until the Schneider trade they were on pace to spend around $46 million in cap terms. He indicated that if things had gone very well and the team was in playoff contention he would have been in a position to add salary at the trade deadline. He called it the "most frustrating year I've had in all my years in hockey. I thought we fixed some problems that we had last year."
My Thoughts: I have pointed out here on this blog that the Atlanta Spirit spent big in Years 1 and 2 of their tenure. This is a fact and something many fans seem to be unaware of. But in years 3 and 4 the amount spent has fallen compared to the rest of the league. Can you expect to contend for a playoff spot with a payroll of $46 million when most teams are spending more?
According to Cap Central (most accurage numbers available) the Thrashers have spent $41.6 million so far this season with roughly a full month to go. Right now they rank 22nd out of 30 teams in salary. Can you contend on that much money? The table below shows the bottom 15 teams in salary and their playoffs odds for each club.
Salary To Date
(Cap $ in millions)
|Current Playoff Odds|
Only 3 of the teams in the bottom 10 of salary are still in the playoff hunt and all three of those teams are basically a coin flip (50/50 chance) of getting into the post season--so probably only one or two teams with bottom ten salaries will qualify for the post-season. The teams tha occupy the 16-20 spots in the salary rankings are a mixed bag with three looking likely to qualify (MIN, BUF, VAN) and two likely to miss (STL, OTT). Bottom line the Thrashers are 22nd in salary but spent most of the year ranked 29th in the standing. The team is not spending as much as others and even worse the Thrashers are getting a worse than averge return on their slary investment.
Someone asked about the lack of a #1 center to play with Kovalchuk. Waddell agreed that while Todd White was having a great season (he's on pace for NHL career hights) he is not a #1 NHL center. Waddell pointed out that Kovalchuk is "dynamic" and creates a lot of his own chances and he is hard to play with--not every one gels with him. He pointed out that Kovalchuk is in the top 10 in points and asked "how many more points would Ilya have if he had Marc Savard playing with him?" He pointed out that Ilya seems to have good chemistry with Brian Little.
My Comments: This party true. Kovalchuk basically had non productive linemates most of they year (Williams-Christensen and Reasoner-Armstrong) and he struggled to score. He's been red hot since playing more with Peverley, White and Little. Kovalchuk needs at least one QUALITY guy on his line. The scary thing is that Kovalchuk might very well have shattered his career highs if they Thrashers had him playing with Bryan Little all year. We'll never know will we? Kovalchuk is hitting that 25-30 where most NHL players have their carrer best numbers. Hopefully we didn't just waste his peak year.
Another topic was the chance that the salary cap might fall. DW said it is likely to be flat next year and decline the following season (2010-2011). He said many GMs were offering him players due big money in 2010-11 becaue of the coming cap crunch. He said he expects a real "free-for-all" in the summer of 2010 when the cap goes down. Thrashers only have Enstrom and Hainsey signed for 2010-2011 and hopefully one other guy soon (meaning Kovalchuk).
One question I really liked was "where there any trade deadline deals that ended up unfinished?" DW said he had many many conversations but the same 8 Thrashers were asked for by other teams and to get those eight guys a team would have to over pay. He said basically every team in the playoff race asked about Colby Armstrong but "you can't sign guys like Colby in the summer" because few players bring his combination of grit, scoring and leadership.
My comments: Amen on keeping Colby, we need more of what he brings.
Someone asked if we should fear the Thrashers moving? DW: "This basically comes from the Canadian media looking at our empty seats. They raise this question all the time for Nashville, Florida and us." He went on to indicate that empty seats are not necessarily a good indicator of the future of a franchise. "We're too tied to this building to be moved." He noted that Philips naming rights and other sources of revenue that would be lost if the teams left town. "We can't go anywhere and we won't go anywhere." Finally he tossed in this bon mot "When we were up in the league office preparing for the ownership trial they remarked that 'for all your ownership issues, at least you guys pay your bills.'" DW said that despite low attendance there were a number of teams in much worse financial shape than Atlanta.
Later another STH asked whey they didn't issue a statement catagorically dening a comment that appeared in the AJC about the team moving. DW indicated that they talked to the AJC before the trial and they had a meeting with the AJC scheduled after the trial. But during the trial itself the owners were enough on their plates. They had some discussions about issuing a GM statement, but the situation really required an ownership level response and they were simply unavaiale mid-trial.
My Comments: Not only would the Philips Arena naming rights money be voided if the Thrashers left, but ALL the luxuy boxes and Club Seats agreements agreements would be re-opened allowing companies to opt out of in the middle of a bad economy. Not to mention the Thrahsers filling up 44 dates on the Arena calendar.
Someone asked what does this team need to contend? Another person asked about the Thrashers lack of identity. DW indicated that he likes our 4th line of Bouton-Slater-Thorburn and they do their job. He said "we have skilled guys like Kozlov and Little but they're not going to crash, band and cycle--we need more size up front so we can do more of that." We need more out of Colby Armstrong and we need more guys who have what Colby Armstong brings to this team.
He also said "we need to replace Nic Havelid." At which point Mark Holland (7th Man Award winner) who was sitting next to me suggested that we replace Nic Havelid by re-signing Nic Havelid this summer. Don Waddell didn't want to touch that with a ten foot pole because NHL tampering rules prevent any GM from commenting on a player under contract to another organization. He looked at me (I was taking notes) and said "he said that not me--did you write that down" and we laughed a bit.
My Comments: Absolutely agree about needing more size at forward position. The problem is that big guys with good hands tend to be pretty expensive--so it is a hard problem to solve on the UFA market. As for filling the Havelid void, I have some concerns that Nic was starting to show his age this year and he'll be 36 next season. If they're going to sign a veteran defenseman to help out I'd rather seen them try someone younger (and I say this as a long time admirer of Havelid).
Someone followed up by asking why DW talked of "competing" but did not talk about "making the playoffs" or "winning the Cup" at the start of this season. The questioner asked "why should we the fans have hope, if this is not the goal?" DW responded by relating how all the players wrote out their team and individual goals at the start of they year and every player put "make playoffs and win Cup" as their team goal. "All of our guys work hard--despite a rough night here and there--they're character people."
My Comment: This was one of DW's least effective answers. Of course the players are going to say their goal is to win the Cup! Did anyone expect Jason Williams to write "collect my millions, dog it on the ice and get traded to contending team" as his goal? I like "character guys" as much as the next person but good morals doesn't win you a Cup. If there is hockey in heaven, the Thrashers might have a lot of guys who "make it to the next level"--if you know what I mean. But I' want a Cup on this plane of existence--even if that means you have a couple of jerks on the roster. As for not talking about winning the Cup this year, the truth is that Thrashers are re-building but DW can't use the "r-word" because "re-building" implies that there was collapse. If we had a new GM he could throw his predecessor under the bus and said "Heck yeah we're rebuilding, look at this mess I inherited" but that play is not available when you're been in charge for 10 years. We're not contending right now and we're unlikely to contend until 2010-11 but at least we're getting younger.
Another person asked about making Philips more environmentally friendly. The guy in charge of the building (I didn't get his name) said Philips is applying for LEED certification and Philips would be the first non-brand new sports facility to get this certification if they are successful.
There were complaints about the marketing department not making players more visible. There were complaints about season ticket renewals and discouting of tickets. DW indicated discounting was down this season and he said they were open to suggestionss regarding adding value to the STH packages.
My Comments: The biggest solution to adding "value" to STH packages is to win more games on the ice. Winning covers a multitude of sports sins. I see very little evidence of "reduced discounting" this year. Every single Thrashers TV broadcast advertises big savings. If play in the local hockey leagues you could get discounted seats to a larger number of games. I purchased tickets to about 37 home games this year and so far I have paid an average of about $10 a game, and I've had lower bowl seats on most nights. Heck, I can't even give away my seats some nights. Just win baby!
At the end, the discussion shifted to the approaching 10th anniversary. There was a fans suggesting bringing some old Thrashers back for a reunion or perhaps an old timers game. DW said Damian Rhodes is living in Phoenix "in a nice house that I paid for" which got some chuckles.
My Comments: Bring back Pasi Nurminen please! I'd also LOVE to say hi to Dean Sylvester who scored the first hat trick in franchise history.