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Money Can't Buy You--Leadership?

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First a quick look at the standings in the East reveal #1 this team is falling out of the ridiculously easy South East Division Championship race (you only need to have the 10th best record in the conference to be in 1st place within the division) and #2 the team is closer to getting into the draft lottery than they are to getting into the playoffs.

Eastern Conference Real Standings (points over/below games played)
1. +15 OTT
2. +14 NJD
3. +14 PIT
4. +3 MON
5. +8 BOS
6. +7 BUF
7. +6 NYR
8. +5 NYI
9. +5 PHI
10 +3 CAR
11 +2 WAS
12 +0 ATL
13 -2 FLA
14 -3 TOR
15 -4 TAM

For a solid rant about the last few games head over to Rawhide's blog post. I'm going to take more of a long term perspective.

Since the lockout the Thrashers have spend a mint trying to acquire veteran leadership for this team. Season after season we have seen them fall apart at important times. In the first lockout season they mailed it in at times against weak opponents like the Blackhawks and just didn't do what was necessary to beat teams like drive the net or shoot the puck on rookies goalies. In a performance etched on the minds on many Thrasher fans the team's veteran backup goalie (Mike Dunham) appear to give up on his team in the "Most Important Game in Thrashers History to This Point" with a passive and indifferent effort after being put back into goal.

The Thrashers missed the playoffs by one game in 2005-06--those points wasted in December and November were as much the reason as Dunham's meltdown in Washington. I know fans that are still steaming mad about Dunham's final game, but me--I'm still ticked off about the way we gave away points to the basement dwellers (like the Blackhawks) early in the season.

The following season the team started strong but really came unglued in January and February precisely when the schedule got tougher. This slump spooked both ownership and management into paying a high price at the trading deadline to guarantee the club's first ever playoff appearance and provide a boost to season ticket sales the following year (it did STH but how long that boost will last is another story).

In hindsight it seems pretty clear to me that if the Thrashers had traded for one of Buffalo's three goalies in October of 2005 they would have made the playoffs in 2005-06 and not found themselves in such a bind--a bind that led them to move multiple 1st rounders (picks or selections) to make certain the team made the post-season. Heck for the price the Thrashers paid for a Division Title they could have gotten Chris Pronger in the summer of 2006 and taken a huge step toward becoming a Stanley Cup contender--but Brian Burke made that trade (no wonder he's been so nice to DW in the press lately, he got Pronger for his team and now he wants Hossa).

This season more veterans were brought in and again fans have witnessed a parade of indifferent efforts and a captain searching for answers to the basic question "why did this team play so badly?" I let my fingers do the walking and here is the sad song of excuse making fans have been subjected to this year (all quotes are from AP game stories hosted on

10/5 "It's very important to start the season the right way," Kozlov said. "We certainly didn't skate very well, and that put us on our heels," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said.

10/6 "It's not the game that we wanted," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. "They took control of the game right from the start. It's not the start we want, but there's still plenty of hockey to be played."

10/11"Right now we're not playing good hockey," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. "We're so tight and anxious to get that first win that we forget to do the right things."

10/13 Loss to New Jersey "We played smart. We played well for 30 minutes," Holik said. "We had a two-goal lead, then decided to pick up where we left off last game."

10/16 Loss to Philadelphia "I think we're just beating ourselves up," Thrashers center
Bryan Little said. "We've got to kind of start the season all over again and just forget about it because if we keep thinking about it, it's just going to get worse."

10/20 Loss to Tampa Bay: "We hung Moose out to dry a little bit," Thrashers general manager and interim coach Don Waddell said.

10/25 Loss to Nashville "A team in our position, with the things that have been happening, doesn't get the breaks," Hedberg said. "We tried to do too much and things didn't go our way. Sometimes you just try too hard."

11/1 Loss to Ottawa "We just said, 'Let's play for each other,'" Kovalchuk said. "Neil took a not necessary penalty. I got a chance to score and I got another chance."

12/8 "It seemed like from the moment the puck dropped, they were outworking us," defenseman
Tobias Enstrom said. "It was almost like we didn't want it, and we were taking the easy way out. They won all their battles and we didn't show up."

12/14 "We gave away two goals," Atlanta's
Ken Klee said. "We gave away one on our power play and then the bank one at Kari. A couple of bad bounces like that when you are struggling is enough."

12/31 Atlanta led 2-0 after one before Boston scored three in the second. "I think we stopped trying so hard and stopped doing the easy things and cost ourselves a game," Atlanta goalie
Kari Lehtonen said.

1/4 "Everything they got, we gave them," Holik said. "We should not be disappointed because we did not play well enough to win.

2/16 4-1 Loss to NY Islanders: "I don't have the answer," said captain Bobby Holik. "How can that happen after all this time? I wish I had the answer. I don't."

5-3 Loss to Carolina: "Not even close," said Mark Recchi, who scored his 11th goal of the season. "It's pretty disappointing to be honest with you. To come out and play a game like this that means so much — we're just digging ourselves deeper and deeper into a hole, and it's frustrating. We all have to take a look at ourselves right now."

I could have put up even more "frustrated" quotes but frankly I got rather depressed reading through those old AP game stories. I think the collection above illustrated the point that the lack of effort is not a recent problem.

This is not a young team. If most of these guys are honest they look in the mirror and realize that they only have so many seasons in their body and therefore only so many chances to make the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup. And yet, game after game, they keep tossing aside the privilege of playing for post-season glory and hockey immortality. Do they care?

And if they don't care is there ANYONE in that locker room who will make them care? I remember reading that when Mark Messier took over as Captain of the NY Rangers he had the water cooler in the middle of the locker room removed so he could glare at anyone on the team who was not pulling this weight. Does ANYONE ever glare at anyone else in the Thrashers dressing room? Does ANYONE ever raise their voice? Is there ANYONE who makes his team mates feel uncomfortable after they just mail it in?

Look I'm not a huge fan of throwing TVs or destroying water coolers--but that kind of stuff can be effective in moderation. These guys should feel ashamed--not just ashamed to face the media--but feel ashamed in front of their team mates. I've talked to multiple people who are down around the locker room at Philips Arena and from what I can gather the ONLY person who ever turns up the the heat is McCrimmon--and that's just not enough. Great teams are great because they are talented and the best players hold themselves and their teammates accountable. They refuse to accept failure and if their teammates do, they make them uncomfortable. After spending millions of dollars on veterans the Thrashers still are desperately in need of leadership.