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Ice Man Nails It--The Half Measures Must Stop

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Over at the AJC, the Ice Man has a blog post which responds to the Bruce Levenson email that went out to Thrashers ticket holders. I would say that I agree with 98% of it and so I encourage you to read it if you haven't.

The best part of his post, in my opinion, are his comments on the big Hossa trade. When the trade happened the fans were told that the team was still going to compete for the playoffs and that is why other veteran players were not moved for picks or prospects in a full scale re-building effort.

The Ice Man points out that the overwhelming need on this club is at the position of defense--and yet the pieces acquired for Hossa consist of 2 NHL forwards and a forward prospect and a pick. Which really highlights the problem. If this team were actually going to make the playoffs it would make more sense to fix the biggest problem--the defense. On the other hand, if the team did not have a realistic shot it was fine to get the best players available in a trade. The Thrashers organization did not fully commit to either. They tried to have it both ways: rebuild and contend. They neither fixed the most pressing need nor did they get maximum return from their marketable veteran players.

Unfortunately this is just yet another case of Don Waddell taking a gamble and losing. Back in the pre-lockout days the problem of goaltending was never addressed in a definitive way--instead the team just hoped that Damian Rhodes would bounce back (he didn't). When things became absolutely intolerable he signed Byron Dafoe to a contract to serve as a goaltending band aid and joked about paying discount instead of full price for goaltending--how did that work out? (it didn't.)

Then when Pasi Nurminen and Kari Lehtonen both got hurt in the 2005-06 season and Don Waddell knew that Lehtonen would be out a while, he gambled that two minor leaguers could get us through rather than meet Buffalo's demands for a quality NHL goalie. After the minor league goalies proved they belonged in the minors he signed Steve Shields as a band aid fix (that didn't work out either). The Thrashers ended up missing the playoffs by two points which then forced them to overpay the following year at the trade deadline and cost them the young defenseman they so desperately need right now (Braydon Coburn).

Imagine if we had just given Buffalo a 1st rounder for Biron or Noranen back in the fall of 2005 how much differently things might have turned out? Imagine how much differently this team would look today if we had dealt Braydon Coburn and a 1st rounder to Edmonton for Chris Pronger when he became available in the summer of 2007? For all the assets we gave up in the spring of 2008 we could have landed him and solidified our defensive corps.

What bothers me most is that there is a pattern of failing to make the bold moves required to address the fundamental problems: goaltending and defense. Don Waddell prefers to nibble away at problems. He's always looking for value in B or C level players (which is a good idea generally) but some problems require more than bargain players and a prayer. The one bold move of his GM tenure--the early signing of Bobbly Holik has been an unmitigated disaster.

To be honest it really pains me to write this because I really like Don Waddell as a person. I suspect that he is the nicest GM and probably treats his employees better than many other GMs in the NHL. He's been nothing but open and friendly to fans here in Atlanta. But at the end of the day being nice does not bring you Stanley Cups and that is his job. I think Atlanta Spirit ought to promote him to Team President and let someone else take a shot at fixing these problems.

Sadly, I've lost confidence in his ability to make the decisions that are necessary to produce a contender. The most recent trading deadline is just another example of the half a loaf approach--we should have moved Holik and others for picks and players and just admitted that we were not a contender, instead the team went only half way and hoped it would work--well it didn't (once again). By not taking the bold moves that were required the Thrashers organization just deprived themselves of picks or prospects that could be used to build the next contending team--and the window for turning this club around is small. The failure to commit to rebuilding at the trade deadline may have pushed this club one step closer to losing Ilya Kovalchuk down the road.

Ilya Kovalchuk has just two years left on his contract and he needs to believe this team is a bona fide contender by the summer of 2009 if the Thrashers hope to keep him as well. If the Thrashers don't think they will be a contender in time to re-sign Kovalchuk they might have to take the shocking step of trading him this summer in order to get full value for him and totally load up on prospects--but that sort of bold move will never happen under the current regime. Instead we're likely to see the club just hope and pray that we're good enough for Kovalchuk to re-sign only to find out two years down the road that he, like Hossa, is sick of half measures and wants out. Wow, this is really depressing.

So to bring this back around to Bruce Levenson's letter to the fans. I'll end by saying this, Mr. Levenson if you happen to read this the Thrashers need to get their house in order. The marketing department needs to figure out a way to stop undercutting season ticket sales and the hockey side needs to brutally honest about our talent and take decisive steps to fix the biggest problems-no more half measures, no more nibbling around the edges, no more hoping and praying that things will work out. At the moment you have a club that sells cheaper tickets to casuals fans and a hockey department that isn't putting the sort of product on the ice that is required to succeed in this non-traditional market. I love this team and watch even the ugliest of games, but right now I have very little confidence in the direction going forward. I'll be waiting and watching.