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Atlanta Thrashers Mid-Season Review

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The NHL season is at the half way point. How do the 2008-2009 Atlanta Thrashers stack up with the competition? Where do they rank when compared to past Thrashers teams?

 

The Atlanta Thrashers have passed the half way point on another disappointing season. Are there any bright spots which might offer hope for fans looking for a turnaround? How does this season compare to other seasons in franchise history?

Overall NHL Standing

Season NHL Standings Rank Goal Differential Rank

2001

27th 27th
2002 26th 26th
2003 10th 10th
2004 13th 13th
2006 6th 6th
2007 15th 15th
2008 22nd 22nd
2009 29th 30th

Comments: 2008-09 looks to be another basement finish for a franchise which has had many such finishes. The 2009 Draft Lottery may be the biggest pulse-pounding moment of the entire season as the team seems likely to have a shot at drafting John Tavares this summer. Goal Differential is usually a very strong predictor of where a team will finish in the standings--and this stat offers little hope for the current Thrasher squad.

Offense and Defense

Season Offense (GFA) Defense (GAA)
2001 27th 29th
2002 26th 30th
2003 10th 30th
2004 13th 25th
2006 6th 24th
2007 15th 15th
2008 22nd 30th
2009 14th 30th

Comments: New Head Coach John Anderson was given a seemingly impossible task. He inherited a team that already ranked in the bottom third of the NHL. On top of that, the Thrashers tried to replace Marian Hossa with Jason Williams. Despite these handicaps, Anderson came in with an offensive uptempo system and actually turned this team into a league average club on offense--which is pretty amazing. Of the Thrashers top six forwards (Kovalchuk, Kozlov, Little, J.Williams, Christensen, T. White) only the first three would be a threat to earn a scoring line roster spot on most playoff contenders. The Thrashers have manged to be average offensively while only suiting up three high impact offensive forwards.

Unfortunately the price for his uptempo style can be seen in the dead last pace in the defensive category. The Thrashers are headed towards their 5th dead last finish since their inception. It is pretty astounding to think that in their 10 NHL seasons the Atlanta Thrashershave finished 30th in a 30 team league 50% of the time. That statistic alone ought to have resulted in some major changes in the front office by now.

Special Teams

Season Power Play % Penalty Kill %
2001 25th 30th
2002 29th 25th
2003 13th 24th
2004 23th 8th
2006 4th 27th
2007 23rd 26th
2008 23rd 27th
2009 10th 29th

Comments: Coach Anderson has certainly had less to work with than Coach Hartley and Coach Waddell, yet he has managed to produce more on the PP than either did when they had the luxury of Hossa and Kovalchuk. One of the real untold stories of the 2008-09 Thrashers season is the good-to-great play of the PP unit. On the other hand, the PK unit remains disastrous for the 9th year out of 10 in the Thrashers team history. Even the addition of Marty Reasoner did little to perk up this unit.

Converting and Stopping Shots

Season Save Percentage Shooting Percentage
2001 24th 23rd
2002 27th 17th
2003 30th 7th
2004 27th 5th
2006 24th 6th
2007 13th 12th
2008 19th 11th
2009 27th 5th

Comments: Kari Lehtonen has missed a majority of the current season and the team's SV% has suffered accordingly. Back up Johan Hedberg and top prospect Ondrej Pavelec both struggled terribly at stopping the puck while shorthanded this season and last. On offense the Thrashers have historically been rather efficient at turning shots into goals. This season they have been downright elite (5th overall) at finishing off chances this season. In particular the Litte-White-Russian (Kozlov) line has been very "Euro" in that they only take high quality shots.

Creating and Preventing Shots

Season Shots For Average Shots Against Average
2001 12th 30th
2002 29th 30th
2003 25th 27th
2004 27th 23rd
2006 5th 14th
2007 11th 25th
2008 30th 30th
2008 29th 27th

Comments: It's a good thing the Thrashers are efficient (ST%) because they certainly don't generate that many shots in their own favor. On the defensive side of the puck, they allow shots by the bushel full, which is why they must have a high SV% to have any hope of staying in games this year--and with Lehtonen out that didn't happen.

Salary and Attendance

Season Salary Rank Attendance Rank
2001 28 23
2002 28 28
2003 28 28
2004 26 22
2006 2 23
2007 17 21
2008 23 22
2009 29 28

Comments: Compared to the rest of the NHL, Atlanta's ownership has spent little money except for the two seasons immediately following the lockout. When ownership did spend money they came close to the playoffs in 2006 and then made the playoffs in 2007 (at the high price of Braydon Coburn though).

Fundamentally GM Don Waddell did a below average job of turning those $$ into wins. He made poor choices in the post-lockout world throwing scoring line money at a 3rd line center (Bobby Holik) which prevented him from having the cap space to fix the Thrashers goalie problem 2006 or replace Marc Savard in 2007.

The Thrashers have failed to put a compelling product on ice in a marketplace where many people are transplants. The team has only grabed the attention of causal hockey fans once (2007)--only to be swept out of the playoffs and start the following regular season 0-6 which resulted in Coach Hartley being let go.

Conclusion

The Thrashers are on pace to finish right near the bottom of the NHL standings once again. The team is weak defensively both on the PK and at ES (Even Strength). New Head Coach Anderson has produced an average ES offense and an above-average PP, but the defensive and goaltending have been so porous that the Goals Scored are washed out.

The bottom line is that ownership must either spend more money to put a better product on the ice or find a new GM (like David Poile in Nashville) who is extremely adept at getting the most out of every payroll dollar.