Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Being Honest About the Future

Last spring I was angry. The Thrashers traded Hossa. I wasn't angry about that. I was angry because the team didn't trade Holik and other veterans. I wa angry because we heard a lot of "happy talk" about how the Thrashers were leading the division late in the year.

All of this "happy talk" was just self deception. The Thrashers were only in the playoff "hunt" because the entire Southeast Division was laughably weak. The one moment where the Thrashers were "leading the division" was created when Carolina began their late season collapse and Washington had yet to rise from the ashes of their brutal start. In that brief window the Thrashers looked better.

But the truth is that last year's squad needed a fundamental rebuild. The Thrashers were one of the oldest veteran-laden teams in the entire NHL. The veterans didn't play hard enough or well enough most nights--and veterans are expensive. The Thrashers were old and costly and they needed a full on rebuild. To contend on a budget you need a lot of young talent.

What was required was an honest assessment of just how bad the team was. The Thrashers were "lucky" last years in the shootout--which made them look better than they really were. The Thrashers were "lucky" to play in a very weak division--which also made them better than they really were. If you use Goal Differential as a measure of team quality (and I do)--Atlanta was 30th--the worst team in the entire NHL last year.

The mistakes of club management were compounded by the feuding ownership. When you're at rock bottom major changes are required. But ownership was either unwilling to pay for a new GM or unwilling to be honest about just how bad the team was last season (just as they couldn't accept firing Bob Hartley in the summer of 2007 after he lost the team in the playoffs).

Instead they kept the same GM in place and we got a half hearted rebuild. The organization never had the firesale they should have had. Even during the summer I advocated moving Lehtonen for young players. Pavelec looked like he was ready to begin his NHL career and the Thrashers are still one of the older teams in the league. They should have traded Lehtonen for pieces of the future.

Now the frachise and the team are at a cross roads. After two brutal losses in their last three games the season is on the line. The team played pretty well out of the gate but couldn't score--they deserved better. They might be able to pull themselves out of the funk but it has to start immediately. November is the easiest month on their schedule. If they don't exit this month with a winning record look out--because the schedule only gets tougher.

The bigger problem is Kovalchuk looks disinterested this year. Last year the team played with very little passion, but Kovalchuk was an exception and he single handly carried the offense at times. This year Lehonen is playing well and Kovalchuk looks like a passenger. If the team goes down in flames this year it seems likely to me that Kovalchuk will want out.

At that point ownership will be face-to-face with the giant mess. Will the ownership do what is necessary and hire a new GM who can then trade Kovalchuk, Schneider and Lehtonen for the young players we need to become a playoff contender in 2010 and beyond? Sometimes hitting rock bottom can be good--but you have to be honest and realize that's where you are and make major changes. Last year we hit bottom and failed to take the drastic steps necessary to rebuild and it looks like that only delayed the pain of parting with anohter marquee star player.

2 Comments:

  • If the Thrashers don't pull out of this funk, I too would expect major changes, but it needs to be based on which players you think will eventually help you win. Schneider is gone for sure. I would expect if Jason Williams puts up some points, they'll find a taker for him too.

    Moving Lehtonen by trade is possible, but doesn't strike me as wise. Consider this: Cristobal Huet was traded to a team in need of a goaltender for a second round pick. Impending UFA and all that but... Yikes.

    If you want to move Lehtonen I say play hard-ball at contract time and wait for an offer sheet. Lehtonen has improved every year and if he can be put on a value contract that would be wonderful. He's probably a top ten goalie in the league and he's only twenty-four years old. If I were the Thrashers I would insist on a long-term deal worth no more than three million dollars per year, but with offers starting lower, maybe 2.5. If he signs somewhere else, that works out, because the compensation will be at least a first and third round pick for any contract you're not willing to match, and it may be more. The only truly bad scenario here would be a long holdout. Also, I'm not sure if he's eligible for arbitration. If he decides on arbitration, this plan would be monkey-wrenched.

    If Lehtonen stays, Pavelec is a great backup and can be brought along slowly. If Lehtonen goes, it's baptism by fire.

    By Blogger Scott, at 11:43 AM  

  • Well written, good arguments.

    By Blogger Whale4ever, at 3:25 PM  

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