Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

About That Defense

I've been crunching some numbers thinking about what exactly has gone wrong this season. Part of the answer is that our secondary scoring has really declined this year but the biggest problem has been the abysmal play of our defensive corps this year. Statistically speaking Havelid is playing about the same as last year and Enstrom represents an upgrade over all the departed guys (Sutton, de Vries and Hnidy). The real problem has been the near collapse of three returning defenders: Exelby, McCarthy and Zhitnik.

To illustrate just how atrocious they have been I've going to show you their performance at even strength (5 on 5) play for the entire season (64 games played). I'll be using the terrific stats from Behind the Net's site. BTN lets you see which defensemen face the toughest opposition and how well the team plays when a particular guy is on or off the ice. So here are the Thrashers defensemen ranked in order of the quality of opposition players out there.

1. Nicklas Havelid sees the toughest minutes of any defender drawing the assignment of matching up against the offensive stars of the other team. The Thrashers score an average of 3.06 goals per game with Havelid on the ice and allow 3.19 GAA, but when you take Havelid the ice everything falls apart: Thrashers only score just 1.54 ES goals per game and they allow a staggering 2.74 for a goal differential of -1.19 per game at even strength. Yikes!

2. Tobias Enstrom has been paired with Havelid since Waddell took over and his numbers are very similar to Havelid. Enstrom also plays tough minutes against the opposition's best forwards. When Enstrom is out the Thrashers average 2.72 ES goals for and allow 2.78 ES GA--roughly breaking even. When Enstrom (and Havelid) are off the ice, the Thrashers offense falls by a goal per game to 1.73 and the defense allow 2.90 per game. When Enstrom is absent the Thrashers are being outscored to the tune of 1.17 goals per game at even strength.

3. Ken Klee gets mocked by a lot of fans for being this year's version of Sutton. I'll admit that Klee is not fleet of foot but I've defended Klee because he is smart enough to realize he is not fast and therefore puts himself in a conservative position so he doesn't get beat too easily (unlike Zhitnik who still positions himself as though he still skate with the fast players). Well the stats show that Klee is our 3rd best defender. When Klee is on the ice at even strength we score 1.83 GFA and allow 2.46 GAA for a differential of -.63 but when Klee is OFF the ice we are even worse scoring just 2.20 GFA and allowing 3.08 for a differential of -.87 per game. Klee is not great but he stops the bleeding better than the other defensemen further down this list.

4. Zhitnik has seem more tough minutes than Exelby and McCarthy so he gets listed at number four. Just about every Thrashers fan has been riding Zhitnik for his poor play and the numbers show the the fans are correct. When Alexei is out there at even strength we score 1.91 GFA and allow 2.77 GAA for a-.86 differential, when Alexei is OFF the ice we score 2.19 GFA and allow 2.84 GAA for a smaller -.65 differential. But he is just part of the problem.

5. As much as people enjoy dumping on Zhitnik and Klee they really ought to pay more attention to the wicked bad seasons Exelby and McCarthy are putting together in 2007-08. Exelby has little offensive flair and the Thrashers score a palty 1.73 GFA when he is on the ice. In the past Exelby has been know as a "defensive defenseman" but we should not call him that anymore since when he is out there the Thrashers allow a brutal 3.02 GAA. When XLB is on the ice the Thrashers are outscored by a whooping -1.29 goals per game at ES and when XLB is off the ice they are out scored by just -.55 goals per game.

6. McCarthy's defensive numbers are very similar to Exelby's, but McCarthy has the the bizarre distinction of almost never being out there when the Thrashers score. Just as Exelby doesn't deserve the label of "defensive defenseman" McCarthy doesn't deserve to be called an "offensive defenseman" anymore. When McCarthy is on the ice at even strength the Thrashers score an incredibly low 0.68 GFA (that's right less than a goal per game) and when McCarthy is OFF the ice the team averages 2.63 GFA. In terms of defense in makes little difference whether McCarthy is on the ice (3.07 GAA) or off of it (3.01 GAA), but he has been a huge drag on the offense this year.

So there you have it. The Thrashers top pairing can break even against the opposition's very best, but it is the Thrasher 2nd and 3rd pairing that are killing them. Klee and Zhitnik are both getting outscored at even strength, but it is the Exelby-McCarthy pairing that is getting just absolutely ripped apart on a nightly basis. In my opinion the Thrashers would get the maximum gain out of their new salary cap space this summer by signing two quality defensemen. That would allow them to bump Klee, Zhitnik and Exelby down to the #5, #6 and #7 spots on the depth chart (McCarthy is a free agent and should be allowed to depart).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Trade Analysis Part II: The Payroll

Before the deadline I called for the Thrashers work to get younger, more talented and clear cap space. All three were accomplished, although I feel that Holik, Recchi and Zhitnik should also have been dealt for prospects yesterday. Today I want to give everyone an update on where we stand with respect to the payroll.

2007-08 Thrashers Roster (with cap values)
F Kovalchuk $6.4 - White $2.375 - Recchi $1.125
F Kozlov $3.66 - Perrin $0.75 - Hossa $6
F Dupuis $0.88 - Holik $4.25 - Slater $0.775
F Larsen $0.535 - Thorburn $0.51 - Boulton $0.525

D Havelid $2.7 - Enstrom $0.9
D Klee $1.25 - Zhitnik $3.5
D Exelby $1.4 - McCarthy $0.725

G Lehtonen $1.85 - Hedberg $1.0
Bench: C. Stuart $0.483 - Popovic $0.52 - Rucchin $2.125

Team Total: $42.1 million

If the Thrashers had made zero trades they were on pace to finish the season with a total cap hit of around $42-43 million depending upon injury call ups or acquisitions. My working assumption is that GM Don Waddell probably had an internal budget with a ceiling somewhere around $45 to work with this year.

Looking ahead to next year the Thrashers roster with players who are already signed add up to a salary cap hit for the 2008-09 season that comes to a total of $34 million (I'm assuming that Lehtonen gets a contract similar to Cam Ward's this summer). Next year the salary cap maximum will increase to around $54-55 million and the salary floor will also rise to $39 million so for certain the Thrashers will need to add an additional $5 million in salary just to reach the minimum. If Don Waddell is given an internal budget number that is right around the mid-point of $47 million that means he has roughly $12-13 million to use this summer during free agency or for contracts acquired through trades.

That leave a lot of money for a few roster upgrades. Given the annual inflation that seems to kick in during unrestricted free agency period I think that it will take $6-7 million per year to sign top free agent defensemen like Campbell or Redden (age 30)--and in the case of Campbell someone would probably have to offer him a long 6 or 7 year deal. I have argued that the Thrashers should avoid commitments to aging players but Brian Campbell (age 28) is unusual in that he will hit free agency still in the prime of his career. Is the team prepared to step up and commit $42-47 million over 7 years to Campbell? I also like Kalinin (26) a defensive defenseman who is just 26 and should have many good years left in him. That still puts the team in a position of taking on Campbell's age 34 and age 35 seasons. Some other interesting defensemen include Rozsival (28)--who has played some great hockey for the NY Rangers, John-Michael Liles (26) and perhaps Marek Malik (32).

I'd also like to see the Thrashers sign Zubarev from Russia, but he probably needs some time in the minors. But he might be ready after 40 games in the minors when the inevitable injuries strike. Personally I think that Zhitnik should be told that the team will send him to the minors to ride the bus if he doesn't show up to NHL camp in shape next year. They are the hook for the money but it would clear cap space and show that they hold the veterans accountable for being professional.

If the Thrashers commit $7 million to a defenseman and have a working budget of $47 million that still leaves them with room for a $5 million player with $2 million breathing space under their internal ceiling. Who could you land for that $5 or less? The Penguins Ryan Malone is young (27) and will be looking for a raise from his current $1.45 salary. Dupuis (28) could be brought back. Ryder (27) and Dumont (29) and perhaps another year of Mark Recchi (40) might be worthwhile. The other wild card is this--what if Hossa wants to return? You could probably fit Hossa and Kalinin under a $47 million budget--that would be quite a team I could get really jazzed about.

2087-09 Thrashers Roster (with cap values, new players in bold)
F Kovalchuk $6.4 - White $2.375 - C. Armstrong $1.2
F Kozlov $3.66 - Little $0.9 - Christensen $0.75
F LaVallee $0.525 - Perrin $0.75 - Slater $0.775
F Larsen $0.535 - Thorburn $0.51 - C. Stuart $0.483

D Havelid $2.7 - Enstrom $0.9
D Klee $1.25 - Zhitnik $3.5
D Exelby 1.4$ - Valabik $0.858

G Lehtonen $2.67 - Pavelec $0.85
Bench: Holzapfel $0.85 Lewis $.588

Team Total $34.4 million (note: Lehtonen is a RFA and I gave him the same cap value as Cam Ward's current contract.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Exelby Exposed by Canadians

Goal Against #1 Exelby can't handle the rebound off the boards the Montreal player gets control and scores point blank of Kari Lehtonen
Goal Against #2 Exelby fails to cover the back door guy while Kari faces the shooter.
Goal Against #3 Exelby goes for the big hit at the offensive blueline which produces a 2>1 chance which Montreal cashes in to score.

The team came out with good jump and fired shots and Lehtonen made some good saves but Exelby was simply not good enough for this club to stay in the game.d

The Thrahsers have now tied Florida for the 2rd worst record which puts them into the Draft lottery for the #1 pick overall.

Real League Standings
+25 DET *
+18 DAL *
+16 NJD *
+15 PIT *
+14 OTT
+13 ANA *
+13 MON *
+12 SJS *
+11 CGY *
+10 MIN *
+10 BOS *
+10 VAN *
+8 NYR *
+8 NAS *
+6 COL
+6 PHX
+6 PHI *
+6 BUF *
+5 CAR *
+3 NYI
+3 CBJ
+3 STL
+2 WAS
+2 CHI
-1 EDM
-1 TOR
-2 FLA
-2 ATL
-5 TBL
-8 LAK

Trade Analysis: Part 1 The New Players

I'm going to cut right to the chase. If you're not expecting me to toss around some numbers today...well you came to the wrong blog. The Thrashers got cheaper, younger and bigger yesterday and added a prospect and a high pick in exchange for 2 months of Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis services. Let's break it down.

Colby Armstrong 25
2nd line winger who averages under half a point per game and can deliver some nasty hits.

Scoring Rate (Points per game) and Plus/minus
2007-08 0.44 +6
2006-07 0.43 +2
2005-06 0.85 +14

How he has been used in PIT
Total Ice Time/ Team Rank
2007-08 15:24 6th
2006-07 16:49 4th
2005-06 19:04 4th

His ice time has fallen a bit each season which is a bit concerning--on the other hand the Penguins have gotten better each season so you might have to fight harder for your minutes on a better team. In fact, he has ranked 6th in even strength ice team all three years in Pittsburgh, so the decline reflects a drop in special teams usage.

PK Ice Time/Team Rank
2007-08 2:06 5th
2006-07 3:53 2nd
2005-06 3:57 3rd

Armstrong was a top PK guy his first two seasons but slipped to the third PK pairing this year.

PP Ice Time/ Team Rank
2007-08 0:30
2006-07 1:22
2005-06 3:16

Armstrong was used extensively on the PP his 1st season, then sparingly in his 2nd and almost not at all this current year. I find it a bit surprising that a 2nd line guy sees so little PP time but a 3rd line guy like Christensen received more PP ice time in Pittsburgh.

Erik Christensen 24
Scoring Rate (Points per game) and Plus/minus
2007-08 0.41 -3
2006-07 0.54 -3
2005-06 0.39 -3

Has some scoring touch but not enough to break into the top 6. Strong in the shootout which could be worth a few standing points each season. According to numerous Pittsburgh fans Christensen has more offensive upside than he has shown so far in the NHL but he was stuck behind two All-Star centers with the Penguins. Looks like there could be a real battle next fall at training camp between Christensen, Little, T. White, Perrin over the top 2 center jobs in Atlanta next year.

Total Ice Time/ Team Rank
2007-08 12:36 9th
2006-07 11:37 12th
2005-06 14:16 7th

Checking line minutes for a guy who may have more than checking line talent.

PK Ice Time/Team Rank
2007-08 0:05 12th
2006-07 0:37 11th
2005-06 0:13 14th

Not really a PK guy.

PK Ice Time/Team Rank
2007-08 2:08 6th
2006-07 2:32 7th
2005-06 2:36 8th

Christensen plays on the 2nd PP unit at times, he never really shined in this role but since he's still just 24 there is a chance of a break through before he enters his peak years (late 20s).

Angelo Esposito 19
Scoring Rate (Points per game) and Plus/minus
2007-08 1.17
2006-07 1.32
2005-06 1.72 (playing with Alexander Radulov)

He has good size and a high skill level. His point production rate has slipped each season since teammate and future NHL star A. Radulov departed. Questions exist about his character or work ethic like many other Thrashers players from the Q (Bourret, Sharrow, Gamache, Desbiens). If he fulfills his potential the Thrashers just added a big chunk of talent to their base.

2008 1st rounder. Likely a low 1st round pick in a strong year. This pick probably has a 50-70% of producing a NHL player with a smaller chance of producing a NHL star player.

It all comes down to Esposito and the draft pick. If both develop and play well as Thrashers this trade was a major gain for the franchise. If neither pan out then the Thrashers got two complimentary pieces (2nd and 3rd line guys) but no impact players out of the Hossa and Dupuis rental trade. The good news is that all these players are inexpensive and will be RFA and thus their services can be retained for years into the future. This frees up a lot of payroll which could be used on other players--more on that in Part II.

Two Thumbs Up

Two rental players bring the Thrashers a 2nd/3rd line center and a 2nd line winger (Armstrong) and a Grade A propect with star potential (Esposito) and a 1st rounder. Very good return in my opinion. Still need help at defense but there is free agency and the draft coming this summer. I wish we could have gotten something for Holik or Klee.

Waiting for Godot

OK I'll admit it, my head is about to explode with all this hitting reload on my web browser.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Falconer New York Style

I know some bloggers love to play up the blogger-vs-MSM (that's mainstream media for you newbies) angle but I've always seem them as complimentary rather than competitive. I know that my role as commentator is certainly made easier by good beat reporters out there.

Well this week I'm appearing in the New York Times online roundtable feature hosted by the Times Jeff Klein. Each blogger was asked to provide concise answers to five questions. This week's question dealt with the playoffs, most hated player, most hated team and the shootout. The Atlantic Division went up this morning and now the Southeast Division bloggers are up as well. 

If you're like me you're bored out of your mind hitting reload looking for breaking trade news--so give yourself some hockey entertainment and check out this new feature.

Tampa Bay Slashing Payroll?

Some fans have really ripped into the Atlanta Spirit ownership here after the season ticket price increases. However the facts show that in two of their three years of ownership the club has spent up to the cap max.

Now fans in Tampa might be getting a taste of what truely cheap ownership looks like. According to the latest Bolts Report the incoming owner wants to slash Tampa's payroll to the cap floor next season ($38-39 million) and wants Brad Richards traded away. Click here to read all about it.


Just in case I haven't made this clear already, I don't believe this current team will win a Stanley Cup anytime soon, nor do I think they will make the playoffs this year. Therefore, I'd be looking to trade any veteran over 33 off the roster if I were GM. Our young players have been productive this season and there are some great pieces to build around. There are just not enough young pieces at this point.

If there is any way to move Zhitnik off this roster short of trading away a high draft pick--do it. I'd move Kozlov too were it not for his no trade clause. The one older player I'd like to see return is Mark Recchi. He has made our power play better and his ability to handle the puck in traffic and in the corners is welcome. He's also not afraid to go to the crease area. No long term deals but I'd offer him another year in Atlanta.

1. Clear cap space.
2. Add talent.
3. Get younger.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Why The Thrashers Fail

Many Thrasher fans complain that Don Waddell's biggest fault as a GM is the team's record on draft day, but my analysis of the drafts between 1999-2002 doesn't support this. So what does explain the team's failure? The way the Thrashers spend their money on unrestricted free agent market. Since the lockout, the franchise has simply not gotten a strong return on their investment in players' salaries. Let's take a look at the evidence.

Which Team Gets the Most For Their Money?

Since the lockout the gap between the richest and poorest teams has greatly narrowed. Before the lockout the Rangers spent $78 million on their roster (1st in the NHL) and the Atlanta Thrashers spent just $27 million (not including Kovalchuk's bonus money) --which put them around 28th in the league in salaries.

The Thrashers did pretty well that year in terms of getting bang for the buck. They were just 28th in salaries but 21st in the standings. Before the lockout Don Waddell's Thrashers regularly ranked in the top half of the league in bang for their buck. In part that was dictated by financial realities--the Thrashers simply had no shot at the top UFAs so they had to look for bargains anywhere they could find them. After the lockout the playing field would be leveled considerably.

With the end of the lockout the new salary cap put both a floor and a cap on team payrolls. This meant that the Rangers could no longer outspend the Thrashers by a 2 to 1 margin anymore. As a team the Thrashers had the 2nd highest payroll that year (they went over the cap maximum once bonus monies were paid out). The Thrashers were 2nd in salaries, but finished just 18th in the overall standings. In terms of getting bang for their buck the Thrashers finished in the basement ranking just 24th out of 30 team. One reason for the Thrashers poor return on investment is that huge contract given to 3rd line center Bobby Holik who is simply does not prevent enough goals from being scored to be worth that much money.

Part of that under performance is the result of goaltender injuries which exposed the lack of organizational depth at that position. But that poor return on investment also reflects the fact that very little money was spent on defensemen and goaltenders and the Thrashers put more money into forwards than any other team in the NHL that season. The allocation of money produced a great offensive team with glaring defensive problems.

UFA signings prior to 2005-06 season (with ages)
39 Scott Mellanby
37 Peter Bondra
34 Jaroslav Modry
34 Bobby Holik
33 Mike Dunham
33 Steve Shields
29 Eric Boulton
NHL Players acquired via trade
32 Greg de Vries
32 Niclas Havelid
29 Shane Hnidy
26 Marian Hossa
24 Adam Berkhoel
24 Steve McCarthy
22 Mark Popovic
NHL Players Claimed from Waivers
Rico Fata

Again in 2006-07 the Atlanta Thrashers spent as much money as the other contenders, they ended up ranking 10th out of 30 teams in payroll. After some major trades at the deadline, they ended up finishing 12th in the league and making the playoffs for the first time. Their salary efficiency still was only average as they finished just 14th out of 30 teams in terms of bang for their buck. Not included in this are the future costs of dealing prospects and picks who would have provided them with cheap players down the road.

UFA signings prior to 2006-07 season (with ages)
40 Scott Mellanby
35 Steve Rucchin
33 Johan Hedberg
33 Niclas Havelid
32 Glen Metropolit
28 Jon Sim
27 Darren Haydar
Players acquired through trades
34 Keith Tkachuk
33 Alexei Zhitnik
28 Niko Kapanen
28 Eric Belanger
27 Pascal Dupuis
26 Vitaly Vishnevski

After spending more than most other teams the two previous years the Thrashers cut back on payroll in 2007-08 and currently rank 19th out of 30 teams in the league. They have produced a very poor on-ice record ranking just 25th out of 30 teams. Their salary efficiency so far this year ranks them in the bottom third again as they currently sit at 21 out of 30 teams. Signing

This last summer Slava Kozlov was singed to a 3 year deal for his age 35, 36 and 37 seasons at $3.6 per season. This is a perfect example of the sort of mistakes this team makes over and over again. Todd White was given a 4 year deal that will make him a Thrashers through his age 32, 33, 34, 35 seasons. If White loses a step his small size and modest skill level will make that contract another bust for the Thrashers. If you're going to overpay at least do it with a younger guy like a Jon Sim or looking ahead to this coming summer Campbell of Buffalo who will be just 28 years old.

UFA signings prior to 2007-08 season (with ages)
36 Ken Klee
35 Slava Kozlov
32 Todd White
32 Eric Perrin
31 Eric Boulton
28 Pascal Dupuis
NHL Players acquired through trades
24 Chris Thorburn
NHL Players from waivers
40 Mark Recchi

In the three years since the arrival of the salary cap the Thrashers payroll has ranked 2nd, 10th and 19th and those teams have finished 18th, 12th and 25th in the standings. Their team payroll efficiency ranking has been average to below average as they have finished 24th, 14th and 21st so far. You are not going to win very many divisional titles or Stanley Cups when your payroll investment performs this badly.

The data strongly suggest that there is an organizational problem in terms of identifying what is an appropriate price to pay for NHL talent. The organization has repeatedly gambled (and lost) by betting that players 33 or older will continue to produce at a high level when there is a large body of statistical evidence which shows that most players begin to decline significantly beyond this age. For examples if you look at the list of players signed for their age 33 or above seasons (Holik, White, Kozlov, Klee, Rucchin, Bondra, Modry, Mellanby, Havelid, Hedberg) I'd have to say that the Thrashers have broken even on Mellanby, Hedberg and Havelid and they have lost money on the rest of the players on that list.

I have argued before that the organization could stand to learn a few things from basic statistical analysis. I think the evidence strongly suggests that the Thrashers organization has made fundamental errors in their cost/benefit analysis when it comes to player contracts. Teams that get good value from their contracts win Division Titles, President's Cup and Stanley Cups. Teams that get poor value miss the playoffs or just scrape by. So far the Atlanta Thrashers are firmly in that latter group.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Money Can't Buy You--Leadership?

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.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

How Will the Thrashers Start Tonight?

Last season I ran some numbers which showed that the Thrashers struggled when they had 3 or more days off. If I had more time I'd take a look at the numbers for this season, but I don't. However, I will point out that we recently saw this pattern in action when the team have 4 days off and came out flatter than a pancake at home and the Capitals outshot them something like 18-3 in the first period.

So now the Thrashers head up to Carolina for an important divisional contest. The Hurricanes have lost their heart and soul (Rod Brind'amour) for the rest of the season and have been receiving sub-standard goaltending for a while. The Thrashers are coming off an inspiration win versus New Jersey and an ugly loss to the Islanders--a game that seemed to have been plucked from the team's expansion years.

The Thrashers have now been off for several days. These days have been filled with wall to wall trade speculation about one of their star players. How will they respond? Will they come out firing with a chip on their shoulder or will they skate around flat-footed like a distracted team that hasn't seen any game action for 5 days? What kid of "character" will we see that in action tonight.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It's Business, Not Personal

It seems that the tension between season ticket holders and the Atlanta Thrashers continues to heat up. Word has that one of the ticket reps called me a "hack"--I've been called worse in my lifetime.

On the one hand I really feel sorry for the ticket reps, my experiences with them have been positive and I like Jonathan Tillman who is in charge of ticket holder retention. So let me make this perfectly clear. I love watching NHL hockey and I want the Atlanta Thrashers to survive and prosper. Unlike most angry STH I don't even mind the increase in ticket prices--Atlanta prices are toward the bottom of the NHL if you look around the league. I don't have any issues with the ticket reps. This is not a personal grudge in any way, shape or form.

What I'm upset about is that the business side of the Atlanta Thrashers have discounted single game tickets so heavily it makes no sense financially to buy a full season up front and eat unused (or unsaleable tickets) or pay full price for the pre-season games.

You might quibble with my math. If you buy single tickets on ticket master yes you will need to factor in service charges. You may not be able to get a 50% discount for all the weekend games. But the simple fact is that if you bought single game tickets and attended around 37 home games this current season you saved yourself between $500-$1,000+ a pair depending upon where you sit in the arena--and (here's the real kicker) you still had a shot at buying tickets to the All-Star Game.

As a money making enterprise I think that the Atlanta Thrashers have made a fundamental error in allowing their "targeted" ticket discounts to become accessible to virtually everyone. This is the age of the internet and until they figure out some code system that really works those discounts can and will be widely used and abused.

A season ago when they had those "Blueland Club" seats I know somebody who got extra seats for $1 and used them to go out to the CNN Center to buy beers during intermission because it was cheaper to buy at Gorins outside and then re-enter with the $1 ticket. If you're in the business of making money on hockey and concessions that is a serious problem.

In the comments section of my previous post Stan noted that the "Buy 4 for the price of 3" deal is available for most remaining games and the prices are cheaper than season ticket holder prices. Then today some posted over at the Smirken Chicken an offer for 50% off all seats the rest of the season. These offers further bolster my case.

I'd like to end with my making an open invitation. If one of the season ticket holder representatives would like to make a guest post explaining why becoming a season ticket holder is a good deal based on the dollars, I will be more than happy to put it up. If I'm wrong, show me how a season ticket holder who attends 37 home games gets a better deal. However, until that happens I respectfully ask you to refrain from calling me a "hack" because I'm pretty sure that the evidence is on my side. It's not personal, it's just business.

Trades, and Rumors of Trades

It is probably nothing...but I am getting a fair number of hits from people in Michigan and Windsor, Ontario searching "Filppula trade Hossa" and ending up here. My guess is that this traffic is being driven by a Filppula Facebook page that says "traded to Atlanta"--what does this mean? Probably nothing since there are many fake Facebook accounts. On the other hand, it would the ultimate internet age scoop for a player to break the news of his own trade?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Trading Marian Hossa

Craig Custance has a story about DW heading down to Tampa to talk trade at the GM meetings and lists five teams who are chasing Hossa. I'll take Craig's list and give a run down down of potential players the Thrashers could get in return for Hossa.

What I would do if I were GM is target young defensemen and centers between the ages of 20-25. Why?

1) Young players on average get better. NHL players reach their peak years younger than you might think--most players have their peak performances between age 25 and age 30. As a franchise the Thrashers have continually made the mistake of acquiring or signing players over the age of 32 who are entering the decline portion of their careers. Betting on young players is wiser than betting on older players.

2) Avoid getting draft picks in return. The Thrashers record on draft is merely average, but the bigger problem is there is too much chance involved in picking 18 year olds. They are not physically or mentally mature. It is much easier to assess a player at age 20 or 21 than at age 18. The Thrashers need players that are highly likely to become quality NHL contributors and they would be better off to concentrate on young players with a track record over draft picks.

3) The Thrashers are not just one or two pieces away from being a Stanley Cup contender. If they are going to trade Hossa they need to expand the foundation of young talent that can become the basis for a Stanley Cup contender as those players hit their peak years. The Thrashers core talent of Kovalchuk, Lehtonen, Enstrom needs to be surrounded with other young guys. The Thrashers have tried going the veteran route but the team still grossly deficient in terms of determination and effort in back-to-back contests such as the other night against the Islanders.

Let's go down Craig Custance's list of teams pursuing Marian Hossa and see what players might be available.

1. Detroit

Valtteri Filppula 23, 27 points in 60 games +17. This should be the Thrashers number one trade target in my opinion. Only 23, Filppula has should tremendous growth at every level. In his second year in Finland his scoring rate nearly doubled. He came to North American at age 21 and was a point-per-game player in the AHL. In his 2nd year in the NHL he again doubled his scoring rate (with better ice time and better linemates). His development track looks like someone who will certainly be a top two center and perhaps even a star down the road. If I were GM Detroit would not get Hossa unless Filppula was coming back to Atlanta, I'm sure Hossa would need to sign an extension in order for Filppula to come this direction.

F Jiri Hudler 24, 34 points in 59 games +11. A very skilled player with strong upside. But at 24 he only has another year or two left on his development curve before hitting his peak. The biggest drawback is that he is just so small. If the Thrashers acquired him in a trade they would feature a top six that includes Recchi, Perrin, White, Hudler who are all under 6 foot with Bryan Little and Brett Sterling down in the AHL. I don't mind having small players but there is a limit and the Thrashers are approaching it already.

D Kyle Quincey 22, in the minors. He put up some good numbers for a defenseman in his age 18 and age 19 seasons in the OHL. His AHL scoring rate fell during this current season compared to the season before which is a concern. The forecaster scouting report says he has a big frame with solid potential but struggles with consistency (sounds like a lot of other current Thrashers)

D Derek Meech 23, 0 points in 19 games -2. Given plus marks for his skating and hockey sense but lacks size and suffers from coverage breakdowns. Has not put up very good plus/minus numbers while playing on some quality teams which is a warning side.

D Jakub Kindl 21, playing his first season in North America. Not sure if he is ready to step into the NHL next season or not.

D Brett Lebda 26, 12 points in 59 games +5. He would receive much more ice time if he played for Atlanta Thrashers. Would help immediately but not get any better with time.

2. Montreal

C Plekanec 25, 53 points in 59 games played +7. He has taken a major step in terms of production and is just entering his prime. Probably untouchable unless Hossa agrees to a contract extension. A bit small, but he has emerged as a legitimate scoring center.

W/C Chris Higgins 24, 36 points in 59 games +4. A well rounded player who can play on both the PK and PP units. Still likely to improve and has plus hockey sense and a strong defensive game. I like him a lot and think he would flourish offensively with Atlanta.

D Ryan O'Byrne 23, 2 points in 14 games -4. Strong and tough defenseman who in the traditional stay at home style. He will do nothing to help the offense and lack of offensive flair might be a problem in terms of outlet passing in the NHL as is the case with Exelby now.

D Ryan McDonagh, playing at Wisconsin this year as a 19 year old freshman and putting up very good numbers of an offensive defenseman in the WCHA. He likely need more time before playing in the NHL.

C Kyle Chipchura, considered to be a very good 3rd line center. In my opinion you need to acquire more of an impact player than this if you're Atlanta. Third line centers are readily available each summer through unrestricted free agency. No need to overpay for one in a trade.

3. Anaheim

The Ducks have the Oilers first rounder which will likely be quite high in a quality draft. As I mentioned above I don't want to see this team trade Hossa for picks but Anaheim will not want to weaken their roster.

D Mathieu Schneider 38 might be expendable with the return of Scott Neidermayer and he has family in Atlanta. Schneider is far too old to be on any Stanley Cup championship team in Atlanta and acquiring him would only make sense if the Thrashers were to trade him elsewhere for younger players who could help down the road.

RW Bobby Ryan 20, has split this season between AHL and NHL. He was taken 2nd overall after Crosby (what a drop off eh?) and has good hands and good size. More of passer than a shooter.

4. Dallas

Jussi Jokinen 24, 25 points in 48 games played. The king of the shootout in past years has seen his NHL scoring rate fall each season in the NHL. Is that a function of the conservative style in Dallas or a stagnating player? Nearing his prime years he might still improve in a more wide open offense.

Matt Niskanen 21, 22 points in 62 games +13. Niskanen played just 13 games in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL at a young age. A great skater with strong offensive skills. This guy could be a stud defender on the Thrashers blueline for a decade. Would Dallas give him up for Hossa?

5. San Jose

The Sharks draft better than almost any other NHL teams. They also have a nack for figuring out which of their away prospects who still look attractive before they flame out. I would be nervous about taking whatever the Sharks offer without doing a LOT of homework. Ask for the the guys they don't offer "Beware of Sharks bearing gifts." They seems to turn out defensemen at will.

C Patrick Marleau was the subject of a whole post. The more I think about the more I'm inclined to say he is not a good fit. He's already 28 and will make over $6 million the next two seasons. If he returns to the point-per-game level that salary is fine, but if not he becomes a giant salary milestone around the Thrasher neck. The team would be much better off to get some high quality youngsters who are not overpaid and use Hossa's salary to fill another whole on the roster.

D Christian Ehrhoff 25, 17 points in 55 games +1. A solid player who has always been a plus defenseman in the NHL. He could bring some much needed puck skills to the Thrasher blueline but will not add much in the way of physical play.

D Marc-Edouard Vlasic 20, 10 points in 57 games played -10. Given high marks for hockey sense and coverage. Broke into the NHL at 19 which is very impressive. Has time to improve on the offensive side and he scored over a point-per-game as a defenseman in the QMJHL at age 18. The more I learn about him the more I like him.

D Matt Carle 23, 13 points in 51 games played -7. The Sharks seemed to sour on him a bit after a hot start in San Jose. He scored a lot of points with college powerhouse Denver and won a national championship. Much stronger on the offensive side than the defensive side of the puck.

RW Devin Setoguchi 21, 12 points in 29 NHL games as a rookie. His WHL numbers make me gun shy to be honest. His WHL numbers don't scream NHL top six forward. He projects to be a either a OK 2nd line winger or a 3rd line winger based on his track record and comparable players.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Why are the Thrashers Making it Cheaper to Not Buy Season Tickets?

Thrasher Fan #1 loves hockey and bought two season tickets this season. He would rather not buy the 3 pre-season games but is required to do so and he will miss 4 games a year because of work or other travel out of town. He can't find a buyer for those 4 games he misses so he usually just gives them away.

Balance Sheet for Fan #1 a Season Ticket Holder
37 games attended in the 300s.
$2640 Total price for the season for two seats
$35.67 Cost per game attended per seat

Thrasher Fan #2 loves hockey and attends nearly every home game but buys single game tickets. She too will end up making 37 home games with her work, rec hockey games and extensive social life.

Fan #2 sits in the exact same section as Fan #1 but she uses coupons and internet specials to get some great markdowns:
  • Oct: 2 for 1 Thursdays, All-Star Wednesdays and $10 off with Downtown Connect
  • Nov-Dec buy one get one free--a 50% discount.
  • Feb-Mar get $30 off two tickets--a 45% discount.

She attends 37 home games this season and pays the following.
  • 4 Oct games 1 on a Thursday ($19) 3 full price ($38)
  • 13 Nov-Dec games (she misses two games) pays $19 a ticket
  • 20 Jan-Mar games (she misses two games) pays$23 a ticket

Balance Sheet for Fan #2 who buys tickets game-by-game
37 games in the 300s.
$1680 Total price for the season for two seats
$22.73 Cost per game attended

Thrashers Fan #1 and Thrashers Fan #2 attended the exact same number of regular season games and sat in the same area of the stands for those games. Thrasher Fan #1 bought his tickets in advance and paid nearly $1,000 more than Thrasher Fan #2.

So what exactly did Fan #1 get for that extra $1,000? 3 pre-season tickets and 4 regular season tickets that he couldn't re-sell and ended up giving away. A media guide. One "Meet the GM" event. The right to buy All-Star tickets (which was later made available to the general public) and the right to buy extra regular season and possible playoff tickets before others. 20% off at the Team Gear store (he saved $20 on $100 in purchases).

Who got the better deal? I'm going to have to say Fan #2 which makes me feel pretty silly since I bought the whole package in advance. With her savings Fan #2 could go to the same number of games and still have money to buy that big new TV to watch games on CenterIce.

Last Home Game for Marian Hossa?

I'm not going to lie to anyone. I'm about as depressed as a person can be going to the Thrashers game tonight because I fully expect this the last time I'll see Marian Hossa in a Thrashers uniform.

Yes, he's had a sub-par season by his own standards this year, but I have tremendous respect for the way he played in his first two seasons here. Hossa was an absolute game breaker and probably our best defensive forward. That is a VERY difficult feat to accomplish. Seldom do you see a top ten scorer in the NHL back check the way Hossa has here in Atlanta. God's honest truth is that if Hossa had turned in those exact two seasons--but did it in New York or Canada--he would have gotten more MVP votes (I'm not saying he would have won, but he would certainly would have been mentioned much more often). It is a shame that those two season brought this organization so little and that his hard work failed to get the attention it deserved.

Hossa arrived here in one of Don Waddell's more inspired moves in exchange for Heatley who was viewed (by some at least) as damaged goods and a big question mark. When you look at how little the Oilers got in return for Chris Pronger you can see that it is not easy trading a star level player and getting good value in return. But here we are at the end of Hossa's three year deal and all indications are that he will not re-sign here because he doesn't expect there to be any Stanley Cup parades in the next five years. Honestly, I think the same thing.

The Thrashers defense is a mess and pretty much always has been. The goaltender is young and shows promise, but he is inconsistent and can't be counted on to play great in net for four playoff rounds. The forwards are a mish-mash of expensive wingers, overpaid checkers, older players heading into their decline years and smallish centers who will be pushed around in the playoffs when things get physical. (Can you imagine the Thrashers winning any games against the Ducks or Flames--I can't after watching the way those two teams went after Detroit in the playoffs last spring.) The ownership is very unsettled. In the final analysis the Thrashers have some interesting pieces that could become part of a Stanley Cup contender but right now there are more pieces missing than in place.

And yet the Thrashers remain the playoff hunt because they are fortunate enough to play in the worst division in hockey where not one team out of five can get their act together long enough to pull away. The only reason the Thrashers are still in the playoffs is because they are lucky. Talking about "the guys battling" or "they're really hanging in there" just obscures the hard truth: this is just not a very good hockey club.

In some ways I really hate the three division system because it allows fans, owners and management to trick themselves into thinking this team is really better than it is. If the NHL used a two division system we couldn't avoid coming to the obvious conclusion that this team is not very good and unlikely to go anywhere without very significant upgrades at center and defense.

But Hossa isn't going to deceive himself and why should he? If he stays healthy he probably has 5 quality season left in his body. Why waste those on a club that can't seem to ever identify or acquire quality defensemen? (or at least more than one every three years, Havelid and Enstrom could play on any team in the NHL.) Why sign a contract and hope that you get into the playoffs when you could sign with a club that has a Hall of Fame goalie or Hall of Fame defenseman behind you? The Thrashers have a potential Hall of Fame winger who is beginning to exert himself on the defensive end and show leadership qualities for the first time in his career.

Hossa has options and if I were him I'd give free agency a try too. The last time he signed a contract he was traded 10 minutes later. The same guy offering him a contract today was the guy who snatched him away from Ottawa. That might lead to some trust issues if it happened to you.

Sorry to be such a downer today, but that is where I'm at. I'm tired of missing the playoffs almost every year. I'm tired of watching the other team celebrate after yet another appalling defensive breakdown. I'm tired of only see bits and pieces of a contending team out there on the ice. But mostly I'm weary because I expect the Thrashers to have one less quality piece when I step into Philips Arena on February 28th.

Real Eastern Conference Standings 2-13
Points above .500
1. +15 Ottawa
2. +13 Pittsburgh
3. +10 Montreal
4. +10 New Jersey
5. +9 Philadelphia
6. +6 Buffalo
7. +4 Rangers
8. +5 Boston
9. +2 Washington
10 +1 Carolina
11 +0 Atlanta
12 +0 Islanders
13 -1 Florida
14 -2 Toronto
15 -3 Tampa

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

To Buy or Not To Buy? This is the Question.

An open letter to Atlanta Thrashers.

My name is The Falconer and I'm an NHL addict. I've been a season ticket holder since season three and I've been buying tickets for games since season one.

The Thrashers have played something like 650+ games in their history (counting playoffs and pre-season games) and I have watched something like 97% of those games in person or on television. There was a lot of ugly hockey in those 650 games so clearly I'm an addict.

So far this is good news for the Atlanta Thrashers because they are in the business of selling NHL hockey games. The truth is that I'm addicted and I'll continue to buy even if the price goes up. Here is the bad news for the Thrashers: Clearly I am going to buy hockey tickets, but based upon my experiences the last several years it no longer makes economic sense to buy a full season ticket anymore. Again, the question is not IF I buy tickets, but WHEN I buy them.

Let's consider the known facts. I could renew my season tickets and save some money relative to the face value price or I could buy a half season or smaller package that covers many of the weekend sell-out games and just buy heavily discounted single game tickets on weeknights. Right now I would come out ahead by taking the second option.

The Atlanta Thrashers have tried hard to get more fans in the building on weeknight by discounting tickets greatly--I understand the reasons for doing that. But at the same time they have discounted tickets to such a degree and with such regularity that they have undercut the value of purchasing full season tickets.

Now I'm sure that the guys at Atlanta Spirit are rational business people since they all have accumulated more money than I have. If anyone can, they should understand the logic of a person trying to maximize the value per dollar spent. Right now the short term discounts offered by the team over the last few seasons have de-valued the season ticket product so that a rational person is better off not buying in for the long haul. Again, it is not a question IF I will buy tickets, but WHEN, and right now the options presented by the Thrashers are pushing me (a rational person) to buy later.

On the other hand, if the Thrashers were to announce that they would limit the number of discounted weeknight seats that might change the equation. Or if the Thrashers would guarantee that Season Ticket holders will get upgrades on nights when non-season ticket holders can get heavily discounted seats that might also swing the needle back towards the "buy in advance" side. Or if the Thrashers restored the $99 or $199 extra seats for week night games so could invite friends and family to attend that might change my decision (if you're trying to fill the stands let me pick who gets to sit in the cheap seats). Or if I were offered coupons for concessions that might also change the equation.

But right now, as it stands the season ticket package is not as attractive as the non-season ticket package--and that's a bad thing for hockey fans and a bad thing for the Atlanta Thrashers in my opinion.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Would Patrick Marleau Fit the Thrashers?

Trade talk is dominating the minds of many Thrasher fans and Patrick Marleau is one of those guys being talked as being available. Marleau is in the midsts of a terrible season offensively. He's only producing half a point a game which is a huge drop from his two previous years where he was a point per game player. The big question is whether this is just an off year or a long slump or if he is injured. (Edit: he just left the Sharks game with a groin injury--is that a new problem or an old one is the question I suppose.)

Looking at his career I'm leaning towards an off year. People have off years sometimes-it just happens. But few players fall off the cliff at age 28. There a couple of offensive stars who flamed out young Jimmy Carson and Trottier come to my mind but in both cases injuries were the central factor. If Marleau is indeed generally healthy I would expect a bounce back next season.

Another question is whether he is worth the $6 million a year he is owed the next two seasons. If he is a point per game player then it isn't a bad contract if he is just a 50-60 point player--well that's not so good.

Another thing that jumps out is that he has played a ton of NHL games (771) for someone who is just 28 years old. At this point Marleau is a ten year NHL veteran--I didn't realize he had played in the league for that many years.

Age/NHL Points-per-game
18 0.43
19 0.56
20 0.49
21 0.64
22 0.56
23 0.70
24 0.71
25 lockout
26 1.05
27 1.01
28 0.50

Another interesting fact is that Marleau is one of those rare players where his career playoff scoring rate (.70) is actually higher than his regular season career scoring rate (.67). Overall scoring is down significantly in the playoffs so the average NHL player sees a decline in their playoff points per game but this is not the case for Marleau over his career.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Old School Payback?

I grew up watching old school Norris Division hockey where every Blackhawks-Wings game featured at least one fight and many took 4 hours to play because of all the extra curricular activities. I'm not really a big fan of fighting--I never go to but I am a fan of toughness.

Last night I saw a free hit on the Thrashers best player Ilya Kovalchuk. Yes Todd White jumped on him immediately (kudos to White) but does anyone really think that other players around the league are going to think twice about running Kovalchuk if Todd White is the biggest thing they have to worry about?

This gratuitous hit came in Kovalchuk's game in the first game back in the NHL after he was hit late by Ruutu of the Penguins. Again someone jumped on Ruutu (McCarthy) but is that going to stop future hits on Ilya? No.

I'm old fashioned. When someone takes a free shot at your best player that means someone on your team MUST take the same shot at THEIR best player. Once you do the other coach says "OK guys calm down we can't afford to lose Malkin or Luongo for a month"

I don't want to put too fine a point on it but here's how it works. Vancouver player hits Kovalchuk away from the puck and sends him into the boards. On their next shift Larsen or Slater (he losses his balance easily anyway) busts down the ice and skates directly into Luongo full speed. Message sent.

Will he be tossed from the game? Likely. Can the Thrashers win without Larsen, Slater or Boulton the rest of the game--yes they can. Can the Thrashers win if Kovalchuk gets hurt from another cheap shot--no, not over the long haul. Men of the checking lines--time to step up and do what needs to be done. I'm not an advocate of goon hockey, but I will say that a little of goonery can go a long way.

While I'm calling people out I think it also time time for Don Waddell to stand up after a game and say something that will get him fined. How about saying "the next time a guy takes a free shot at Ilya we're going after that team's best player!" Will it cost Don a $50,000 fine? Yes. Will the message get sent around the league? Absolutely. It will replayed on NHL On The Fly and in the pre-game show of every visiting team. Is it worth $50,000 for the organization to send that message that their $6,389,000-a-year top player is not fair game--yes it is. Besides they can just give DW a bonus at the end of the year.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Super Tuesday not so Super for Thrashers

OK I'll admit. I gave my Thrasher tickets away to stay home and watch the election returns come in on Super Tuesday. Having said that, I did tape the game and watched it later and I have to say the Thrashers deserved to win the game in my opinion. Hossa and Kovalchuk both had some good looking chances they couldn't quite convert.

Lehtonen let in a softie from the blueline. He will never be considered a top goalie as long he lets those in. Eliot said that the great save he made later made up for it, but they still lost by 1 goal. That softie put his team behind and that changed the way the Thrashers played the game--and it changed the momentum of the contest.

Earlier I gave this team a very hard time because of a series of weak efforts. Now going back to the pre-All Star Game versus the Rangers that makes 5 games in a row where they have worked harder than the opposition. I can't remember any stretch this season where they have showed this kind of heart.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Election Day: Remember to Vote Georgia!

I'm not going to endorse anyone here (OK I do endorse Pedro), but as a government teacher I am going to strongly exhort my fellow citizens to turn out and exercise their right to vote. Both political parties have hard fought nomination battles that remain very undecided as of this moment. Honestly I can't ever remember voting in a presidential primary where the nomination race was as wide open as this one is today.

Years ago I worked for a politician who got his start when his wife told him "You either get out there and do something or stop your whining" and so I'll pass along her advice. If you're unhappy with the way things are going at the moment, now is your change to play a small part in picking our nation's next executive. If you don't care enough to vote, then don't complain about the quality of leadership.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Hossa Chatter Picks Up

There is some talk up about a potential Montreal and Thrashers trade involving Hossa. I can't say if there is any truth to these rumors and I'm reluctant to give credit to something said on the radio and reported on a message board, but sounds like DW was in Montreal last night which adds a bit more substance to this trade chatter. If the Thrashers were to make a deal with the Canadians they have some very interesting players.

Chris Higgins would be someone I'd love to see in a Thrashers uniform. He is skilled player with a great two way game. Montreal uses him both as a PK guy and on their PP unit. He also has leadership potential as evidenced by the "A" he wears at a young age. At 24 he is just about to enter his prime NHL years (25-30). Another plus regarding Higgins. He was born on Long Island and is a native English speaker (this team could really use a funny or intelligent player who could do more stuff for local TV or radio to raise the profile of the club).

Montreal also has some decent young defensive prospects that could be included in any potential deal. 2007 1st rounder Ryan McDonagh is playing this year at Wisconsin and putting up a very good point total for a 19 year old college defenseman. He was a high school star and was voted Mr. Hockey for the state of Minnesota and has played for the US under 18 national team.

Russia Alexei Yemelin (taken 84th overall in 2004) is playing in the top Russian League. This year he is playing with Kazan Ak-Bars and in previous seasons he has played with Tolyatti Lada. He hasn't put up big point totals but it is very hard to score in the top league in Russia. His scouting report over at Hockey's Future indicates he is more on the side of a tough hitter than a puck moving defenseman. One comment I can make is that he played a full season in the top Russian league by the time he was 20 which is a good sign that he is a quality player and could play in the NHL.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Terrific Game

I've criticized the Thrashers for both inconsistency and poor efforts this season and so I was pleased but cautious after a solid efforts in the Ranger game before the break and the Pittsburgh game after the break. In the past, the Thrashers have followed up a couple of strong games by relaxing, but last night against Buffalo that did not happen. The guys came out and put forth a good effort.

After 55 minutes it looked like that strong effort would not be rewarded as they were trailing 4-3. That's the way it is in professional sports--you can play well and some nights you don't get the win. Instead of walking away empty handed they tied the game as result of two penalties and a 6>3 power play goal by Tobias Enstrom. For all those fans who complain about the Thrashers giving up goals late in the period or the Thrashers getting hurt by the delay of game penalty--well last night the shoe was on the other foot as Atlanta was able to exploit those same circumstances against Buffalo.

Now the giant question is can they sustain this level of effort and determination? Last night I watched Marian Hossa play perhaps the most physical game ever as a Thrasher--will we see that again? Last night we saw Slava Kozlov drop his shoulder and drive the net "for the first time all season" (according to Darren Eliot)--will we see that again? Last night we saw both the 3rd and 4th line contribute big goals--will we see that again? This was a great win last night, but for this game to really mean something they must keep rolling and battling hard every night. If the team flies up to Washington and lays and egg--the Buffalo win was just one nice game.

Some observations:
  • What is with Johan Hedberg and weird puck bounces? He had one on the road against Buffalo and terrible one during a tight playoff game and again last night he was burned by a strange puck bounce.
  • Enstrom scored a huge goal--and he showed us a shot we should see more of. Note to the Thrashers: if the rest of you will shoot when there is a lane you will find that Ilya Kovalchuk will be open more often. Call it the All-Star game syndrome--too often our power play has a "give it to Iyla" mentality and the defending team knows that.
  • How about that birthday boy Mark Recchi? He skates down the wing and when the defense doesn't pressure him he picks a the top corner and scores a goal. Father Time will not let Recchi play forever, but the man still has NHL quality hands.
  • Tip of the hat to Slater for a bona fide goal scoring streak. And another tip of the hat to Eric Boulton for great forechecking and a sweet pass.
  • Todd White had a chance to score into a nearly empty net and missed. Someone on one of the boards quipped "White is buying on this road trip." He had to be the happiest guy on the bench that the team got the win eventually.
  • Eric Perrin with the huge shoulder fake that brought the house down and won the extra point for the Thrashers. I thought that Coach Waddell might put Brett Sterling in the #4 slot since he does the shootout frequently in the AHL but he went with Perrin who has been playing well of late and Perrin showed us the skills he used to put up big numbers in college hockey.
  • One last thing. I never root for anyone to get hurt (OK maybe Darcy Tucker) but there was a certain about of hockey karma last night after the Sabres player hit Hedberg from behind and made no real effort to avoid him. Later in the game Thorburn fell on R. Miller and put his out of the game. I think that Thorburn did not really try to avoid Miller, but if you live by the sword you die by the sword.
Updated Real Standings
Eastern Conference
1. +16 OTT (Division Leader)
2. +12 MON
3. +11 PHI (Division Leader)
4. +9 PIT
5. +8 NJD
6. +8 BOS
7. +2 NYI
8. +2 NYR
9. +2 BUF
10 +2 CAR (Division Leader)
11 +1 WAS
12 +0 ATL
13 -2 FLA
14 -4 TOR
15 -5 TBL

Friday, February 01, 2008

How Important are Playoff Wins for NHL Market Success?

In a recent debate over at the Business of Hockey Forum at Hockey's Future Boards I made the point that it is difficult to measure Atlanta as a hockey market in part because the team has had so little success. What we can say for certain is that people in Atlanta are not crazy about bad hockey. How they will react to quality hockey is still unknown at this point.

This led me to spend some time thinking about the importance of playoff and regular season success in terms of building a fanbase. For example, Detroit bills itself as "Hockeytown" and it is certainly one of (if not the) best hockey markets in the USA. But back in the early 1980s they had to give away cars to get fans to attend after a stretch of nearly two decades where the club failed to win a single playoff series.

Another example is Alberta. I assume that people in Calgary and Edmonton both like hockey as a sport about equally, however the TV ratings within the province give a significant edge to Edmonton. Why is that? I suspect it can be explained by the great playoff success of the Gretzky era Oilers in the playoffs.

So I decided to take a look at the playoff record in each NHL market since expansion began with the 1967-68 season. Is playoff success strongly correlated with a strong markets? Does success breed fans? My expectation going into this study was "maybe" but I really wasn't sure.

The first thing I looked at was average number of playoff wins for each season a market had a NHL team. Montreal ranks right at the top and by all accounts is a hockey crazy city and that franchise has won more Cups than any other. I would say that generally speaking the cities in the top third have had strong attendance and fan support over the years. Newer markets (Denver, Dallas and Ottawa) have done quite well while Carolina has struggled at times. Of the top 12 cities with the highest playoff win average I would call 10 strong NHL markets with only the Devils and Hurricans drawing poorly at points.

If we look at the middle group of cities with medium level of playoff success I would say most of these markets have had good years and bad years. The chief exceptions would be Toronto which has always sold out, while Calgary and Vancouver have generally been strong markets with a few weak years. Now if we look at the markets with the least amount of playoff wins per year we see a lot of markets that have also struggled to draw fans during the regular season.

Based upon this set of data I'd say that there is fairly strong correlation between playoff success and the strength of NHL markets. It seems that a long playoff run can be very important to building or solidifying the fan base. I suspect that a good long playoff run has a powerful intensifying effect on fan loyalty. It can turn casual fans into more ardent supporters and it may induce occasional attenders to become season ticket holders.

Average Number of Playoff Wins per Season, 1968-2007
Markets with most post-season success
5.7 MON (10 Stanley Cups)
5.6 COL (2 Stanley Cups) (Rockies and Avalanche)
5.4 EDM (5 Stanley Cups)
5.0 DAL (1 Stanley Cup)
4.9 NJD (3 Stanley Cups)
4.6 PHI (2 Stanley Cups)
4.1 BOS (2 Stanley Cups)
3.7 CAR (1 Stanley Cup)
3.6 NYI (4 Stanley Cups)
3.6 OTT
3.5 DET (3 Stanley Cups)
3.5 STL

Markets with some post-season success
3.4 NYR (1 Stanley Cup)
3.4 ANA (1 Stanley Cup)
3.4 CHI
3.3 CGY (1 Stanley Cup)
3.1 BUF
2.9 PIT (2 Stanley Cups)
2.8 TOR
2.8 MIN (North Stars and Wild)
2.3 SJS/OAK (Seals and Sharks)
2.2 WAS
2.0 VAN

Markets with the least post-season success
1.9 QUE
1.9 TBL (1 Stanley Cup)
1.6 LAK
1.0 WIN
1.0 FLA
1.0 PHX
0.9 HAR
0.5 NAS
0.1 ATL (Flames and Thrashers)
0.0 CBJ
0.0 KC
0.0 CLE

Another way to look at this is to count the number of playoff series won. The Blues and Blackhawks have the unfortunate distinction of winning the most post-season series since 1968 without winning the Stanley Cup. At the other extreme Carolina has reached the Finals twice--but has zero playoff wins in the other years of their short history in Carolina.

One interesting question is this: If you are a hockey fan which would your rather have--the St. Louis Blues history of regular season success but post-season frustration or the Tampa/Carolina pattern of very modest regular season success but a Stanley Cup to celebrate?

Playoff Series Won Since 1968 (* Won Cup since 1968)
(Note: I did not count the short wild-card round used during 1975-79)
48 Montreal *
33 Philadelphia *
33 Edmonton *
32 Boston *
27 Detroit *
27 NY Islanders *
25 Chicago
25 NY Rangers *
23 St. Louis
22 NJ Devils *
20 Buffalo
19 Minnesota
18 Pittsburgh *
18 Colorado *
15 Calgary *
14 Toronto
12 Dallas *
11 Vancouver
11 San Jose/Oakland
10 Washington
10 Anaheim *
09 Los Angeles
08 Ottawa
07 Carolina *
06 Quebec
05 Tampa *
03 Florida
02 Winnipeg
01 Hartford
00 Nashville
00 Phoenix
00 Atlanta
00 Columbus
00 Kansas City
00 Cleveland

Of course just counting playoff series wins can be somewhat deceptive since some teams have been around for the full 40 years since 1967-1968 season while other less than 10 years. So I divided the number of playoff series wins by the number of years the NHL has been in that market.

I found it a bit surprising to see Anaheim and Carolina ranked so high but a couple of long playoff runs in their short histories pushed them up the rankings. On the other hand some teams have been around decades but they have given their local fans very little to cheer about in the spring (Kings, Canuks and Capitals).

Average Number of Playoff Series won per year.
1.23 Montreal
1.18 Edmonton
1.13 Denver
.92 NJ Devils
.92 Dallas
.85 Philadelphia
.82 Boston
.79 NY Islanders
.78 Carolina
.77 Anaheim
.69 Detroit
.64 NY Rangers
.64 Chicago

Markets with medium playoff series wins per year
.59 St. Louis
.59 Minnesota
.58 Calgary
.57 Ottawa
.56 Buffalo
.46 San Jose/Oakland
.46 Pittsburgh
.36 Toronto
.36 Tampa

Markets with the least playoff series wins per year
.35 Quebec
.31 Vancouver
.31 Washington
.23 Los Angeles
.23 Florida
.11 Winnipeg
.05 Hartford
.00 Atlanta
.00 Phoenix
.00 Nashville
.00 Columbus
.00 Kansas City
.00 Cleveland

Longest Playoff Series Win Drought 1968-2007
20 years Detroit 1967-1987
18 Pittsburgh 1971-1988
15 Atlanta (Flames 1973-1980 and Thrashers 2000-07)
14 Calgary 1990-2003
13 years Islanders 1994-2007
12 Kings 1970-1981
11 Vancouver 1971-1981
11 Hartford 1987-1997
10 Chicago 1997-2007
10 Tampa 1993-2002
10 Phoenix 1997-2007
10 Florida 1997-2007
10 Toronto 1968-1977

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