Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

NHL Salary Efficiency Rating Post Lockout

Which franchise gets the most for their money?

Under the salary cap every GM must get a solid return for the money he spends on player payroll. So which teams have fared the best in the post-lockout salary cap world? Today I rank all 30 NHL teams in all three post-lockout seasons.

(If you don't care about the MATH details of how I got this skip down). The payroll numbers come straight off Irish Blues site which I consider to be the most accurate source available. I'm using the salary efficiency method posted on Baseball Prospectus website (marginal points/marginal $$). The idea is how much did each team spend beyond the minimum per player ($475,000) or roughly an $11 million payroll (I know teams are required to spend more but this is the conceptual bottom). How many points did a team earn beyond what a roster filled with AHLers would get? (I assume a AHLer team would get 23 standing points). Once you figure out marginal points and marginal payroll you divide and viola you see how many additional points each team gained for each additional million spent on payroll.

2005-06 Salary Efficiency Rankings
1. BUF
2. NAS
3. CAR
4. MIN
5. SJS
6. FLA
7. OTT
8. DET
9. DAL
10 NYR
11 ANA
12 WAS
13 CGY
14 EDM
15 NJD
16 MON
17 PHX
18 PHI
19 LAK
20 TBL
21 COL
22 TOR
23 VAN
24 ATL
25 CBJ
26 NYI
27 BOS
28 CHI
29 STL
30 PIT

2006-07 Salary Efficiency Rankings
1. PIT
2. NAS
3. ANA
4. BUF
5. DET
6. DAL
7. MIN
8. OTT
9. SJS
10 VAN
11 WAS
12 NYI
13 NYR
14 ATL
15 STL
16 CGY
17 FLA
18 CAR
19 COL
20 NJD
21 TBL
22 MON
23 TOR
24 CBJ
25 EDM
26 LAK
27 CHI
28 BOS
29 PHX
30 PHI

2007-08 Salary Efficiency Rankings (through March 21st, 2008)
1. SJS
2. NAS
3. DET
4. PIT
5. PHX
6. WAS
7. MON
8. CBJ
9. OTT
10 NJD
11 MIN
12 CAL
13 ANA
14 CAR
15 COL
16 BUF
17 DAL
18 FLA
19 VAN
20 NYR
21 NYI
22 EDM
23 TOR
24 ATL
25 CHI
26 PHI
27 TBL
28 BOS
29 LAK
30 STL

Personally I think the final list should be the starting point for ranking the GMs. The teams at the top of the list are consistently well managed while the teams at the bottom are not (and many have fired their GMs as a result).

Combined Post-Lockout 2005-2008 Salary Efficiency Rankings
1. NAS
2. SJS
3. BUF
4. DET
5. CAR
6. MIN
7. OTT
8. ANA
9. DAL
10 PIT
11 WAS
12 FLA
13 CAL
14 NYR
15 MON
16 NJD
17 VAN
18 COL
19 NYI
20 PHX
21 ATL
22 TBL
23 TOR
24 EDM
25 CBJ
26 STL
27 LAK
28 PHI
29 CHI
30 BOS

The Nashville Predators are hands down the most efficient team in recent NHL history. Since they came into the NHL in 1998 the Predators have finished 1st, 1st, 2nd, 5th, 3rd, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd. If I were an owner and David Poile became available I would fall all over myself trying to hire that man to manage my franchises budget.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Playing the Kids

I have argued before that this team needs to get young and be willing to play some of their kids more even at the expense of some rookie mistakes (I suspect that Bret Sterling could have produced the nearly same 40 points Slava Kozlov did this year if he were given the same amount of ice time for much less money.) Today I came across the NHL conference call interview with Guy Carboonneau Coach of the Canadians. If you want to read the entire article go here.

I think that with the salary cap there is much more parity in terms of talent. That means on a nightly basis games between two evenly matched teams may be determined by the level of effort of intensity. Young guys are being used on many teams because they are cheaper under the cap system and they have energy. If you look at the Thrashers roster I think it is safe to say that Enstrom never once just mailed it in this season.

Q. The whole league has turned so young now. Does every team have to play their young guys? And every team seems to have six, seven, eight young guys now, and often they’re becoming core players.

GUY CARBONNEAU: Well, it is. Because they have energy and enthusiasm. You know, they want to play. I think the league now is a league that you cannot take a day off. You cannot take a week off. Where in the past a veteran team would start the season and have a good training camp. Maybe take two, three, four weeks to get going.

You can’t do that anymore. You’ve got to start from day one to the last day. They have that energy that maybe the veterans don’t have.

I think the enthusiasm, that’s what I see. The veterans maybe have to adjust more than the youth have to, where the veteran knows that it’s a long season. I’m not saying that they’re pacing themselves, you know. That’s the balance that you have to find.

Monday, March 24, 2008

NHL Cap Space--Who will be players this summer?

Below is a rough estimate of how much cap space each NHL team has going into the summer break. I looked at how much money each team has committed to players I expect to be on their roster in 2008-09 according to that this does not include pay raises that much be given to restricted free agents. For the RFA I put in their current salary amount because that is the minimal salary commitment required for qualifying offers. In most cases they will make more money (such as Kari Lehtonen on the Thrashers).

So again consider these just a rough approximation of who has room under the cap. I expect the cap to hit $54.5 million next year according to people over at the Business of Hockey Board at HFboards who have spent a lot of time discussing this.

As you can see the Thrashers are in great cap shape heading into the summer in 2nd place in projected room under the cap. They have roughly four roster spots to fill. Some teams like Pittsburgh, Colorado and Calgary have a lot of room but they also have MANY slots to fill in.

I don't expect to see the team spend right up to the cap, since that gets you into trouble (see Philadelphia at the bottom) but I will point out that they probably will have more money available than any other team in the SE Division (divisional opponents in italics) even if they don't max out.

Cap Room/UFA slots/ Team Name
$30 5 Columbus
$25 4 Atlanta
$24 7 Colorado
$22 3 NY Islanders
$21 4 Phoenix
$21 9 Pittsburgh
$19 5 Vancouver
$18 5 LA Kings
$18 1 Nashville
$17 6 Minnesota
$17 6 NY Rangers
$17 3 Tampa Bay
$17 2 Montreal
$16 4 Carolina
$15 4 Detroit
$14 3 Buffalo
$13 1 Florida
$13 3 St. Louis
$13 1 Washington
$13 2 Toronto
$13 5 Chicago
$12 5 Ottawa
$12 2 NJ Devils
$12 3 Edmonton
$11 6 Dallas
$11 8 Calgary
$10 2 San Jose
$08 1 Boston
$03 1 Anaheim
$00 2 Philadelphia

Which teams are in a position to make a play for an expensive NHL unrestricted free agent this summer? Well one way to look at that question is to take the available cap space and divide it by empty roster slots.

Two divisional rivals Florida and Washington are well positioned to make a big splash if they want to, however, Florida usually keeps their payroll low. Washington on the other hand could go crazy if their owner wants to be a contender now.

1. $18 Nashville
2. $13 Florida
3. $13 Washington
4. $8 Montreal
5. $7 Boston
6. $7 NY Islanders
7. $6 Toronto
8. $6 Atlanta
9. $6 NJ Devils
10 $6 Columbus
11 $6 Tampa
12 $5 Phoenix
13 $5 San Jose
14 $5 Buffalo
15 $4 St. Louis
16 $4 Carolina
17 $4 Edmonton
18 $ 4 Vancouver
19 $4 Detroit
20 $4 LA Kings
21 $3 Colorado
22 $3 Minnesota
23 $3 Anaheim
24 $3 NY Rangers
25 $3 Chicago
26 $2 Ottawa
27 $2 Pittsburgh
28 $2 Dallas
29 $1 Calagary
30 $0 Philadelphia

The Thrashers are positioned to make a big splash this summer. They key is spending the money on the right guys of course. I'll write more about how I would like to see the team target later.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Valabik, Slater, Perrin and Lehtonen

I went to just my 2nd game at Philips in a month to check out Valabik last night.

  • He was easily goaded into to taking a very unnecessary penalty early in the game.
  • He could have held the puck in at the blueline better, but he was being cautious.
  • He made a careless clear that was picked off by the Capitals.
  • He also seems to put too much on his passes making them hard to catch.
  • His skating seemed better than I expected against some speedy Capital players. On one shift he appeared that he about to be beat wide but recovered nicely and knocked the player to the ice.
  • The other positive thing that really stood out is that when big Boris leans on you it has an effect. Valabik doesn't even need to get in a full blown hit slow you down, if he just "leans" on you in the corner he can pretty much immobilize you. He needs to be careful though because when he "leans" on guys sometimes he gets very close to holding or obstruction.
  • He already makes better outlet passes than Exelby.

He looks like he could be a physical third pairing guy. It is only two games and he made some mistakes but his physical play would be a nice addition. I feel better after seeing him play in the NHL than I did after watching him in the AHL. His body works well at this level and the skating is less of an issue than I feared. Valabik made some mental errors but those can be corrected unlike deficiencies in skating or size or heart. This guy has a ton of heart, the question is his head--if he can cut down on the mistakes he can be a NHL player, not a top 4 guy, but a player nonetheless.


Jim Slater was headed for #1 star of the game with two goals until the team meltdown in the final 10 minutes of the game. Slater is a big puzzle in many ways. He was a consistent scorer in college and then his development just seemed to hit a wall.

Most young players increase their scoring as they physically mature but Slater didn't really improve he just stayed the same. When he made the jump from college hockey to the NHL he just couldn't finish. He went through a terrible goal drought for almost a year but lately he has scored a few more goals.

Right now Slater's lack of scoring touch and his problems with lateral mobility at top speed really limit how useful he is to the club. His problems with going side to side make him an imperfect PK guy because you need to change directions frequently. Lately he has been tried again in that role. Even if Slater never becomes a great PK guy he would be much more valuable if he could chip in a few more goals as a checking line guy.

Eric Perrin

The little guy who just goes out there and makes good things happen game after game. Made a fantastic pass for the Slater shortie and is a regular PK guy. Best UFA signing Don Waddell made last summer hands down. The guy has some great hands and heart.


Darren Eliot gave Lehtonen a rough ride for his display of anger after the Capitals took the lead following a total screw up where three Thrasher skaters allowed a Capital to just stand in the crease and shovel the goal past him. Then in the post game show he said the team "played like horseshit" in the second half. Eliot--who takes a lot of little digs at Kari--chided him for immaturity.

But you know what? I liked it. At least he cares and he was pissed off. He has a right to be ticked off when his club gets out shot 48-21. The Thrashers locker room is far too comfortable a place where poor efforts are tolerated without anyone making a big stink.

Let me ask this question: Do you think Patrick Roy would throw some chairs around in the locker room after that game? Do you think Rick DiPietro would mouth off a bit after that performance? I do. And that is what makes those goalies team leaders. They admit when they make mistakes but they also hold other people accountable.

When everyone is "nice" nobody gets a needed kick in the pants. If Kari and Kovalchuk show a little more anger in the locker room it could be exactly what this team needs on nights when other roster players are just mailing it in (by the way, did Kozlov dress for this game--I may have missed him out there)?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Drooling over Draft Picks

I haven't been to Philips Arena since the Townhall Meeting but I plan to Friday's game in person so I can observe Valabik. I'll hold off commenting on him until after that game.

But I have been giving some thought to the up coming draft and this snippet on defenseman Drew Doughty from the International Scouting Service pretty much left me drooling.

"It has been a pleasure to watch this young man continue to grow. He plays over half of each game and competes very hard physically. In two games over the past few weeks against Kitchener, he demonstrated why he is probably ready to make the jump to the NHL- he was harassed in each game and he continued to come back with his physical play and his skill level. In a huge game against London, he rushed the puck from the defensive zone and beat two defenders in scoring a hi-light goal with 16 seconds left in the game for the win. He is a very classy young man and will not disappoint any team that takes him as their number one pick."

I'll take two please!

ISS has Dougherty ranked #3 overall. Here is their March Top 10.

1 C Stamkos, Steve
2 LW Filatov, Nikita
3 D Doughty, Drew
4 C Hodgson, Cody
5 D Pietrangelo, Alex
6 D Schenn, Luke
7 D Bogosian, Zach
8 C Wilson, Colin
9 LW Boedker, Mikkel
10 C Beach, Kyle

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How Far From Contending?

Dear Readers: Sorry for not posting much, but I'm really busy right now but I still make time to watch most of each Thrashers game despite their performance. I'm a die hard addict what can I say? Postings will probably be sparse until I finish up my big project. But here's some things to chew on.

The LA Kings GM Dean Lombardi and Head Coach Marc Crawford had a town hall meeting with their season ticket holders recently and made the following comments. Here's a short excerpt from the coverage in the LA Times:

The Kings may be the most interesting last-place team in recent years, one part tantalizing promise and one part defensive train wreck, testing the considerable patience of the long-suffering fans.

"I expect the coaches to do everything possible to get the goals against down and to start the process now," Lombardi said. " . . . Just like the analogy: Lee's at Gettysburg. He's totally outnumbered and outmanned. But he can't throw up the white flag and say, 'I can't get it done.' "

Said Kings Coach Marc Crawford: "It's a legitimate criticism. When you look at our goals against, as a coaching staff, we're embarrassed by it, to be quite truthful."

Now a quick comparison of the Thrashers and King:

LA Kings GAA 3.22 ranked 29th-second to last in the NHL
Thrashers GAA 3.24 ranked 30th-dead last in the NHL

LA Kings SOG Against Rank 27th--near the bottom of the NHL
Thrashers SOG Against Ranked 30th--dead last in the NHL

At our town hall meeting I recall hearing about how this club doesn't need to be torn down "we just need to add one or two more players to the mix" which is true as long as those two players are Nick Lidstrom and Sidney Crosby.

The truth of the matter is that the Thrashers are not one or two players away from being a contender. They are three players away from being a solid bet to just make the playoffs. If everything goes perfectly for the organization and they land the "two quality defensemen and one decent forward" (as was stated at the THM) you will have a team that may make the playoffs but is unlikely to have have home ice advantage.

As a fan I don't want to just squeak into the playoffs I want to contend for the Cup. I heard recently that in the recent history of the Stanley Cup playoffs just one team has ever won the Cup without having home ice for at least one round of the playoffs. If that is correct, the Thrashers don't just need to get into the post-season they really need to be a top 4 team in their conference.

Yes the team has some pieces--and many of them are young and just entering their prime. I'm happy to say that the young players like Lehtonen, Armstrong, Christenson and Enstrom are among the few that are not just mailing it in (which cannot be said for the old guys like Kozlov, Zhitnik and White who all appear to be in decline and are signed for next season or longer.). But when you consider how often this team has been out shot this season it is shocking. Right now the Thrashers have been out shot by 570 shots on the season. Shots on goal can be a fluky stat in the short run but when you get out shot that badly over 70+ games it isn't an accident--your team just isn't very good.

Again, one of the things that concerns me most is that ownership and management keeps up the optimistic talk despite a large body of evidence that the hockey club needs major improvements. At the trade deadline we didn't move additional veterans and they inquired into adding pieces "because we were still in the playoff hunt." That worries me because it suggests they are not being accurate in their evaluation of the team and that they are fooling themselves that this team is close to being a contender.

Don Waddell went on to talk about how the Thrashers were "tied for the Division lead just a couple of weeks before the trade deadline." But an honest assessment shows that the Thrashers were extremely lucky on three fronts.
  1. The only reason they were even in the playoff conversation is that the Southeast Division was weak on an epic level. The moment when the Thrashers were tied for the lead the top team in the division only ranked 8th or 9th in the East and would have ranked even lower in the West. When was the last time a team ranked 18th or 20th went on to win anything in the playoffs? The answer is never.
  2. The Thrashers have won a disproportionate share of points by getting to overtime and the shootout and winning the extra point. More than anything else the shootout comes down to luck and it is not evidence of the team's underlying skill level. Studies have shown that teams that are good in the shootout one year usually do not repeat that success the following year.
  3. The Thrashers have been extremely lucky at avoiding in juries to their top nine forwards and top four defensemen the last two years. Kovalchuk and Hossa both missed a small number of games and Havelid and Enstrom have played huge minutes and have missed very few games combined. Our best players have been in the lineup almost without fail. Jamie Mirtle did a recent ranking of games lost to injury and the Thrashers were near the top with very few injuries.
So basically the Thrashers were lucky that everyone else in the division sucked and they were also lucky in winning the bonus point which pushed them higher in the standing than they deserved to be. Finally, the Thrashers were lucky again not to suffer any major injuries that kept top players out for long periods (unlike other clubs that lost Lidstrom, Crosby, and Brind'amour for extended periods). Now you could argue that the Thrashers were unlucky to have the Hossa situation hanging over them--and I would agree with that. But other clubs also had uncertainty to deal with at the trade deadline so the Thrashers were not alone in that department.

When your team only occupies a playoff spot for about 7-10 days the entire season, you're not that good. When your team is on pace to be out shot by 600 shots in a season it is huge warning sign that you need major changes. When your team is on pace to allow more 50 goals than they score you're in trouble. I'm a hockey fan who wants to see the Stanley Cup championship someday in Atlanta and right now this team is VERY far away from the talent needed to accomplish that feat. The need for major improvements to the talent base is pretty glaring to me--the real questions are 1) does ownership and management seeing the same major problems the rest of us see; 2) can management make the right moves needed to correct this situation?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

15 Years with No Playoff Joy for the NHL in Atlanta

I was doing some research this season on playoff wins by franchise and market and I was surprised to learn that the Atlanta Flames never advanced past the preliminary round of the playoffs in their years in this city. (Back then the 1st round was very short best of three series while the top clubs received byes.)

The Thrashers are clearly going to miss the playoffs and thus add yet another year of no playoff series won to that streak. So if you combine the 7 Atlanta Flames seasons with the 8 Atlanta Thrashers seasons the steak will reach 15 combined springs that fans in Atlanta have gone with just 2 playoff games won all time and 0 playoff series won all time.

People over at HFboards rag on Atlanta as a hockey market all the time but the truth is we don't know what this market is capable of because so far--because the product just hasn't been very good most years. In all the years the NHL has had a team in this city NOT ONCE have the fans be able to feel a glimmer of excitement that comes with advancing further in the battle for Lord Stanley's Cup.

This is year another reason why I despise the Colorado Avalanche and fans who go on about how great their market is. I have a feeling that if the Avalanche had relocated to Atlanta instead of Denver and won the Cup in their first year the NHL would have no problem selling tickets down here.

NHL Playoff Record in Atlanta
1972-1973: no playoffs
1973-1974: swept 4-0 by Flyers
1974-1975: no playoffs
1975-1976: swept 2-0 by Kings
1976-1977: beat 2-1 by Kings
1977-1978: swept 2-0 by Red Wings
1978-1979: swept 2-0 by Leafs
1979-1980: beat 3-1 by Rangers

1999-2000: no playoffs
2000-2001: no playoffs
2001-2002: no playoffs
2002-2003: no playoffs
2003-2004: no playoffs
2005-2006: no playoffs
2006-2007: swept 4-0 by Rangers
2007-2008: no playoffs

Summary of 15 NHL season in Atlanta: 9 springs with no playoff games, 7 1st round defeats, 5 times being swept out. Combined NHL playoff record is 2-19...holy cow that is bad!

Let's see what a quality hockey product can do for this market!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Some Dan Kamal Love

So I listened to the first half of the Thrashers-Avalanche game while driving home in my car. The game was a big blowout and it sounded like the Thrashers defense was "not good" to put it politely. But you know what I still enjoyed listening to Kamal and Jeff Odgers. They were critical of mistakes but made even a ugly game sound interesting.

The Thrasher have made some less than stellar personnel decisions over the years but as far as I'm concerned they did very well when they hired the two radio guys. My biggest regret is that the TV broadcast delay is so great that it makes it difficult to turn up the radio in my living room and watch at the same time. I wonder if there is any way they could give the radio broadcast a couple seconds delay?

A Look at The 2008 Draft

The Thrashers season is basically over except for evaluating what went wrong and who's to blame. The team should be giving a couple of youngsters a look but is nearly out of recall options so that limits how many people can be called up.

I know some of you want to start thinking about the 2008 draft so below are two lists of the top picks according to some public scouting agencies. One thing to keep in mind is that Don Waddell has said that the team may very well trade a top pick to get a roster player.

I'll probably post a bit less in the near term. My day job and my night job are demanding a lot of attention and frankly I'm rather discouraged about the Thrashers franchise at the moment. So here's some names if you want to go do some research on your own. Feel free to post who you like in the comments section.

Red Line Report recent update in USA Today. Red Line Report has been around for a long time but they are known for having strong opinions that sometimes sharply differ from other NHL scouts.
February Top 10
1. C Stamkos
2. LW Filatov
3. D Doughty
4. D Bogosian
5. D Pietrangelo
6. D Schenn
7. RW Bodker
8. LW Beach
9. C Wilson, Colin
10 C Hodgson

The February ISS (International Scouting Service) Top 30 Ranking posted on Hockey's Future
Most of the players are from the three Canadian Major Junior leagues, those that are playing elsewhere are noted.

February Top 30
1. Stamkos C
2. Filatov LW - Russia
3. Doughty D
4. Hodgson C
5. Pietrangelo D
6. Beach C
7. Bogosian D
8. Schenn D
9. Wilson C - NCAA
10 Boedker LW
11 Boychuk LW
12 Ennis C
13 Tedenby LW - Sweden
14 Myers D
15 Grachev C - Russia
16 Robak D
17 Nemisz C
18 Eberle C
19 Carlson D - USHL
20 Bailey C
21 Del Zotto D
22 Teubert D
23 Ness D - Minnesota HS
24 Voinov D - Russia
25 Gardiner D - Minnesota HS
26 D. Toews LS - Minnesota HS
27 Colborne LW - AJHL
28 Wahl C
29 Jenks C
30 Sbisa D

Looks like a lot of quality defensemen throughout the first round. Russian players will likely drop some due to concerns over getting them signed.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

This Meeting Did Not Deliver

I have a lot of mixed feeling about the Townhall Meeting that took place Friday prior to the Thrashers/Wild game. If you want a rather detailed account of the questions and the answers Holland has blow by blow account over at the the Chicken I simply can't write that fast. I want to say that I totally agree with Holland that few really tough questions were asked--or they were not asked in a sufficiently pointed way.

One woman I spoke to suggested that they favored young people and women perhaps in an effort to avoid the angry white male--perhaps this it true--frankly I wasn't paying any attention to age or gender of the questioners so I'm in a poor position to evaluate. I do want to hand out the kudos to the woman in the 2nd row who asked the probably the most pointed question of the night "why do season ticket holders feel like the red headed step children around here?" and she stuck to her guns and asked a pointed follow up.

The whole dynamic between Bruce Levenson and Don Waddell seemed weird and it really detracted from the quality of the answers. Far too often they seemed to be more focused on which of them would answer a particular question rather than just giving us a focused answer to the question at hand. The first two questions consumed massive amounts of time and at one point Bruce snatched the microphone right out of Don's hands and Don started walking away as though he was leaving. At other times Bruce sat down and acted as though Don was on his own the rest of the way. At first I interpreted this as just them goofing around but I spoke to three or four other observers and they thought that it was evidence of genuine tension. Don is always joking around at this events so I tended to see it in that light.

The Good
Don Waddell really could run for elective office whenever his hockey career is over. He was in top form with his usual self deprecating humor and repeatedly got a packed angry crowd to laugh. It was really quite amazing to see. I worked in politics some years ago and he is better at working a crowd than at least two of my bosses.

The very best thing to come out of the meeting were explicit promises to bring in two quality defenders and another forward this summer through trades or free agency--looks like they are seeing the same games we are! They know defense is a problem, he said they tried to make some deals but there were essentially no defensemen traded all season (save Shane Hnidy) and they made a serious bid to acquire the top defenseman available at the deadline but the price was too high (what a waste of assets that would have been).

The other news was that the team is actively trying to implement some of the fan ideas that we have sent to them as part of the STH revolt that has been going on. However, I have to say I was really surprised at how this was underplayed. I expected Don to address this right off the top in his opening monologue and a full blown roll out of the expanded benefits. That never really happened although a sheet with the big word "draft" across the top was distributed at the end (this too is posted over at the Chicken). Considering all the angry people in the room I was really surprised that this wasn't played up a bit more since it contained several things suggested by people in that room. Looked like a missed PR opportunity to me. ("hey look at all these ways we are listening to you!")

The Bad
For all the promises and talk about improving--at the end of they day that is all we received. Of course they can't make trades now or sign people, I realize that. On the other hand the Thrashers track record with UFA is just plain brutal. They haven't signed players who went on to have a significant positive impact in the past. The vast majority of UFA guys have turned out to be 3rd pairing defensemen and 2nd or 3rd line centers (don't we have a farm system for that sort of thing?). To be honest, the last three summers do not fill me with confidence that the team will get it right. It took several years for me to develop this lack of trust and I'm waiting to be impressed come July 1st.

The other major disappointment was that the meeting barely addressed my other major concern about heavily discounted tickets. Perhaps two sentences in the entire 45 minutes addressed this issue. I find this quite surprising since this is an area where they could have won over some wavering STH with the right words--but those words never came. I was looking for some sort of specific statement that discounts would absolutely be more limited and targeted and not widespread. I was also looking for some like a price protection guarantee. I heard nothing of the sort and as far as I'm concerned they blew a second opportunity to win me back.

The Ugly
When the meeting started I was excited and impressed that owner Bruce Levenson was willing to speak to the crowd but by the end it was clear that this was nothing short of public relations disaster. Levenson had some good points but his bedside manner was really lacking.

For example, he delivered the message that ticket prices will go up some every year--which was not popular of course--but he completely muffed his chance to win us back by explaining why this is critical. If Levenson had said "Look we have to show revenue growth every single season or we lose our revenue sharing money from the NHL--that money pays for the salary of Ilya Kovalchchuk--you do want us to afford Kovalchuk right?" that statement would have cushioned the blow a bit. He started down that line of thinking but broke off before making this critical point.

Or if Levenson had said "We are raising ticket prices each year, but we are turning around and putting that money into the hockey product so you the fans have a good team to cheer for" that too might have won some people over (like me to be very specific. I'm willing to pay more if the team is better). But Levenson basically delivered the message of annual ticket price increase with an attitude of "deal with it people" which cost him a lot of support in the room.

Levenson compounded the situation by getting into a dispute with a fan about the price of glass seats in Boston's arena. The fan was talking about a ticket for a specific game and Levenson was talking about the average price of the Thrashers compared to other teams and he never stopped to clarify that they were talking about two related but different things. In the end it appeared that he wasn't really listening to that particular fan because he was more focused on making his point--that our tickets are cheaper than the NHL average (which is true). Again, Levenson had some legitimate points but his delivery was so lacking that it weakened his own case.

I spoke with multiple long-term season ticket holders right after the meeting and heard the following words used to describe the team's owner "dick", "jerk" and one very polite southern lady said "a real pill" (which is probably the meanest thing she ever says about anyone)--I should add that every single one of these are people have either already renewed their ST or will renew, so these are not the most disaffected.

I'd like to believe that Don Waddell and Bruce Levenson planned ahead of time to do a good cop/bad cop routine. If that was their intention it worked like a charm as Waddell came out of the meeting looking like he really cared, that he shared the fans frustrations and hopes and looked tired and worn out. I can say he certainly won some empathy from me, I don't like all his decisions but I have no doubt he's working as hard as he can. He won some sympathy from me but he hasn't won my trust back that would requires some impressive actions this summer. I'll be waiting and watching.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Season Ticket Holders in Full Scale Revolt

Tonight the Atlanta Thrashers take on the Minnesota Wild but the main event is not the game but the Season Ticket Holder Meeting that starts at 5:30 with GM Don Waddell and all the other management people who lurk around the edges. I suspect that we will see more emotion and passion in that get together than we will on the ice during the game that follows.

There is a full fledged season ticket holder revolt in progress. One enterprising fan even made a YouTube video to express his frustration (My favorite part "Vice President, General Manger and Coach all have the same personality. Probably because they are all the same person"). Fans are angry about a wide variety of things but the main issues are the price increases, poor hockey product, discounted tickets and reduced perks.

For me it is all about the poor hockey product and discounted tickets. Frankly I don't care about the price increase--I would pay more significantly more money to see quality NHL hockey if I moved to Detroit, Pittsburgh, Denver or San Jose. Our prices here are better than in many other NHL cities. But we haven't seen quality NHL hockey in Atlanta but for one season and that's the real problem. Far too many gambles and chances have not bad off as the franchise has made a serious of poor decisions about player personnel. In 2005-06 and 2006-08 this team spent more money than most NHL teams and the on ice product did not match the investment.

Then on top of that, the organization has continued to annoy their most loyal supporters by offering deeply discounted tickets for virtually every single game on the schedule. Just this week Travel Zoo is offering tickets at two thirds off face value (click here). Look I don't mind paying a bit more for my season tickets--but I do mind paying more when I could save a lot of money by just waiting for single ticket discounts. If the discounts had been limited and targeted this would not be causing such a ruckus. I understand the need to target some groups to grow the fan base--in fact I support that practice. But the targeting has not been selective or exclusive enough and that is the real problem.

One poster asked me what I would ask at the meeting tonight so here are the four questions I would like to see asked.

Question #1 "In the eight seasons you're managed the Thrashers the team has finished 28th, 28th, 30th, 23rd, 21st, 19th, 12th, 29th (that's one above average season in 8 seasons). In that same time period the Thrashers defense has ranked 28th, 29th, 30th, 30th, 25th, 24th, 15th, 28th (that's one average season out of 8 season). I'm a hockey consumer--please tell me why should I keep buying this product? Given the team's track record tell me why should I have any confidence that the defense will be better?"

Question #2 "In my hand I have 7 offers to buy Thrashers tickets at half off or at a very substantial discount including some weekend games. Why should I pay more money for season tickets? I've heard that the team is promising that discounted tickets will be reduced next year--will you give us a price protection guarantee?"

Question #3 "Where is the accountability of this team? Why has Slava Kozlov never been scratched? Why does Popovic continue to sit when he is outplaying other veterans? You recently said that you had 8 defensemen and their play would determine who would dress each night. Can you look me in the eye and tell me that Garnett Exelby and Alexei Zhitnik deserve to play ahead of Mark Popovic and Joel Kwiatkowski?"

Question #4 "Where is the passion? Why is it that the most emotion that we fans have seen all season is from their Coach/GM on Wednesday? Why is it that nobody gets angry or pissed off? Why do they not show up for back-to-back games? Where is the character and leadership? Is anyone in the locker room ever made to feel uncomfortable after a pathetic on ice effort?

If there is one positive sign in all this it is that that management appears to be hearing the complaints filtering up from the masses. I know that many of you season ticket holders have written personal emails to your ticket reps and the owners expressing your displeasure. Some of the requests have been granted such as a STH-only entrance and more events with players (I mentioned this one myself to Jonathan Tillman, I said a practice or skating event without a Thrasher player or coach out on the ice is just an hour of free ice time--nice, but nothing special). Word is also leaking out that GM Don Waddell has told ticket reps that the team will make major improvements this summer and add two quality defensemen and a center. But many of you are taking a Missourian "show me" approach and telling them you will not renew until the draft takes place this summer.

Craig Custance over at the AJC has been asking hard questions and has some very interesting quotes in both his story and his blog. A couple of highlights and comments:

"I’d heard that Kovalchuk told Russian reporters that he thought some teammates left early for summer vacation." Well he's just stating the obvious and both of them are also fellow Russian players which probably is embarrsing to him.

“If a guy is having a bad night, you have to pick him up instead of hammering him further into the ice.”--I think this is mostly baloney and here's why--people either respond to pressure or they pout. If they don't respond to pressure they are not the players that are going to win you a Cup.

I've worked jobs where if I didn't perform I would get yelled at or fired--and guess what I worked harder. Yes, yelling at a guy might not help a guy's confidence--but it might lead him to work harder which is necessary to get out of a slump. Do you think that teams when the Stanley Cup because their coach gives them warm cookies in the locker room to boost the Stanly Cup? The Stanley Cup playoffs are nothing but one pressure filled moment after another. If a highly paid player doesn't perform here in Atlanta he doesn't have to worry about anything, he will not be benched, he will not be called out by coaches or teammates in public, he certainly will not be traded or sent to the minors. There are no major consequences for poor play.

Don Waddell: "I know nobody wants to hear it, but we're still a young franchise," Well compared to Nashville and Minnesota and Columbus we are clearly 3rd out of our four--at the 4th place team replaced their GM so you can't count on him screwing up the Blue Jackets anymore. The performance has been consistently below average when you look at the other comparable franchises who all have limited budgets just like the Thrashers.

Garnett Exleby: "When things are going badly, frustration gets higher and guys try to do too much to make a difference. And that, in the end, makes it worse," Exelby said. "I think I fall into that category." Kudos to Exelby who is the only person to take some personal responsibility for the team's failures in Craig's article.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Season Over

This season is done after last night's loss to Carolina. I could say many things about the pathetic effort that was put forth, but mostly I'm glad that I didn't waste my time driving down to watch that effort. I had work to do and I couldn't even give away my tickets to this game. It is pretty telling when the home team radio duo openly discuss the lackluster effort. It is also pretty telling when the opposition TV crew discuss the quiet crowd and lack of effort.

Eric Christensen showed us his hands for the first time and that was nice. But the best TV moment was seeing Coach/GM Don Waddell's outburst after the referees refused to blow the puck dead. I wish we would have seen a bit more of that intensity behind the bench back when this team still had a shot at the playoffs, but it was too little too late. That explosion was the equivalent of slamming the barn door after the horses have already escaped.

Time to start thinking about "pressing start" on next year. Who will coach? Who will be playing? Who will be calling the shots? If you're ready to think about next season you might want to check out Hockey's Future new Top 20 Thrashers Prospects update. Newly acquired Esposito comes in at #4. He is a hard player to rank truthfully because he is a high risk, high reward prospect. He will either make the team and be a top 6 player or he will totatlly bust and not make the NHL.

There a couple of Thrasher prospects who have taken a step forward this season. Spencer Machacek (3rd rounder) has shown more offense this year and Jonas Enlund (6th rounder) had a great season over in Finland and he is still quite young. Three college freshmen Paul Postma (7th rounder), Jesse Martin (6th rounder) and Alex Kangas (5th rounder) all had decent first years in quality NCAA programs.

A couple of other prospects took steps backward Oystrick (7th rounder) looks like he just isn't going to make it unless he take his career much more seriously. Pospisil (5th) has been underwhelming this year as well. Chad Denny doesn't even look special in the ECHL and that is pretty damning considering he was a 2nd round pick--is he headed down the Scott Lehman career track? Most of these late picks will probably never wear a NHL uniform but if a couple of them come through and can fill roster spots that will be a real plus in the future.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Ice Man Nails It--The Half Measures Must Stop

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.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Spring Break Edition

It is spring break at my workplace so I'll be posting less often this week. If you're sitting a computer (like I am) take a virtual break by staring at that picture for a minute.

Craig Custance has a question about the playoffs over at his blog, but the math is just getting really ugly.
  • If the Thrashers win 60% of possible points remaining, the Hurricanes still need only to go 1-12-1 to beat us.
  • If the Thrashers win 70% of possible points remaining, the Hurricanes only need to go 3-11 to beat us.
  • If the Thrashers win 80% of possible points remaining, the Hurricanes only need to go 7-7 the rest of the way.
Sadly I have a hard time seeing the Thrashers getting hot enough to even put pressure on Carolina. I'm sure they are more worried about the Capitals.

The New Guys and the Post-Trade Thrashers

Both Armstrong and Christensen look decent so far. Not many points or shootout goals but they both play with energy and purpose out there. I think the same could be said for the while team lately. All that chatter about the Hossa trade speculation not bothering the team sure looks like wishful thinking--this team looks like the piano was lifted off their shoulders. The game against Boston the on Saturday was one of the most entertaining games in a while.

Are there any noticeable differences so far since the big trade? Let's take a stroll through the numbers:

Offense (GFA)
2.56 Pre-Trade
2.50 Post-Trade

Defense (GAA)
3.16 Pre-Trade
3.25 Post-Trade

Shots For (SOGF)
25.8 Pre-Trade
27.8 Post-Trade

Shots Against (SOGA)
33.3 Pre-Trade
34.8 Post-Trade

Power Play %
17.9% Pre-Trade
12.5% Post-Trade

Penalty Kill %
79.6% Pre-Trade
88.2% Post-Trade

Team Save Percentage
90.5% Pre-Trade
90.6% Post-Trade

Team Shooting Percentage
9.9% Pre-Trade
9.0% Post-Trade

OK one big surprise is that so far the PK hasn't suffered at all from the departure of Dupuis and Hossa--that might change with time. Generally we see that the team is firing more shots (good) but converting fewer shots into goals (bad) and the power play is down significantly (bad). The goal tending, offense and defense numbers are almost unchanged. Keep in mind that in the four games since the big trade the following list of players have missed at least one game: Armstrong, Christensen, White, Klee, Havelid (who missed most of the PIT game) so they haven't had their full lineup for every game since the trade.

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