Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Make or Break Week for the Thrashers

At noon on Tuesday the NHL Free Agent signing period will open. Arguably this is the most important non-regular season week in franchise history so far. As of this moment the Thrashers sit at a crossroads.

In their nine year history they have made the playoffs just once, they have won zero post-season games. In a front-running sports town like Atlanta with millions of transplants winning is the shortest route to box office success. There simply hasn't been enough winning around here so far.

Even worse the "loser" perception extends beyond casual sports fans in Atlanta to hard core hockey fanatics. Every franchise has their skeptical fans but the level of dubiousness and cynicism about this team is at an all time high. I know a very large number of local hockey players who are sitting on their wallets saying "show me something."

The people I'm talking about play hockey multiple nights a week, invest in the NHL CenterIce package or buy a large HD TV just to fulfill their hockey habit. Even among this group the attitude toward the Thrashers is simply UGLY. Based on what I'm hearing the bean counters at the Thrashers are probably looking at some scary season ticket renewal numbers right now.

One of the biggest mis-perceptions out there among fans is that Atlanta Spirit is not willing to spend money. The more conspiratorial folks suggest that the owners are trying to wreck the franchise so as to lower the price the winners of the intra-owner lawsuit has to pay to the losers.

But here are the facts. In the first season that Atlanta Spirit controlled the Thrashers franchise Atlanta spend OVER the salary cap. The cap was set at $39 million and Peter Bonrdra's performance bonuses pushed the Thrashers to $40.2 million. Your Atlanta Thrashers were #1 in the NHL in cap spending--and missed the playoffs.

The following year the cap rose to $44 million and the Thrashers spent $43.7 million--again right up close to the limit (they ranked 10th out of 30 teams that year). Last season the cap rose to to $50 million and the Thrashers spent about $44 million which ranked them 23rd out of 30 teams (they shed some salary in the Hossa for Christensen + Armstrong exchange).

If you combine the three post-lockout season during which Atlanta Spirit has owned this hockey franchise they have spent $127.5 million (and made the playoffs once) while the salary cap limited them to a maximum of $133 million. Over that three year span the Thrashers rank 13th out of 30 teams in money spent on payroll.

Here are the facts:
  • The Thrashers have spent a lot of money on players.
  • The Thrashers have not gotten good value for their money.
Which brings us squarely to the General Manager Don Waddell. In the past he has made many poor decisions in the Unrestricted Free Agent Market. He has favored declining veterans (Steve Rucchin, Byron Dafoe), he has grossly misjudged the value of players (Bobby Holik), he has favored penny pinching bandaids that failed to fix gaping roster holes (Jaroslav Modry, Ken Klee).

Has Don Waddell learned anything from these errors? The answer to that question is enormous.

It is enormous because if DW has another poor free agent summer, Ilya Kovalchuk will probably leave Atlanta in two years. If DW has another poor summer the fans stay away and this city gets the "failed NHL market" label. The Thrashers will either return to the playoffs and excite the fans and their star Ilya Kovalchuk or another fatal spiral will begin. If DW has another poor summer the team will miss the playoffs, the GM will probably be fired, Kovalchuk will probably refuse to re-sign and a new GM will take over with a giant rebuilding project on his hands during the 10th anniversary season of the Thrashers. (Happy 10th Season Thrasher fans!!!!)

I like Don Waddell as a person, but I'm really tired of seeing a bad hockey product out there on the ice. The clock is ticking. This is a make or break week for Don Waddell, the Atlanta Thrashers and perhaps even NHL hockey in Atlanta. I know I'm not sleeping well thinking about all this, I'm guessing he isn't either.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Updated Cap Space and Expected Spending Numbers

I've updated all 30 teams with known signings and trades as of Monday morning. The big movers are Colorado (+Liles +Foote) Tampa (+Malone +Roberts) Edmonton (+Visnovsky's fat contract -Stoll) and LA Kings (-Visnovsky + Stoll). If Tampa signs Rolston and Roberts that will eat a bunch of their remaining cap space.

What I have below are three columns. First the projected budget for each team. The team budget is arrived out by looking at the % of the cap max they spend in the past and projecting that forward (it will not be accurate for all teams but is a reasonable starting point for most). Column Two is current cap commitments for a 20 man roster including buyout penalties (for RFA I have simply used their qualifying offers--in many cases the RFA will receive more than that). The third column is each team's projected spending money (i.e. projected budget number minus estimated current cap hit).


Budget - Current Minimal Contracts = Budget Space Available TEAM NAME
$54.5 - $56.7 = -$02.9 ANA
$53.8 - $31.5 = $21.7 ATL
$56.5 - $49.1 = $06.7 BOS
$49.9 - $43.6 = $05.7 BUF
$50.5 - $44.8 = $05.1 CAR
$54.4 - $31.2 = $16.1 CBJ
$54.4 - $53.5 = $00.3 CGY
$53.3 - $38.1 = $14.6 CHI
$55.5 - $39.5 = $15.3 COL
$55.3 - $51.7 = $03.0 DAL
$55.3 - $46.4 = $09.0 DET
$53.3 - $53.6 = -$01.0 EDM
$47.4 - $43.3 = $03.6 FLA
$51.9 - $32.1 = $19.1 LAK
$49.0 - $43.1 = $05.3 MIN
$53.3 - $45.5 = $07.1 MON
$44.5 - $42.0 = $02.0 NSH
$54.3 - $45.7 = $07.9 NJD
$50.5 - $34.1 = $15.9 NYI
$54.0 - $38.5 = $14.9 NYR
$53.9 - $45.5 = $07.7 OTT
$55.9 - $55.3 = -$00.1 PHI
$46.9 - $39.5 = $06.8 PHX
$47.2 - $40.1 = $06.5 PIT
$49.5 - $48.2 = $00.7 SJS
$48.7 - $47.1 = $01.0 STL
$52.6 - $49.1 = $02.8 TBL
$55.1 - $41.3 = $13.1 TOR
$55.3 - $39.7 = $13.1 VAN
$41.9 - $47.7= -$06.4 WSH

The big LA Kings-Edmonton trade removes Colorado from the top of the "money to burn" list and drops them a few spots. That leaves Atlanta in the #1 money position according to my rough estimates. The Kings shed themselves of a brutal contract, got younger and freed up cap space with one trade--wow--glad I'm not an Oiler fan.

At this point the Thrashers, Kings, Blue Jackets and Islanders all MUST spend a pile of cash jut to reach the NHL Salary Floor under the CBA. I expect to see some huge money tossed around on Tuesday by those four clubs. We could also see those four pick up some major salary via a trade for a player such as Schneider.

Top Ten Projected Budget $$ Available
$21.7 ATL
$19.1 LAK
$16.1 CBJ
$15.9 NYI
$15.3 COL
$14.9 VAN
$14.9 NYR
$14.6 CHI
$13.1 TOR
$09.0 DET
$07.9 NJD
$07.7 OTT
$07.1 MON

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Zhitnik on Waivers, Buyout Next?

According to the French news outlet RDS, Alexei Zhitnik has been put "au ballottage" which means "on waivers" in English. According to my resident French expert the article also states that Zhitnik is being "shown the door" and if he is not claimed by another team he will be bought out by the Thrashers.

Friday, June 27, 2008

I Predict Sticker Shock

Don Waddell once bragged after signing Byron Dafoe in mid-season that he likes to shop discount or something to that effect. Well, those days are over. If the Thrashers are going to land any of the top end UFA this summer such as Brian Campbell they will likely have to pay a forture.

Two factors are at work here. First there is the perception that Atlanta is not a winning franchise. OK, it is more than a perception it is a fact, thus far. Kevin Allen mentioned this on NHL Live this week. The Thrashers will likely have to pay MORE than a franchise that has been competitive in recent years. Call it the "losers premium"--it the price you pay for screwing up over and over again.

The second factor is that the NHL revenues were unexpectedly robust this last season and the cap rose even faster than most outsiders anticipated. With the cap sitting at $57.7, teams like the Flyers, Rangers, Bruins, and Avalanche will probably spend almost every dime. That means that there is more money chasing a small class of free agents--which in Econ 101 we learned means inflationary pressures on prices.

I expect that the top end free agents are going to sign for amounts that will shock the senses. There will likely be a bidding war that results in Hossa making close to $9 million per season or Campbell getting $8 per season.

Many GMs, columnists and fans will express shock and amazement but it is very simple--hockey revenues are up sharply and that means the players get more money under the CBA. But one thing we have learned is that the new money will go to star level guys. There are many checkers out there and thus little pressure on their salaries (i.e. price) while there is only one Mats Sundin and only one Marian Hossa.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Who Will Spend on Unrestricted Free Agents?

We all know that there are certain teams that are very frugal (Nashville comes to mind) and there are other clubs that tend to spend every available dime under the salary cap.

So what I did is look at the last three seasons and figure the percentage of the cap maximum each team has spent between 2005-2008. Source: Irish Blues'

In the last three years here is the % of cap max spent per team:
99.7% BOS
98.9% DET
98.5% PHI
97.8% COL
97.6% VAN
97.6% DAL
97.1% TOR
96.0% CGY
96.0% ANA
95.7% NJD
95.3% NYR
95.0% OTT
94.9% ATL
94.1% CHI
94.0% EDM
94.0% MON
92.7% TBL
91.5% LAK
89.2% NYI
89.1% CAR
88.1% BUF
87.3% SJS
86.5% MIN
85.5% STL
84.5% CBJ
83.7% FLA
83.3% PIT
82.7% PHO
78.5% NAS
73.9% WSH

Now if the past is an accurate indicator of how many money a franchise is willing to spend then we can use to that project each club's internal salary budget by multiplying the percentages above with the new upper limit number $56 million.

Now of course many teams already have millions committed so I subtracted out the minimal salary for each club. (If you want to see those numbers go here

What we have leftover is not cap space--but an estimate of how much money each team has leftover from the projected budget.

Budget Space/NHL Team
$20.9 COL
$20.8 ATL
$17.6 LAK
$16.4 CBJ
$15.3 VAN
$14.8 CHI
$14.7 NYI
$13.5 NYR
$13.4 DET
$10.5 NJD
$10.1 TOR
$09.2 TBL
$08.3 MON
$07.3 PIT
$07.2 BUF
$07.2 OTT
$07.1 BOS
$06.7 EDM
$06.1 PHX
$05.5 CGY
$05.4 FLA
$05.3 MIN
$04.1 CAR
$04.0 DAL
$03.9 PHI
$01.9 SJS
$01.0 STL
$00.0 ANA
$-01.2 WSH
$-02.1 NSH
Note: The negative numbers for NSH and WSH means they are already over their 3 year average. Re-signing their respective RFA like Ovechkin and Weber have pushed them both to spend more.

Analysis: What I find interesting about this exercise is that the teams with most projected budget money rarely get much mention here in the trade/free agent board. ATL, CBJ, CHI, NYI all have a TON on projected money to work with and could turn really surprise folks in early July if they do indeed choose to spend it all. Only one third of the 30 teams have a projected budget space greater than $10 million which is probably necessary to go after one of the really big name UFA (without moving some salary off their current roster).

Caveats: These estimates will be accurately only if the past spending is an good predictor of future spending. I can think of three teams: PIT, STL, TBL, WSH where I think they will spend more than in the past. I can think of two teams: TOR and perhaps LAK where they might spend less. So these numbers are all to be taken with a grain of salt.

Trade Possibilities Remain

We are now less than a week away from the start of the unrestricted free agent signing period. While most fans are concentrating on talent that will be available on that day, it appears that a fair number of defensemen are being shopped for cap reasons.

For example, the latest chatter is that Scott Neidermayer is returning and the Ducks don't have room for three $6 million defensemen under the cap with Perry to re-sign. So that suggests that Matheiu Schneider (who has one year left on his $5.6 million) would be moved.

Another D that is probably out there is Pavel Kubina by the re-building Maple Leafs, although they are reportedly not going to give him away.

There remain persistent rumors that Bouwmeester wants out of Florida but even if that were true I have a very hard time believing the Panthers would trade him within the division.

As I've mentioned before the Red Wings are about to have 10 defensemen under contract and they plan to carry only 8 during the season which means somebody is likely to be traded if Brad Stuart and Chelios both re-sign in Detroit.

Then of course there is talk that the Sharks are allowing four Eastern Conference teams to talk to Brian Campbell's agent before the deadline in hopes of working a sign and trade deal.

Lastly, there is the rumor that the Leafs would love to move Bryan McCabe and the Thrashers were interested last season (when their defense was terrible). Off the top of my head I'd be very concerned about McCabe turning into Alexei Zhitnik 2.0 an aging veteran with a big contract who isn't producing that much on the ice.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kovalchuk's Next Contract

As the Thrashers head towards free agency one factor they must consider is that in two years from now Kovalchuk (assuming he re-signs) will probably eat up close to $10 million in cap space. There is a hot rumor over on that Vinny Lecavalier has re-signed for for 9 years $77 million ($8.55 per year cap hit). Last year Alexander Ovechkin re-upped with the Capitals for an average of $9.5 million per hear. Both of those guys are top 10 scorers and comparables for Kovalchuk.

Now I don't think that the Thrashers are going to come anywhere close to spending the cap maximum of $56 million this year, but they do have to make sure to leave some room under the cap for his eventual enormous salary.

It also makes me wonder how much money Hossa will ultimately receive as a unrestricted free agent. He has reportedly turned down two offers of $7 per year from both the Thrashers and Penguins. Perhaps, his agent is telling him that as one of just three premier UFA under the age of 30 (Redden and Campbell being the other two) he could end up receiving a huge payoff if a few teams get into a bidding war for his services.

I can imagine a team like Columbus which has sold out many games but never made the playoffs making Hossa an huge $9 million per year offer. After all the Blue Jackets have been raking in the money from their fans and still have not yet made the playoffs. Of course, if Hossa is serious about wanting to play for a contender he wouldn't accept that offer--only time will tell.


Here are a couple of interesting things I've been reading lately:

Earl Sleek over at Battle of California posts about how scoring continues to fall in the "New NHL" and has a nice looking chart to illustrate it.

PuckDaddy speculates the new ownership in Tampa Bay may target Marian Hossa.

Seth Rorabaugh did a great survey where he looked at all the current NHLers and showed per team what round the guys one their roster were drafted. James Mirtle turned those numbers into a cool graph which shows that 48% of all current NHL players were taken in the 1st or 2nd round.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Who Has Space Under the NHL Salary Cap?

Below is a rough estimate of the amount of each team's salary commitments for their current 20 man roster. You can use these numbers to get a feel for which teams have the most room under the NHL Salary Cap (just subtract the current salary commitment from $56 million).

The data source for this list comes from Irish Blues great site I used my own judgment as to which players would be on each team's 20 roster today. I also included the cap hits for bought out players. In the case of some teams I just had to pick among guys on the depth chart--in most cases it doesn't affect the cap commitment number much because they all make comparatively little (by NHL standards).

This list displays the MINIMUM salary commitment required to fill out a roster using only players under contract (plus buyouts or other cap hits). Keep in mind there are two additional factors that will cause those figures to end up being higher:
  1. Virtually every team will end up with a cap number higher than this once their RFA are re-signed and player arbitration. (To give you a feel for who might have to hand out some big bucks to RFA I have listed players who might be in line for a significant raise.)
  2. Most NHL teams will carry more than the minimum 20 roster players, in fact, some teams will carry the maximum number of 21 (and if those bench players make the minimum NHL salary of $475,000 you can tack on an addition $1.5 million to that team's cap number).
  3. There are some UFA (unrestricted free agents) that are likely to only re-sign with their current team such as Chelios and Sakic. I have put them in with the RFA but but () around them.
NHL Salary Cap Commitments Pre-Free Agency
$53.8 Million Anaheim.........RFAs: C. Perry
$51.3 Million Philadelphia....RFAs: J. Carter, Emminger
$50.6 Million Dallas..............RFAs: L. Eriksson
$48.7 Million Boston.............RFAs: M. Stuart
$48.3 Million Calgary............RFAs: (Langkow is rumored to signed a contract)
$47.1 Million St. Louis...........RFAs: McClement, Woywitka
$47.0 Million San Jose...........RFAs: Ehrhoff, Clowe, Pavelski, Goc
$46.0 Million Ottawa.............RFAs: Vermette, Meszaros
$46.0 Million Edmonton........RFAs: Stoll, Pitkanen
$46.0 Million Nashville..........RFAs: Bochenski
$45.8 Million Carolina............RFAs: Ruutu
$44.3 Million Montreal..........RFAs: A. Kostsitsyn
$44.3 Million Toronto............RFAs: Wellwood, Stajan
$43.1 Million Minnesota........RFAs: P.M. Bouchard, K. Foster
$43.1 Million New Jersey
$42.6 Million Washington......RFAs: M. Green
$42.7 Million Tampa Bay
$42.1 Million Buffalo...............RFAs: Gaustad, Bernier, Paille, MacArthur
$42.0 Million Detroit..............RFAs: Filppula (Chelios)
$41.5 Million Florida..............RFAs: Bouwmeester, Olesz
$40.2 Million Phoenix............RFAs: J. Perreault, Marcel Hossa
$39.9 Million Rangers............RFAs: Dawes, G. Moore, Sjostrom
$39.3 Million Pittsburgh........RFAs: Fleury, T. Brent (Malkin is a RFA next summer)
$39.3 Million Vancouver
$37.9 Million Chicago..............RFAs: R. Bourque
$35.2 Million Islanders...........RFAs: Bergenheim, Gervais
$33.9 Million Colorado............RFAs: Svatos, Wolski (Sakic)
$33.6 Million Kings..................RFAs: O'Sullivan
$32.4 Million Atlanta...............RFAs: Lehtonen
$30.6 Million Columbus..........RFAs: Umberger, LeClaire, Fritsche

Comments: I don't watch as much Western Conference hockey but the Flames have a lot of money committed already and their bottom six forwards look remarkably weak. Now they can sign some checkers on the cheap. St. Louis, Edmonton and Toronto all have the highest cap commitments given that they all missed the playoffs. Teams that missed the playoffs with a lot of cap room to work with include the Blue Jackets, Thrashers and Kings.

You Do the Math

Which NHL franchise has two NHL-ready goalies and a big need at defense?
Which NHL franchise has 10 NHL defensemen and needs a goalie?
Am I totally crazy to think either Lehtonen or Pavelec could be wearing a Red Wings jersey by September?

On defense, the Wings have 10 players, assuming they can re-sign Brad Stuart, Andreas Lilja and Chris Chelios, but only eight spots.

Holland said he recently spoke to the agents for Lilja and Stuart and plans to meet this week with Chelios.

''I would say we're close on Lils,'' Holland said. ''Stuart's camp knows where we're at. I want to talk to Cheli Monday or Tuesday. Cheli obviously wants to come back. We'll have a good conversation about what I see his role being.''

Full Story here

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Draft/Coach Media Roundup

Click over for a nice little article by Kevin Allen of USA Today on the Thrashers draft pick and Atlanta native Vinny Saponari. The hockey media in general is disproportionately Canadian and Allen was made a concerted effort to put the spotlight on the growing number of Americans playing the game. Allen has also gone out of his way to give coverage to non-traditional markets like Atlanta that off get the short shrift by media in established NHL markets. Yes, I am a fan of Allen.

New Thrashers beat writer Mark Knobler has a nice profile of new Thrashers head coach John Anderson. I've written about my concerns that Anderson may have difficulty repeating his succesess in the NHL, but I do want to say that Anderson seems like a very decent and very hardworking person. While my brian may have some doubts about the hire, my heart will be rooting for Anderson to succed in the big leagues. The man certainly has displayed great persistence and dedication to his trade and you must admire that about him.

Ben Wright of the Blueland Blog traveled to Ottawa and collected information about the Thrashers picks. Generally speaking it is hard to find out much about these players once you get past the top 60 players taken, so the additional information is certainly welcome.

Thrashers Prospect Annex has an interview with Gladiators Head Coach Jeff Pyle and the potential to move up to the AHL following the John Anderson promotion to the NHL level. Also featured are some comments from fellow local pro hockey player David Caruso on Vinny Saponari.

I'll throw in this last little tidbit that I heard through the local hockey grapevine. Apparently some of the Saponari clan were over at the MIC on Saturday and they were very pleased to learn that the local NHL team had drafted their son.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Thrashers Draft Review

#3 Overall Zach Bogosian D OHL
Home run. I expect him in the opening night lineup as he is already in NHL condition and we need defensemen badly. Very skilled but also mean--potentially a smaller version of Chris Pronger. The Thrashers strongest decision the entire draft was simply hanging on to this pick and not trading down--if he lives up to his hype he will be a NHL player for 15 years. Lists Europe "Final Countdown" as his Pump-Up Song so he should enjoy Overtime at Philips Arena.

#29 Daultan Leveille C GHL
I have several reservations regarding this pick. #1 I've been a hockey fan for over 20 years and I've never heard of the Golden Horseshoe League. In principle I'm against using 1st round picks on guys from really obscure leagues or US High Schools because the level of competition is so weak they simply haven't been pushed that hard. He scored 2 points per game in the playoffs--in the WHL or OHL that would mean something, but what exactly does it mean in the GHL?

He is also expected to play a full 4 years at MSU. In this draft year we could have found someone closer to NHL ready with the #29 pick. Finally, I think the Thrashers missed a chance to trade down--this guy probably would have been there in the middle 2nd round. The best thing I can say about this pick is that in the long run super fast guys are more likely to make the NHL as a speedy checkers if they lack NHL quality hands. Worst case scenario you wind up with a Sean Donovan with an upside of becoming something more than that.

#64 Danick Paquette RW QMJHL
29 Goals suggests he has some hands and the 213 PIM says he likes to mix things up. Not many assists so I hope he can pass. Lists as his favorite TV show "Lance et compte" I guess you need to live in Quebec to watch it. Compares himself to Todd Bertuzzi and Chris Neil, the latter player is probably gives you a sense for his style if he makes the NHL. Already at 210 lbs. The Thrashes have yet to have a player from the Q reach the NHL and become a regular so far.

#94 Vinny Saponari RW USNDT
The US National Development Team has increasingly become a hot bed for accelerating the growth of talented Americans. Last year the Americans had a banner year at the draft. I think it was smart for the Thrasher to draft this local product, but I also think they could have waited a round to do so. I would rather have seen them take a chance on Jamie Arniel who some projected as a 2nd rounder and was still available at this point in the draft. A missed opportunity in my opinion.

#124 Nicklas Lasu LW
He tore it up Swedish junior leage with 53 points in 41 games played and finished a strong +33. The Thrashers have done very well over the years with European picks and this one also appears to have some solid potential. He was called up and played 2 games in the national league level.

#154 Chris Carrozzi G
Slid some on Central Scouting Ranking. A big guy at 6'3"and his SV% took a big jmp up from .896 to .911 from the year prior. The NHL website asked every player their "Goal Celebration" and Carrozzi listed "The Kayaker" which is pretty funny since most goalies don't score.

#184 Zach Redmond D
Overager (20) who played two seasons in the USHL before moving to Ferris State as a freshmen this year. He put up 19 points in 37 games which is a nice total, but he's already 20 which makes those numbers far less impressive than if he put up those numbers at age 18.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Is Bogosian a Franchise Defenseman?

Why am I so excited about the career potential of Zach Bogosian? One reason is that he has demonstrated a real flair for scoring at an early age. In juniors many guys have big point totals at age 19 or 20 but the star quality prospects do it when they are just 17 or 18 years old.

To put Bogosian in perspective I went thought the top 50 point scoring defenseman in NHL history. Many of them didn't play in the major junior hockey--but for those that did I looked up their points-per-game during their age 18 season to compare to the Thrashers draft pick.

Bogosian ranks about bottom third of this list. It is worth keeping in mind that just as the NHL was more high scoring in the 1980s the same was true in junior hockey back then. Today it is MUCH harder to score a goal in the NHL than it was 20 years ago and the same thing is true of juniors--so if we were to "adjust" for scoring environment that would bump up Bogosian a couple of spots on this comparable list.

2.00Bobby Orr
1.64 Dave Babych
1.58 Doug Wilson
1.48 Ray Bourque
1.42 Darryl Sydor
1.40 Doug Bodger
1.36 Paul Coffey
1.32 Randy Carlyle
1.27 Mathieu Schneider
1.31 Larry Murphy
1.18 Paul Reinhart
1.13 Jeff Brown
1.12 Rob Ramage
1.09 Kevin Hatcher
1.02 Chris Pronger
1.02 Bogosian
0.98 Glen Wesley
0.83 Al MacInnis
0.74 Denis Potvin
0.74 Brad Park
0.62 Scott Stevens
0.56 Eric Desjardins

I hate to put too much pressure on a young 18 year old guy, but the stats suggest that Bogosian is a career trajectory to be a very good NHL defenseman--maybe even a great NHL player. This list of comparables is pretty exciting. Some of these guys were just solid offensive defensemen, but others went on to have Hall of Fame caliber careers and were great two way players such as Scott Stevens, Denis Potvin and Chris Pronger.

Head Coach Anderson: Pros and Cons

John Anderson will be the next Coach of the Atlanta Thrashers, I'll leave it at that. This news has been great with much rejoicing among certain quarters. I'm a bit less enthused, in fact, I have a some fairly serious reservations. Let's take a stroll down the pros and cons of the Anderson hiring.


  • Coach Anderson has won everywhere he has coached and has won multiple playoff championships.
  • SNL Lost Finals
  • CoHL Champions
  • IHL Champions
  • IHL Lost 3rd round
  • IHL Champions
  • IHL Lost Finals
  • AHL Champions
  • AHL Lost 2nd round
  • AHL Lost 2nd round
  • AHL Lost Finals
  • AHL Missed Playoffs
  • AHL Lost 3rd round
  • AHL Champions

  • Coach Anderson has worked with many current and future Atlanta Thrasher prospects. He has seen what they can (or can't) do already.

  • Coach Anderson is by all accounts a decent person. His personality will be a stark change for Coach Hartley and his irrational tirades. Anderson is beloved by Wolves fans.

  • Coach Anderson seems to get a lot out of his goalies. His treatment of other prospects can be criticized but the goalies have flourished.

  • Can he motivate NHL players? One of the reasons that Braydon Coburn is wearing a Philadelphia Flyers uniform today is that he looked bad in a Chicago Wolves jersey. If Coburn had played well there he probably would not have been dealt in my opinion. Coburn is hardly the first prospect to get angry about being demoted to the minors. If Anderson can't motivate a 20 year old who wants to get to the NHL how is he going to handle a multi-millionaire veteran who just mails it in?

  • Can he win with less talent? In the old days, the Chicago Wolves spent more on their roster than just about any other franchise. They were the Rangers, Flyers, Red Wings of the AHL. Now to his credit Anderson turned that advantage into regular season wins and playoff championships (something the Rangers and Flyers didn't always do). The question is can he win when he has a talent deficit--nobody knows the answer to that question yet.

  • Can he win without having the best goalie? The Wolves three trips to the AHL Finals all occurred when they had one of the best--if not the best--goalie in the entire AHL. In 2002 they rode Pasi Nurminen to a championship, in 2008 it was Pavaelec and in 2004 Lehtonen got them to the Finals (which they lost to Kari's arch nemesis fellow Finn Antero Nittymaki). In Atlanta Coach Anderson will not have Brodeur, Luongo or Nabokov.

  • Can he improve our defense? Coach Anderson prefers an offensive style of hockey as does the Thrashers GM. But the harsh reality is that the Thrasher defense has been among the NHL's worst for 7 of their 8 years in existence. I am very concerned that the defense will remain as porous under Anderson as it has been under Fraser and Hartley. Without better defense this team is not going to contend for anything.

Conclusion: I hope a year from now I have to write a blog post proclaiming that I'm wrong and that John Anderson is a coaching genius for getting this collection of young players into the playoffs. I would be more than happy to write that, but right now I don't think it is very likely.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Road to Contention Begins with Keeping the Pick

Right now I'm sure Don Waddell is getting quite a few phone calls about the #3 overall pick. That pick carries with it the opportunity to draft one of the next franchise defensemen of the 2010s. Trading that pick would be a franchise crushing mistake in my view, here's why.

Under the salary cap every GM is playing the same game, the game is called "get the most for your money." If the NHL were run like a fantasy baseball league we would have a big auction every summer and every franchise would bid on the players they wanted. The teams that spent wisely would get into the playoffs and those that spent poorly would miss the playoffs.

But the real NHL doesn't really operate that way (except for the summer of 2005 after the lockout). Only a small number of players reach the free agent markets. Most of the elite level players are locked up in advance of the opening bell of summer free agency (The Thrashers Marian Hossa being perhaps the biggest exception to this trend--which says something about either Hossa or the Thrashers).

Now here's the thing about the free agent market; every team is looking to get good value for their money. No GM wakes up on July 1st and says "today I will grossing overplay some stiff to play for my team for the next five years!" In Econ 101 we learn that free markets are (at least in theory) efficient--which means that finding undervalued players will difficult. Yes, you may find one every now and then, but assuming that you can do it year after year is probably unrealistic.

Take for example the Carolina Hurricane's GM Jim Rutherford. In the summer of 2005 he pulled a major coup signing Ray Whitney and Cory Stillman to cheap contracts and he got a great return on that investment. Such a feat is very difficult to repeat year after year. For example, last summer Rutherford signed Jeff Hamilton to a low cost contract. But Hamilton bombed and now there is talk they might buy him out even.

Really the key in free agency is to avoid franchise crippling contracts (example: Bobby Holik) and yo find players who will at least provide a fair return on the money invested in them (example: Ken Klee). You can't count on finding great bargains year after year (example: Eric Perrin).

So let's come back to the Thrashers situation. Attendance is low and so team revenue is also very low compared to other NHL teams. The team losses money every year and therefore is rather unlikely to spend to the upper limit of the salary cap. I assume that the Thrashers plan to spend around the middle point between the salary cap and the salary floor--since the Thrashers are spending less than say the Flyers it is even more more critical that the Thrashers find inexpensive players.

Because the Flyers bring in millions more in revenue, they can spend to the cap maximum and they can still make the playoffs even if they get almost nothing out of a big contract player like Simon Gagne (who was hurt much of last year). The Thrashers really can't afford to waste any of their contract dollars like that--which is one reason why the Bobby Holik contract was such a franchise killer the last three seasons.

Now to bring this back around to the NHL Draft tomorrow. Here's the thing about the #3 pick, the Thrashers will have an opportunity to take either Drew Doughty or Zack Bogosian at that spot and both are considered to be potential #1 defensemen. The Thrashers must keep that pick and take one of them because the players of their caliber are impossible to trade for (Pronger being the rare exception) and or very expensive on the free agent market (examples: Chara, Jovanoski, Nidermayer, Brian Rafalski, Rob Blake) and usually they only want to sign with the top teams.

A young franchise defenseman can provide great value a very good price up. Take for example the Florida Panthers who basically have three impact players on their roster Bouwmeester (D) Jokinen (C) and Luongo/Vokoun (G). For the Thrashers to contend they much acquire better defensemen. To purchase the services of a Mathieu Schneider or Brian Rafalski the Thrashers would have to pay millions more than the Ducks or Red Wings did last summer.

So the most cost-effective strategy is to keep that pick and rebuild the defense around Enstrom and Doughty/Bogosian for the next decade to come. With Lehtonen and Pavalec in the system this could put the team on the path to respectability on the defensive side of the puck.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More Draft Mockery

I've updated the list of mock drafts to include ESNP's Gare Joyce and the It looks like almost everyone has the Thrashers taking Bogosian at #3 but there is no agreement at all about #29 which isn't terribly surprising.

If you want a few good laughs click over and read Cammie the Buckbunny's Draft Rating.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Big Trade on Draft Day?

I don't usually engage in speculation on this blog but today I will. Here are some interesting facts. The Thrashers head to the NHL draft in Ottawa with two 1st round picks. Personally I think that the team would be foolhardy to deal away the #3 overall pick because the young defensemen available at that position are potential All-Stars and those sort of players are nearly impossible to trade for or sign via free agency.

On the other hand I can see a major deal involving the #29 overall pick and one of the Thrashers top goalies on draft day. Why? One reason is the fact that Hedberg was given a two year extension. I could understand keeping Pavelec in the AHL for one more season for development purposes but I have a hard time imaging a guy who has just won the AHL championship remaining there for two more years. That means the Thrashers have two starter quality goalies and just one starting job available.

My own preference would have been to let Hedberg go and have Lehtonen and Pavelec battle each other for playing time all year. On the other hand, if you have two guys battle it out and let's say Pavelec wins the starter job you just decreased the value of an asset which you might want to trade for something else.

So let's say the Thrashers have made an internal decision that Pavalec is ready. Now take a look at our roster--there are big holes on the blue line and at center. It seems perfectly logical to me that the GM might want to deal some of that depth at the goal position (don't forget that prospect Alex Kangas just turned in a terrific rookie season in college) to fill some glaring roster holes.

I assume that the club will take Doughty or Bogosian with their #3 pick which gives the organization a top four guy to go with Enstrom for the immediate future. The team also has some interesting young centers coming along in Holzapfel and Mahacek--both of whom seem more likely to end up as 3rd line guys in the NHL. Angelo Esposito will either make the NHL as top six forward of be a complete bust.

So the Thrashers might be wise to package Lehtonen and #29 overall pick to say Ottawa. I'd love to see us get our hands on young defenseman Brian Lee and perhaps centerman Nikulin. Or the Red Wings who need a young goalie to step in as Chris Osgood gets closer to 40. Perhaps the Thrashers could get Filppula or young defensemen like Ledba or Meech in some sort of package from Detroit. The Predators too might be hurting for a goalie if Ellis leaves them via free agency and they have a number of good young defensemen on their roster.

Now it is possible that nothing will happen on draft day, but in the past GM Don Waddell has made moves at the draft (Slava Kozlov, Chris Thorburn). The other factor is that the team MUST do something to give fans some reason to hope for improvement next season. Here we are picking through the coaching candidate leftovers bin and proclaiming that Zhitnik will be back--yikes! (I'll be those ticket sales people hate coming to work right now.) Not only is the clock ticking for season ticket sales but it is also clicking towards Kovalchuk's free agency in two years.

So far nothing has happened which gives the fans any reason to feel inspired. The organization needs to make a splash and it needs to make a signal move that will address the fundamental flaws on defense and provide some sense of optimism. I don't expect to win the Cup next season, but I would pay to see a collection of talented and hungry young players with a much improved defense corps.

The truth is that as much as I might like to see Brian Campbell come here and play defense for us, he will likely choose to sign with a playoff team and not here in Atlanta. The Thrashers best option to fixing up their defense might be taking one of the Doughty/Bogosian pair, trading for a Brian Lee and signing a veteran forward and defensemen to two year deals (even if you have to overpay a bit per year--avoid any 3 year commitments) to provide stability as the young guys step into the NHL. Vast reductions in the team goals against is the shortest route to playoff contention.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Projecting the 2008 Draft

The 2008 NHL Draft is just days away and various publications are putting up their projected 1st round picks. Let's take a look at who the Thrashers are projected to take by various sources.
[Edit--I just added Gare Joyce of ESPN, the, Alan Muir/ to the list]

#3 Overall
The Hockey News: Zach Bogosian - D comparable Rob Blake
Bob McKenzie/TSN: Zach Bogosian - D comparable Rob Blake
Hockeys Future Mock: Zach Bogosian - D comparable Rob Blake
Red Line Report: Drew Doughty - D comparable Ray Bourque
International Scouting Services: Nikika Filatov - LW comparable Dan Alfredsson
McKeens: Alex Pietrangelo - D comparable Sergei Zubov
Gare Joyce/ESPN: Zach Bogosian - D comparable Rob Blake Zack Bogosian - D comparable Rob Blake
Alain Muir/Sports Illustrated: Drew Doughty - D

I doubt the team would take Filatov as they already have Kovalchuk at LW and their need is greatest at defense. So it seems almost certain the club will take one of the many elite blueline prospects. Which one depends a great deal on what the LA Kings do with the #2 pick. Some think that LA wants Pietrangelo and might be willing to trade down to the #5 spot if they think he will fall to them there. Doughty is rated #2 by most observers, but if LA picks Pietrangelo or trades the pick to another team that covets Filatov the Thrashers might have their pick between Bogosian and Doughty. Bogosian's strength is his combination of skill and relentless competitiveness while Doughty is praised for his great hockey sense and offensive skills but he needs to get into pro athlete shape.

#29 Overall
The Hockey News: Zac Dalpe - C comparable Travis Zajac
Bob McKenzie/TSN: Jordan Eberle - C comparable Joe Mullen
Hockeys Future Mock: Zac Dalpe - C comparable Travis Zajac
Red Line Report: Daulton Leveille - C comparable Phil Kessel
International Scouting Services: Aaron Ness - D Comparable Phil Housley
McKeens: Mitch Wahl - C comparable Matt Stajan
Gare Joyce/ESPN - Jared Staal - RW comparable Trent Hunter
Forecaster. ca: Jyri Niemi - D comparable Joe Corvo
Alain Muir/Sports Illustrated: Nicolas Deschamps - C comparable to Patrice Bergeron

I suspect that the Thrashers will trade this pick on Draft Day given the team's history of making deals and all the needs on their roster. However, if they do retain the pick they will likely get a player that they have rated as a mid-first rounder but was passed over by other clubs. The Hockey News and Hockey's Future point to Dalpe and Bob McKenzie points to Jordan Eberle. Bot of these guys are Centers and the organization could always your more quality pivots. Thrashers prospects Angelo Esposito and Riley Holzapfel both play center but it is easier to move a center to the wing than vice versa.

If you want to take a look at the mock drafts click on the following links.
USA Today/Red Line Report Mock 1st round
Bob McKenzie/ Mock 1st and 2nd round
Hockey's Future Mock
McKeen's 1st round
ISS Website
Gare Joyce/ESPN Mock Mock

Taking A Look at the Roster Pre-Free Agency

NHL free agent signing period is now just two weeks away so it seems appropriate to take a look at the possible line up and the money situation. First I will look at the Thrashers roster without any free agent additions and which will give us a sense of how much money could be available to spend.

Age/Name/Cap Hit in millions (* notes an RFA salary estimate)
25 Kovalchuk $6.4-21 Little $0.9-33 White $2.4
24 Sterling $0.7*-25 Christensen $0.8-26 Armstrong $1.2
38 Kozlov $3.7-33 Perrin $0.8-26 Stuart $0.5
31 Larsen $0.5-25 Thorburn $0.5-26 Slater $0.8
24 Enstrom $0.9-35 Havelid $2.7
27 Exelby $1.4-37 Klee $1.3
22 Valabik $0.9-36 Zhitnik $3.5
25 Lehtonen $3.0*-21 Pavelec $1.4
22 LaVallee $0.5
20 Kulda $0.5
20 Holzapfel $0.9
Current Cap Hit= $36 million

This hypothetical roster is both young and rather cheap. The total for this roster is around $36 million which is below the expected NHL team salary minimum for 2008-09 of $38-39 million. So no matter what the Thrashers will have to spend more money than what they currently have committed. The maximum will be around $55-56 million with the midpoint set at $47 million.

I'm going to guess that the Thrashers internal salary budget will beset at the midpoint (around $47 million). If that guess is in the ball park the team would have essentially $10-11 million to spend on two or three un-signed free agents. If Zhitnik is bought out that would free up $2.3 more in cap space this year.

If I were GM I would buy out Zhitnik which would leave a shopping budget of $12 million for the summer. If the Thrashers believe that whoever they take with the #3 overall pick in the NHL Draft is NHL ready then that supplies them with another fairly cheap roster player. If they take Doughty or Bogosian then that fills one defenseman slot for roughly $1 million (although they wound need cap room for possible incentives worth up to $4 million).

Now you still have around $11 million to go after a defenseman and forward. Now the team could either spend the big money on D and go lite on the F spot or vice versa. Let's say they spend big at D and offer Campbell $6-7 million (assuming the Sharks don't re-sign him before the deadline). Campbell has good puck skills and can skate and best of all he is 28 which makes him one of the youngest quality UFA defensemen out there. If you could land Campbell for $6-7 million that only leaves a small amoung for the F spot. I'm strongly against signing too many old players but given the youth of this roster it might not be bad to add a veteran at the forward slot. Rolston (34), Straka (34) or go with a younger Jason Williams (26) if he hasn't re-signed.

If the Thrashers go the other route they might be able to land one of these defensemen for say $5 million per year: Mara (27), Rozsival (28), Kalinin (26), Liles (26) Hejda (29) Streit (29) and then have enough money to make a pitch to Demitra (32) to add some more punch to the top line.

The third option (quite likely in my opinion) is that we see the Thrashers make a trade on draft day involving some combination of picks, players, prospects which brings the team somebody already under contract. Guessing the identity of such a player is nearly impossible so I will not attempt it here.

No matter what the Thrashers seem likely to be get much younger with the departure of Holik, Recchi, and pehaps Zhitnik if he is bought out. In development terms players typically improve until they reach their peak between the ages of 25-29 and then begin to decline. There is a chance of dramatic improvement in players younger 18-25 and a chance of a sharp decline in players over 33. The Thrashers roster would break down as follows:

4 Players ikely to Improve 18-24
8 Players In Peak Years 25-29
5 Players In Decline Years 30-40
3 Unknown Free Agents Players

This is a much better age distribution than we have seen on some recent Thrashers teams. Now just because you are young doesn't mean you are talented enough--this team might not have enough raw talent to make the playoffs. But betting on young players to improve is much more likely than betting on old players to maintain their production.

Forwards by age
21 Little: great defense, really young so hopefully the offense will appear with time.
24 Sterling: could put up some nice numbers if kept at LW and given PP time.
25 Kovalchuk: amazing to think he is just now entering his prime will he get good passes?
25 Christensen: could improve sharply in ATL with more ice time and PP time.
25 Thorburn: team needs more scoring out of 4th line.
26 Slater: snakebit most of the season, he could rebound a little
26 Stuart: adds great speed to checking line, minors suggest not to expect much scoring.
26 Armstrong: scoring rate actually higher in ATL than PIT, probably a 40 point guy.
33 White: Scoring rate has fallen two straight years can he rebound?
33 Perrin: probably had career year, might lose some SH points with Dupuis and Hossa gone.
38 Kozlov: fell so far last year that might rebound a bit, keep your expectations in check though.
?? UFA

Defense by age
18 Doughty or Bogosian: rookies make mistakes but they both could add some speed and flair.
24 Enstrom: hard to top great rookie year, probably see less PP ice time, mild drop.
27 Exelby: terrible year, could be much more valuable on 3rd pairing.
35 Havelid: very solid with Enstrom, getting up there in age, but smart player.
37 Klee: long in the tooth but knows he isn't fast, would be better on 3rd pairing.
?? UFA Defense

Goal by age
21 Pavelec: would be great to see he and Lehtonen push each other for starts all year.
25 Lehtonen: could benefit from some competition and more rest.

22 LaVallee: not sure how he scored in juniors but good physical checker.
22 Valabik: looks ready to play when inevitable injuries hit.
31 Larsen: must work hard every night to stay in the big show.

Personally I'd like to see the Thrasher sign Campbell and Straka, but I suspect that Straka will get a big multi-year offer from someone. I think the Thrashers would be smarter to offer Recchi a one year contract and not get tied up in another multi-year deal to someone or the wrong side of 34. If they did land Campbell, Rechhi and Bogosian in the draft the lines would shake out as follows.
25 Kovalchuk $6.4-21 Little $0.9-40 Recchi $1.0
24 Sterling $0.7*-25 Christensen $0.8-26 Armstrong $1.2
38 Kozlov $3.7-33 Perrin $0.8-33 White $2.4
26 Stuart $0.5 -25 Thorburn $0.5-26 Slater $0.8
24 Enstrom $0.9-35 Havelid $2.7
29 Campbell $6.5-18 Bogosian $1.0
27 Exelby $1.4-37 Klee $1.3
25 Lehtonen $3.0*-21 Pavelec $1.4
22 LaVallee $0.5
22 Valabik $0.9
31 Larsen $0.5
Zhitnik buyout hit $1.2
Current Cap Hit= $41 million

If the team were to field the following line up they could make MAJOR strides on the defensive side of the puck. If they had four quality guys in their rotation and two quality net minders battling each other for starts we could see the Thrashers reduce their goals against very significantly. The problem will be the offense which would will be "Kovalchuk and cross your fingers" all season. But if you're going to gamble better to gamble that one of your young forwards will break out and take a big step forward. Furthermore, the following roster will only cost about $41 against the cap which leaves plenty of room for either wavier pickups or trades at the deadline if the team is still in the race.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Fun with Pictures

Well in the "opps" department the Thrashers website got a jump on the press release folks and spilled the news that news that Johan Hedberg has apparently re-signed.

Some enterprising fan was able to get a screen capture before it was removed. Note the Headline "Moose Re-Signs With Thrashers" just below the picture of Enstrom.

The NHL Awards Ceremony is almost always disappointing. Between all of the wretched bad-pun humor and the terrible music it looks like something your crazy uncle produced in his basement. It makes you realize that the phrase "Canadian Culture" is an oxymoron.

Well, the NHL really had egg on its face this time as it started selling "Ovechkin MVP" shifts well before the ceremony had even been held to annouce the winners.

During the NHL Awards Ceremony the NHL had young children play a big role. When five-time Norris Trophy Winner Nick Lidstrom's name was called the kid wearing his stepped forward and revealed that they had put an extra "n" in his name--how in the world do you misspell somebody that famous? Why didn't anyone see it? All they had to do is check the trophy to get the name right.

This last picture is for all those folks at the NHL and Thrashers offices who had a rough week. There may have been some snafus this week but at least you're warm and dry which is more than we can say for these two soggy cats fleeing from rising flood waters in Iowa.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wolves End Summer Hockey with a Championship

The Chicago Wolves won the AHL Championship last night beating out the Penguins farm club. It was entertaining to watch, especially that 3rd goal by Jason Krog. The eternal post-game victory celebration was also entertaining. I thought both Pavelec and Valabik came across very well in their post-game comments. Pavelec was clearly moved by the experience and Valabik was very articulate and thoughtful in a moment when most people get swept in emotion.

I missed a couple of games during the finals as I was out of town. I recorded them and may go back and view them again later, but here are my impressions of some Thrashers prospects right now:

Arturs Kulda: I REALLY liked him at last summer's Thrasher Prospect Camp and he won the confidence of the Wolves coaching staff at the young age. He made a fantastic pass in the final game that led directly to a Wolves goal. I like his potential but he's not ready yet. Nearly every game he took a hit deep in his own zone and coughed up the puck. He simply needs to keep his head up more and chip that puck forward BEFORE receiving the hit. NHL guys do it all the time--it is something he must learn to reach the next level.

Ondrej Pavelec: First let me say I find evaluating goaltenders to be a challenge since I've never played the position (unlike defense and forward). Pavelec has some great building blocks in terms of his lateral mobility and size. Both Lehtonen and Pavelec are really big guys but Lehtonen is more a "play position and let the puck hit me" while Pavelec is more of "react to every shot" sort. Pavelec makes great saves that take him out of the net and leave him vulnerable to 2nd shot attempts. At the NHL level he will really need defensemen who can cover up his back door side.

Bryan Little: Great defensive player, great speed and determination, very little professional level finish right now. He's still really young and should improve some, but right now he looks more like an above average checking center with some skill. He just doesn't finish enough to be a guy you can count on to score in the NHL. To me he is the natural successor to Holik on the 3rd line and Erik Christenson and Todd White play on the top two scoring lines next season.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

McLellan as Thrashers Coach?

Thrashers Prospect Annex has a post up about Red Wings Assistant Todd McLellan as a possible Thrashers head coach. The links in that post provide more information about McLellan's background.

Honestly, I don't know much about him, other than the fact that as a head coach in the AHL he made the playoffs for five straight seasons and won a championship.

The website adds had a brief comment entitled "Thrashers in pursuit of McLellan?" and they say that "The Atlanta Thrashers are reportedly very interested in talking to McLellan about their opening."

Hmm, stayed tuned Thrasher fans our off season seems to be heating up.

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