Monday, October 26, 2009

Kovalchuk and the Future of the Atlanta Thrashers



This past off-season, I mentioned Atlanta Thrashers General Manager Don Waddell as a suitable candidate for the early season Hot Seat in the National Hockey League. The Thrashers are coming off a disappointing 76-point season in 2008-09, and were again eligible for the draft lottery held this past June. While the signs of promise are certainly there, the Atlanta Thrashers need to turn the corner and compete on a nightly basis with a surprisingly much improved Southeast Division. Most importantly however, Don Waddell must take care of business with star forward and Captain Ilya Kovalchuk. Heading into the final year of his contract, improving the Thrashers and pushing the right buttons in order to sign Kovie is a must.


The Thrashers took tremendous steps forward this past off-season in order to add to what could be their most talented group of players since their expansion year. The first round selection of Vancouver, BC native Evander Kane, the acquisition of hard nosed Czech defensemen Pavel Kubina, the signing of former Leaf forward Nikolai Antropov (a friend of Kovalchuk's), a training camp tryout with a contract to follow for Maxim Afinogenov, and a waiver claim of defenseman Christoph Schubert just hours before the 2009 season began. All in all, a pretty solid off-season for GM Don Waddell and the Atlanta Thrashers, but the work doesn’t stop there. Don Waddell recently signed forward Rich Peverley to a two year deal worth $2.6 million. The additions to this somewhat promising lineup are in place, the results on the ice; well that’s always a story in itself.


A 4-1-1 start for the Atlanta Thrashers is nothing new, been there done that. It’s a different feeling though as this young season progresses. Not only are the Thrashers getting offensive production from off-season acquisitions, there is a balance on this hockey club now. They are getting the secondary scoring, along with solid goaltending from their 2nd round pick in 2005, Ondrej Pavalec. Goaltending has always been an issue with the Atlanta Thrashers, battling injuries or poor on ice performances. Pavalec looks really solid however, and may just be the go to guy they've been searching for. Johan Hedberg figures to remain as a solid backup to Pavelec, as a once high touted goaltender Kari Lehtonen again nurses an injury. Talented rookie forward Evander Kane’s recent on ice performance indicates a trip back to junior is not in the cards, at least not at this point according to GM Don Waddell. From a defensive standpoint, newcomer Pavel Kubina and Tobias Enstrom have a combined 11 helpers in 8 games.  Kubina's veteran experience is an invaluable tool for the young Thrasher dmen.


The early season success is there for Head Coach John Anderson and the Atlanta Thrashers, but make no mistake, this hockey club is ways away from out of the woods. GM Don Waddell has his work cut out for him in order to put the best possible product on the ice. It all starts and ends with superstar Ilya Kovalchuk, who is due to hit the open market on July 1st of 2010. The Thrashers must find a way to lock up Kovie, give him what he wants, and continue to place the right pieces to the puzzle around him. A healthy Kovie surrounded by the right players, well that’s exactly what the fans in Atlanta have been waiting for. They might just get their wish.





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1 comments:

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Joan Stepsen
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