It’s almost hard to believe that we are coming to the end to yet another Thrashers season. Tonight they welcome in the Tampa Bay Lightning and then tomorrow…both teams will begin their off-season rituals. For the second consecutive year, both the Bolts and Thrashers will not only be spectators in The Great Hunt for Lord Stanley’s Cup, they will also be looking at their logos on lottery ping-pong balls.
Atlanta comes into the game with a record of 34-41-6 for 74 points and a win tonight would match their points production of one season ago. Tampa Bay has 66 points after finishing last year with 71…which was the league low. Regardless of the outcome, the Thrashers will end up in fourth place in the Southeast Division, thirteenth in the Eastern Conference and 27th in the NHL overall standings. Last season they were 4th, 14th and 28th respectively.
But as we approach the end of this campaign I…as I am one to do…tend to look back on the season that is getting ready to close and think about what went right, what went wrong and what might have been.
Now, as you will recall, when the season began many of us offered up predictions as to just how the Thrashers would fair this season. My projection was that we would finish with 86 points, third in the division and eleventh in the conference. The best I can hope for now is that, with an Atlanta win tonight, my prediction would be only 10 points off the mark.
Now, some my say that I set my sights too high for this team…and that may be so. But truth be told, even though I believed this team would struggle a bit in the beginning, I didn’t think it was going to take until January to finally start seeing some good hockey out of them. But the way the team has performed since the beginning of the second half of the season is more the type of hockey I thought we’d see outa them for the most part.
Since the mid-point of the year, the Thrashers have played to a record of 21-18-1 with the one game left. That’s 43 points over the course of half a season. That rate of play over a full season would net…hmmmm… 86 points.
So…maybe I was half right?
In hind sight, the injuries to Kari Lehtonen and Zach Bogosian…which kept them out of the lineup for weeks last November and December…had something to do with the Thrashers’ 13-23-5 first half record. But I can’t help but think that 31 points after 41 games had more to do with the overall roster than anything else…and the tide seemed to turn once certain players were removed. Addition by subtraction, as it were.
At the start of the year John Anderson was trying figure out just to what to do with Erik Christensen. First line center?… somewhere on the wing?…somewhere in the press box? Turns out Don Waddell found the best thing to do with him and he’s been a Duck since the trade deadline. That part of the Hossa/Dupuis deal with Pittsburgh was a bust.
The Jason Williams experiment never really got out of the lab, either. After playing in 41 games for Atlanta, Williams had but 7 goals, 11 assists and was a -9. Since being traded to Columbus in mid-January though, he has accounted for 12 goals, 17 assists and is a +7 in 38 games and will be enjoying life in post-season next week. Good for him…good for us.
Moving Nic Havelid and Mathieu Schnieder proved to be the right call as well. Schneids just never worked out here… but since being dealt to the Candiens he’s performed well, scoring 5 goals and 12 assists in the 22 games played there as well as providing his services on defense. It was thought he was lost for the rest of the season and playoffs after an injury earlier in the week, however Schnieder returned to play in Boston Thursday night…even scored a goal. Havelid was a player I really respected during his time in Atlanta and should be an asset to the Devils’ blueline during the post-season. I know I’m not alone in saying I’ll be pulling for him.
Moving these players made room to provide such players as Nathan Oystrick, Boris Valabik, Anssi Salmela and Colin Stuart more ice time. That has not proven to be time wasted.
Of course, one of the big factors that helped the Thrashers play to a winning record since mid-January has been addition by addition…specifically the addition of one Mr. Rich Peverley to the lineup. It was at the time of he joined the team that the Thrashers seemed to take on a new attitude…of the winning variety. In 38 games played, The Peever has scored 13 goals, has 20 helpers and …now sit down for this… is a +16. His attention to defensive responsibilities has played a huge part in that last statistic. Indeed he was a steal off the waiver-wire.
And then there is Ilya Kovalchuck having the “C” added to his jersey. Since being named team captain at Casino Night, he’s netted 26 goals and 22 assist. He now has a total of 42 goals an 90 points for the season. I guess some just take to leadership roles, eh? Kinda makes you wonder what might have been had he been given that “C” earlier.
To that point, over the course of the past several weeks I’ve often wantered “what if” about a couple other things.
What if this team…the way it is made up today…had been able to play the whole season?
What if Bogosian, Kari hadn’t missed so much of November and December with injuries?
Could that have been worth a few more points in the standings? Just…maybe?
Ahhhh…woulda beens and coulda beens.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to tonight…to having fun with the uber-cool fans in section 119… Jackie Blue, the ice cream girls as well as Hockey Biltong and Mrs. Biltong just to name a few. I’m also looking forward to enjoying this team one more time before the long six-month wait for next October’s dropping of the puck to open up season number ten of Atlanta Thrashers hockey!
So, What’s That Buzzing Noise?
It seems as though this little blog thingy has gotten some people’s attention…specifically speaking, this cat that goes by the name of Eklund over at hockeybuzz.com. It appears as though he needs someone to crack-wise about the comings and goings of our Atlanta Thrashers on his site and yours truly has been tapped to do just that. So I hope you’ll all take the time to make that part of your on-line reading routine as well.
Only…you can’t take time away from this Ice Man column for it…understand?!?! You simply have to make time to ingest even more Thrashers reading…got it?!?! If I’m gonna write more…you gotta read more. That’s the deal!
Now, as for what we do here…nothing changes. Just like like year, we are gonna continue discussing hockey through the playoffs, during draft and UFA seasons, into training camp and then…the 2009-10 hockey season…one that I think is going to be really fun and exiting for all Thrashers fans.