Nine players were voted off Thrashers Island on Saturday…four forwards, four defenders and one goalkeeper. Left in the wake of their departure are fifteen forwards, eight blueliners and three goalies, (four if you count Kari who is injured). Given that NHL teams must get their rosters down to 23 players by 3 pm Wednesday, this means that there are four players left remaining that will need to depart sometime by then.
Among the “safe” players are forwards Ilya Kovalchuk, Bryan Little, Nik Antropov, Todd White, Slava Kozlov, Rich Peverley, Marty Reasoner, Colby Armstrong, Jim Slater and probably Eric Boulton. I’ll add Maxim Afinogenov to that assuming he’s signed.
On the blueline, the top four are “safe” are Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Pavel Kubina and Ron Hainsey. In goal only Johan Hedberg is to be given the “safe” classification in my book.
Kari Lehtonen is on the roster, but he’s not considered healthy enough to be in the lineup on October 3. The team has a decision to make with him considering simply waiting for him to heal or placing him on the injured list. Given that, I would then reduce the number of players who will need to be trimmed off the roster to three.
That leaves forwards Chris Thorburn, Josh Gratton, Dan Fritsche and Evander Kane…defenders Nathan Oystrick, Mark Popovic, Boris Valabik and Anssi Salmela…as well as goalies Ondrej Pavelec and Manny Legace left to battle it out for the handful of slots that are left to be filled.
Coach Anderson has said he wants the lineup for today’s preseason finale to be a lot like what opening night’s will be…to that measure, here are the expected lines for this afternoon’s game against Tampa Bay.
And with that…I’ll ask for your projections for whom you believe will be the 23 left remaining to suit up Saturday for the season opener and who will also be included to watch the festivities from the press box. Obviously, a lot of this will be settled on the ice later today in the final preseason game, but I’d like to get your predictions beforehand.
Of course, I wouldn’t ask to see yours if I wasn’t willing to show you mine, so here are my projected lineups for opening night…
Kovalchuk – Antropov – Little
Kozlov – White – Afinogenov
Peverley – Reasoner – Armstrong
Boulton – Slater – Thorburn
In the press box: Gratton
Hainsey – Kubina
Bogosian – Enstrom
Oystrick – Popovic
In the press box: Valabik
In the press box: Legace
Now, you’ll notice that I’ve put Opie at the top of the depth chart as I think he will indeed start against the Lightning and I feel the team will keep Legace, going with three keepers. One of the reasons I think Don Waddell and the organization will choose this route is because they do not want to see a repeat of 2005. As you’ll recall, that fall they were unable to properly address the problem of their goalies dropping faster and more frequently than stocks last fall.
Another reason I think they might keep Manny around is because if they sign him to a two-way deal and ship him off to Chicago, D-Mac will be deprived of some much-needed playing time. If the start him in Atlanta with Moose backing up…or the other way around… then Opie is once again thrown to the Wolves. Of course another option is for the Thrashers to simply say, “Thanks for your time, Manny…but we’re just gonna have to go our separate ways”. But I just don’t think the brain trust of Waddell, Dudley and Anderson care to see a keeper of Legace’s ability slip away given Kari’s questionable status.
So, I think they carry the three goalies… then sort things out once Kari is deemed fit to play.
Which of these players will be voted off Thrashers Island? (Pick Three)
Total Voters: 148
Evander Kane? Well, I think the Thrashers will determine that it is in his and their best interest to ship him off to Vancouver. Given that Max will be getting more ice time in the regular season…again assuming he is signed…there’s no real need to rush the kid or expose him to injury when there just is no real need to do so.
I also am projecting that Anssi Salmela comes in fourth in the battle for the bottom-three spots on the blueline, if for no other reason than the other three have significantly more NHL experience. Popovic has really shown me a lot since he was invited to camp. Valabik…not so much. If this is a true contest to see the best player win out, then Pops wins out over Boris.
I almost went with Peverly on the second line with White and Afinogenov. As I listened to the streaming online feed via the Hurricanes’ radio broadcast, there seemed to be some chemistry with that line. But that Peever- Party-Army line looks pretty good.
Since Joey Crabb was sent down with eight others on Saturday, the battle to unseat Chris Thorburn is now down to Josh Gratton and Dan Fritsche. I’ll go with Gratton here because I like the way Josh drops the gloves and his tough play on the ice. However, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Fritsche gets the nod, escpecially if Anderson is of the impression that he can provide help on the PK.
I also wouldn’t be stunned if Thorney finds himself snacking from the press box buffet Saturday night while Gratton or Fritsche play instead. However, starting the season off with a measure of consistency from last spring will probably be deemed what is prudent at this juncture. Besides it’s not like a change couldn’t be made later on if Anderson feels the need to do so.
So…all that means that I believe Salmela, Fritsche and Kane will be voted off Thrashers Island this week. Three pretty darn good players who any other season would probably find themselves on this roster. That’s a testament to the type of depth we have this season…which is a very, very good thing.