This weekend will bring to a close the Thrashers’ 2009-10 excursion through the NHL schedule…one that saw a “March to the Playoffs” fall just short, ending officially with the 3-0 loss to New Jersey Tuesday night. Thus, the good people of Thrasherville will once again be left to observe the post-season festivities minus their team’s involvement.
Now, many will claim that this season was not like the one experienced last year…and the one before that. Where those campaigns ended with just 76 points and our playoff fate written much sooner, this year we where “in it” until the last week…that plus the Thrashers have earned 81 points with two games still left to enjoy. This, as someone once said, is movement in the right direction…right?
Eh, maybe…maybe not.
See, there is also the notion that this year’s “March to the Playoff” wasn’t actually a journey in the direction of the promise land known as post-season play…but rather an optical trick created in our playoff-starved minds that simply made it appear like we were moving closer to that much desired and sought-after oasis.
A mirage, as it were.
Sure, for a while it looked like “movement in the right direction”, but as we drew closer and closer to it, we realized that we were simply continuing our circular journey throughout that vast wasteland known as the Desert of Mediocrity.
Like I said, it is true that our Thrashers did remain in the playoff race right up until the final week of the season…as opposed to the last two seasons in which their fate was sealed by the trade deadline. And please don’t get me wrong, I certainly did enjoy seeing the Thrashers play meaningful games in late March… even into April. But one cannot help but ask, “Did they last this long because they made significant improvement in their play, enough to rise up to the lofty level of actual post-season contention… or was something else at play here”?
Now that we no long have the sand caused by the “playoff chase sandstorm” blurring our vision, let us take a second look… shall we?
In the debacle that was 2007-08… the first season in Thrasherville A.P., (after playoffs)… the Thrashers gained 76 points while winning 34 games. Last year they equaled that total while winning 35 times. This year, with two games remaining, they have 81 points. So, that’s 5 points better at least, right?
Well, yeah…but to date they have only 34 victories.
In fact, over the course of the Thrashers ten years of play, they have averaged 33.75 wins per season. So, these past three years they have performed right at their “average”…34 wins in 2007-08, then 35 wins last year and now 34 wins with only two games left against the Penguins and Caps.
This is progress? This is “moving in the right direction”?
In reality, any “improvement” has come by way the proverbial overtime loser point gained for simply dragging an opponent to beyond 60 minutes of play before eventually watching them skate away with the all-important second point in the standings. They have 13 such loses this years…as opposed to 6 a year ago and 8 the year prior.
Hmmm…is this what we have been told is “incremental progress”?
Moving right along…
While this team has been on it’s “March to the Playoffs”, they played sub-.500 hockey…even the way the NHL calculates it. Since the Olympic break ended, they are 8-9-3. Going back to New Years, they are but 16-16-9. In contrast, last year they were 23-20-1 from January first to the end of the season. Most recently, after beating the Flyers 5-2 back on March 20, they have failed to win a home game since…going 0-3-1 and being outscored 13-2 with a pair of goose eggs dropped on them.
Now, we combine that with the fact that there are a handful of teams…Philly, Boston, the Rangers and Montreal… who haven’t exactly run away and hid in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Three of those will qualify for spots number 6 through 8 and could do so with fewer than 90 points. Last season 93 was the cutoff point in the east…and the Florida Panthers even finished in ninth place with that exact total. Buffalo’s 91 was just good enough for tenth in the conference.
And even though the Thrashers benefited from having so many playoff contending teams in the east performing below what would normally be considered playoff-caliber play, they were not able to capitalize on such good fortune. What’s more…when doors were opened up, they failed multiple times to seize the opportunity.
They had a chance early in the month…but went on a six game skid.
They found themselves back within striking distance just two weeks ago…but lost 4-0 to the Bruins.
Once again they were afforded another chance to reach the eighth spot…but fell flat 4-1 to the Canes.
Then Saturday’s come-from-ahead loss in Pittsburgh…well, you get the picture.
Either way you look at it, given their record and performance in the clutch, this is simply not the type of play indicative of a post-season worthy team, my friends.
So, after being teased with a brief sip from the playoff fountain three years ago…which took eight years and seven seasons to even reach that point… we are once again left to discuss the hope for next year. You know, much like we did this time last year.
We’ll look forward to seeing how Nic Bergfors will do when he plays a full year in Thrasher blue…much like we did last year with Rich Peverley.
We’ll discuss how much better Evander Kane will be next season after a full year of NHL experience is under his belt…much like we did Zach Bogosian the year prior.
We’ll look forward to seeing the new “face of the future” when the Thrashers make their first pick in this Junes draft…much like we did a year ago leading up to Kane’s selection.
Yes, we will once again be facing six months of hoping and speculating, wishing and dreaming of the team next year that could just lead us out of this Desert of Mediocrity and towards that playoff oasis…just as we did last summer…and the summer before that.
But unless changes are made …and I mean serious changes made from the top – down … in the leadership of this organization, I see the good people of Thrasherville doomed to wander in this vast wasteland for the foreseeable future. And they’ll become even more parched from the time elapsed since they last sipped from the playoff fountain… and still await their fist big gulp of an actual playoff win.
However, I fear that the Great Octocluster will continue to keep their collective heads stuck up their…ahem…buried in the sand and once again opt to retain the services of the same general manager who led us to where we are today. They’ll once more fill our empty canteens with their Kool-Aide laced with “Moving in the right direction” rhetoric and have us believe Don Waddell… and his third “five-year plan”… is the man to lead us out of this Desert of Mediocrity to the plush splendor of that elusive oasis known as post-season play.
Meanwhile, we continue to circle the same sand dunes year after year hoping that the next time we’ll actually find the playoff oasis waiting on the other side.