As we await the start of this year’s Stanley Cup Finals Saturday night, no doubt many of you have already taken into consideration the connection the Thrashers have with both the Flyers and Blackhawks.
Namely…Marian Hossa for Chicago and Braydon Coburn for Philly.
Both of those players used to wear Thrashers uniforms and both represent painful chapters in Thrasherville history.
First Hossa…who as you know came to Atlanta when Dany Heatley told Don Waddell he wanted out just prior to the 2005-06 season. He came this way from Ottawa along with Greg DeVries and played a major part in helping the Thrashers qualify for their one-and-only post-season appearance in 2007. But as the “Epic Fail” that was the 2007-08 season played out, it was clear he wanted nothing to do with this organization after his contractual obligation here ending that summer.
He was traded to Pittsburgh along with Pascal Dupuis and the two of them played in the SCF the next two seasons… Dupuis and the Penguins winning it last year. Now, Hossa will play in his third straight Cup Finals with his third different team hoping this time will be more successful than the previous two.
The team he and Chicago beat in the Western Conference Finals…the San Jose Sharks who now employ Heatley.
As for the Thrashers, they received in return Erik Christensen, Colby Armstrong, prospect Angelo Esposito and the Pens first round draft pick. With that selection they took Daultan Leveille, a center that has just finished his sophomore year at Michigan State.
Atlanta has utilized these returns for Hossa and Dupuis to finish with 76 points, 76 points and 83 points.
Now, given that Christensen was traded a year and a half ago to Anaheim and it looks more and more like Armstrong will be seeking employment elsewhere…what Atlanta has left to show for The Great Hossa Saga of 2008 is prospect Eric O’Dell, (gained in the Christensen deal with the Ducks), Angelo Esposito, (who has suffered two ACL tears in as many seasons), and Leveille, who will be a junior at MSU this fall.
Then there is Philadelphia’s Braydon Coburn, who was selected by the Thrashers with the eighth overall draft pick in 2003. He was traded away to Philly on February 24, 2007 when then-GM Don Waddell pushed the panic button during the playoff drive on the verge of sputtering out.
Coming this way…veteran defenseman Alexei Zhitnik.
Now, this transaction has been debated continuously over the course of the last three years by Thrashers fans. Some argue the deal “necessary’ to help get the team over the hump and into the playoffs as Zhitnik played a big role in that effort. And after all, as these fans still contest, Coburn was not getting a fair shake to develop properly here.
Others, myself included, still refer to this trade as the beginning of the end of the three years of serious progress the Thrashers were making up to that point. True, they won the Southeast Division that spring… but since that time they have played to a record of 104-115-27 finishing in 14th place, 13th place and 10th place in the Eastern Conference. In doing so, we have seen the Thrashers show two head coaches the door.
As for Zhitnik, he played in 65 games during that forgetful 2007-08 season scoring 3 goals and 5 assists and was a –8. After spending the last month of that season in the press box, Zhitnik was waived and his contract bought-out just days after Waddell said he would play a big part in the Thrashers future.
Since that time, the Thrashers have paid him $1.16 million to not play for them.
The Zhitnik Buyout Fund, however, is set to expire come July 1…freeing up that money to spend elsewhere. That mil-plus could be added to the $800,000 Maxim Afinogenov was paid last season to keep him around for another year or two. Or maybe it could become the Todd White Buyout Fund…who knows.
So why am I dragging us all down these dark alleyways of Thrasherville and dredging up the ghosts of trade-failures past? Well, it could be because these players were involved in two of the highest-profile and most debated trades in the Thrashers history…and now they are facing off in the SCF. That alone allows for the digging up of buried bones.
Also, I do find it a tad ironic that Braydon Coburn could quite possibly lift Lord Stanley’s Cup right about the same time that the Thrashers finally shake off the financial ties that still link them to the players they traded him away for. Also, if Hossa and the Blackhawks win it all, then we will watch him skate the Cup while the Thrashers watch the second NHL caliber player brought over in that deal skate out of town…leaving the Thrashers with three prospects to show for it all.
And finally, it normally it takes a few years to adequately determine which team “won” a trade…or if it was a co-beneficial transaction, as each side will always claim it is. I have contended for some time that Don Waddell and the Thrashers came out on the losing end of both of those deals. I further contend that where Hossa and Coburn are, where their teams are, (including Pittsburgh), and where the Thrashers are today…simply solidifies that point.
Now…is the Hossa trade along with the Coburn for Zhitnik deal the sole reasons for the Thrashers un-success in the past three seasons? Absolutely not…but it does highlight the type of decision-making that finds us where we are now. It also underlines why the moves made in the front office last month was so long overdo.
Only time will tell how successful Dudley will be in his GM duties here. But I certainly don’t expect him to hit the panic button the way Waddell did at the trade deadline of 2007. That, plus I think he’ll better create an environment in Thrasherville that will make players think about re-signing and sticking around…and not just feeling like they’re stuck here until they can sign elsewhere.
And with all that being said…enjoy watching the Finals!