I never thought I’d say this… but I’m OK with the Thrashers defense returning

As we have opined here many times, the Thrashers have never been remotely close to being an NHL defensive powerhouse. More times than not over the course of the past decade, their play at the blueline looks more like a turnstile allowing opponents free access to the defensive zone than a tollbooth that requires stiff payment to pass through it. And once they’ve entered the D-zone, opposing forwards have spent so much time there that they’ve been able to file for Homestead exemption.

Indeed, this has been a team built more upon the philosophy of outscoring other teams in order to win instead of keeping the puck out of their own net. The Thrashers brain trust…as admitted by then-GM Don Waddell last winter… have looked to construct this franchise around an Ilya Kovalchuk-type scorer and not around the concept of team play, whether it be inside the defensive zone or out.

Pavel Kubina played in 76 games last year for the Thrashers scoring 6 goals and 32 assists and had an EVEN +/- rating. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Pavel Kubina played in 76 games last year for the Thrashers scoring 6 goals, 32 assists and had an EVEN +/- rating (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

This strategy has led to exactly one playoff appearance and just as many postseason victories as I have trips made to the moon…zero.

It is also the main aspect of this team that I hope the new coaching staff will put their focus and attention to changing. A new focus on team defense has to be job-one for any new coach whomever that may be.

In summers past, many people…myself included…have looked for an almost complete overhaul of the blueline. The thinking being, “Surely any group of veterans and young up-and-comers could do no worse than what we’ve become accustomed to in these parts”. But this year, well… not so much. In fact, I’m not at all opposed to seeing the vast majority of them back in Thrasherville this coming fall.

And that is something I thought I’d never be able to opine here.

If you take a look at the raw numbers… Atlanta allowed 33.1 shots on goal per game last season, which was 27th in the league and up 0.4 SG/G from the previous season. However, the 3.05 goals against average was down from the 3.40 GA/G of 2008-09. In fact, only twice before have the Thrashers allowed fewer goals…2.96 in the season prior to the lockout and 2.94 in 2006-07, the year they actually qualified for the playoffs.

One reason for last season’s GA/G improvement was certainly the play in goal… primarily Johan Hedberg. But it also can be credited to just where those shots were coming from. Unlike previous seasons, fewer shots were fired from close range.

Another huge factor has to do with the improved play from the penalty kill unit. Last year they were successful 82.2% of the time, (16th in the NHL), when playing a man down. This was significantly better than the previous four seasons…76.0%, (29th) in 2008-09, 78.8%, (27th) in 2007-08, 79.8%, (26th) in 2006-07 and 72.2%, (T-25th) in the first year following the lockout.

For this, many thanks can be given to Mr. Kane, Mr. Reasoner, Mr. Kubina and Mr. Slater, (who the team announced today has been re-signed).

But moreover, I don’t think that last year’s defensive unit was given much of a chance to succeed simply given the style of play employed by the coaching staff. John Anderson’s system relied heavily on a fast-paced offensive scheme…even more so than normal around here. Many times defensemen were left to handle things on their own as back checking was not a practice high on the priority scale it seemed.

In short, I’d like to see what this D-unit could do if given the right circumstances…the right playing scheme and coaching strategy.

The Thrashers already have under contract the bulk of last season’s blueline…Ron Hainsey, Zach Bogosian, Toby Enstrom, Boris Valabik and Johnny Oduya. Those five along with someone like Arturs Kulda could conceivable make up your three defensive pairings if need be. However, re-signing Pavel Kubina would be a huge plus for this organization, (DUH5).

If so, the he along with Enstrom, Oduya and Hainsey could take the top-four, leaving Bogey to pair up with Kulda on the third line with Valabik rounding out the seven-man unit.

Think about that for a moment…how far has this team come if players like Bogosian, Valabik and Kulda needed to be “relegated” to the third line rotation?

I would also have no issue whatsoever with returning either Christoph Schubert or Mark Popovic. Were it left up to me, it would be Schubie…I just like having that physical presence in front of our net and that cannon of a shot he has.

That would free up Valabik for trade, possibly helping to bring in players up front. This summer the Thrashers will look to replace the likes of Colby Armstrong, Slava Kozlov, and possibly Evgeni Artyukhin and/or Eric Boulton. Of course if I had my way, Todd White would need replacing as well as I’d like to see him rotated into the contract buy-out column when Alexei Zhitnik rotates out on July 1.

Wow…I just suggested sacrificing a Thrashers defender to help bolster the offense. I think I need to go lay down.

148 comments Add your comment

R. Stroz

June 8th, 2010
1:35 pm

Rawhide – Put the bottle down dude, you’ve had one too many.

Mr. Awesome

June 8th, 2010
1:49 pm

Is it October yet

MB

June 8th, 2010
2:00 pm

Couldn’t agree more, as long as we re-sign Kubina. The talent is there to, at the very least, be a solid mid-tier defensive unit, given improved team defensive play and better coaching.

As mentioned by a number of others, goaltending is an issue, though I advocate sticking with what we have with the intent of seeing how OP handles his second season as a #1. Unless there’s a UFA out there who Duds really likes, I’d rather take our lumps again this season to see what his future holds.

Forwards…now that’s another issue. Look at our lineup. As much as I like most of those guys, I think it’s fair to say that few teams are going to fear playing against these guys, either offensively or defensively. We need to boost our skill and leadership up front. Hopefully RD and Coach 5 can come together fairly quickly to identify some guys who can help turn this ship around.

alex

June 8th, 2010
2:34 pm

brendan st.pet. good khl team long coached former deitroit assist. smith. chance to win khl with kovy still in my opinion 30% because still “kazan” and “salavat” better. owner is medvedev simultancously khl commish. they also offered contract to frolov and intend to lure semin next year. again better for nhl the best playing here no matter what coutry they born. it’s better for tv ratings revenue money just purely better for nhl to survive competition with nba, mlb. when everybody talking about krosby and ovy it’s better for sport because nobody will talk when kunitz will compete with slater. i wan’t nhl become irrelevant like hourse racing or boxing, because contraction is inevitable. again when the best is here more money revenue, less idiot asg owners, possibility espn tv like before. nhl should prosper with world star but not fall in oblivion with mediocricy.

Zoomo

June 8th, 2010
2:37 pm

>>In short, I’d like to see what this D-unit could do if given the >>right circumstances…the right playing scheme and coaching strategy.

I think that’s the key. The Anderson system was somewhat adverse to things like: stay at home, stop ‘em at the blueline, or take ‘em off the puck.

I think the personnel is pretty good. If Kubina doesn’t re-sign, that’s a big hole to fill. Bogo has got to get over the sophmore slump. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Kulda and Postma contend for spots. The team gave Postma the word to get more physical/bulk up a bit in the offseason and if he does, I predict he’ll make the team this year and bump Pops.

BigMomma

June 8th, 2010
2:37 pm

Agree 100%, Rawhide! I’m excited about next year’s defensive corps – especially if Kubina re-signs.

Now if we could just get a coach in place!

TableHockey

June 8th, 2010
2:57 pm

Great read Rawhide.

USA Today’s Kevin Allen is reporting a deal with Max is probably not going to happen and that a Kubina deal is still possible. No idea where he gets his info but he sure seems to be right on most things (in fact I believe he broke to Kovy to NJ trade).

I am hopeful that Kubina resigns – I’m not convinced we have FA options that are as good.

Savannah Blueland Fan

June 8th, 2010
3:00 pm

Todd White—-AAAARRRGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!

Way to go, Rawhide HAHA Just mentioning his name makes me unaccountably depressed.

Rusty

June 8th, 2010
3:07 pm

Good points, Rawhide. While I didn’t believe it at the time(s), the best thing to happen to this franchise (other than a new ownership group who could spell “H-O-C-K-E-Y,”) may have been the loss of Heatley, Hossa and Ilya. The hot shots were fun to watch…but those fleeting moments of joy never eased the frustration of going home a regular loser.

It’s obvious the sport’s big names see the Thrashers as the NHL version of Siberia, with the threat of “we’ll trade you to Atlanta” instilling instant discipline in even the most wayward . Not long ago, the same was said of the BRAVES. After decades of losing, it took a collection of talented unknowns to launch a legacy at Turner Field. So, rip a page from their playbook and adapt to reality with aggressive, skilled, something-to-prove young guys and who can also spell “T-E-A-M without the “M-E” dominanting. I pray Dudley (can) Do-Right.

R. Stroz

June 8th, 2010
3:14 pm

TableHockey – Kevin Allen usually gets his info directly from Waddell. Waddell has used Allen as his “trial balloon” source for years.

Alan R.

June 8th, 2010
3:24 pm

Stroz, he won’t put the bottle down. If he does, he knows I’ll be there waiting for it. ;)

glovesave29

June 8th, 2010
3:26 pm

Sure you could trade Valabik…you could get a few boxes of leftover “pink in the rink” Komen themed tape, maybe a very used coal powered skate sharpener, perhaps some paint thinner to remove the annoying baby blue paint from the glass stanchions. If Dud’s is a SUPREME negotiatior, perhaps he could swing a 5% ownership in the ECHL Gulf Coast Swords for Boris.

Keep Schubert around as a forward like in Ottawa. Can always fill in on D should the need arise.

TableHockey

June 8th, 2010
3:28 pm

Thanks R. Stroz – that’s good to know. He does always seem to have the inside line.

Buzz Aldrin

June 8th, 2010
3:30 pm

Don’t worry Rawhide, I can get you to the site in Arizona where we filmed the moon landing. Just say the word….

R. Stroz

June 8th, 2010
4:01 pm

Time to Place Your Bets Everyone:

If you really want to know who is running the Thrashers ship, watch to see if Waddell or Dudley takes the podium to announce the draft picks in two weeks.

So, place your bet, will we see Dudley or Waddell at the podium?

World Be Free

June 8th, 2010
4:11 pm

Stroz, I think they will both go up on stage, but Dudley will go to the podium and make the announcement of the pick.

glovesave29

June 8th, 2010
4:20 pm

I sure hope that Waddell has the good sense to stay out of it. (!)

Savannah Blueland Fan

June 8th, 2010
4:36 pm

Will Waddell have his hand behind Dudley’s back pulling the strings?

Lee

June 8th, 2010
5:36 pm

As long as Kuby re-signs I’m ok, if some of the players back off, then we look into the big brown eyes of Rick Dudley and he SHOULD sign some free agents. I’m excited for this year, but I say that every year and towards the end of last year, I wasn’t very excited so the thrashers might be losers again. Big confidence boost huh?

Lee

June 8th, 2010
5:37 pm

Just kiddin’….I am actually excited for this year.

No really!….

Red Light

June 8th, 2010
6:00 pm

Draft Day is the one day that Waddell can’t be at fault because a 17- or 18-year-old hasn’t yet stepped onto the ice in an NHL game. As such, he will be there in tow because there is no game for him “to scout” on June 25 unless he plans to attend the Yankees-Dodgers game at Chavez Ravine. He’s going to be there to shake hands, pat Duds on the back and play good guy just like he always has in front of the cameras.

As we all have known, a pair of defensemen comprises just 40 percent of the defensive workforce at even strength. The defensive corps is the best this organization has had collectively ever, and even without Kubina it can be mediocre to good. If Kubina doesn’t re-sign, his spot should be taken by a full-fledged shutdown defenseman with size, strength and skating ability. There are a few out there and that should be the team’s top priority – no questions asked. Secondly, it’s a bonafide playmaking center.

There is no question that the new coach’s defensive system has to have the pieces in place to limit shots and scoring chances. There are several forwards on the “signed” roster that can help in that regard, namely Thorburn, Slater, Reasoner, Kane and Peverley. But, is there a true shutdown-type center or solid checking winger on the roster? Your call.

There are still may openings to be filled on the roster, which gives you either concern or hope, but that’s why the next 24 days are crucial to the fortunes of this team, next year and beyond. The pressure is clearly on Dudley to choose the right coach and to sign and draft the right guys. Not an enviable position when you’ve got so many roster spots to fill and the mission to improve the franchise’s depth.

Brendan

June 8th, 2010
6:23 pm

I think Dudley’s taking the reigns at a relatively good time. Lots of cap space. Lots of open roster spots. He’s not saddled with Bobby Holik’s $4.25 million-a-year. Slater’s new deal barely touches the cap. Apparently, per Vivlamore, every UFA but Kozlov has an offer on the table. That includes Finny. Max is probably thinking, “I can get better than a 1-year deal” out on the open market. And that’s true. But let me ask you this. And beeeee honest. How confident are you, that if Max got one of his patented 3-year deals, that he wouldn’t start to disappear again?

Seeeeee. See, that’s it. Right there. That hesitation. That’s the cause for concern. I think a 2-year deal for Max is relatively safe. But my guess is … Max thinks he’ll find a 3-year deal out there. Good luck to him. I enjoyed having him here in Atlanta, last season. I wish him nothing but the best, with his next team.

Brendan

June 8th, 2010
6:27 pm

Alex, I replied on the previous blog. But with Medvedev as the KHL Commish and owner of St. Petersburg, I wouldn’t be surprised, at all, to see Kovy win a Championship there, over the course of three (3) years. I wish Kovy good luck on his next team. He’s still my favorite Thrasher of all-time. Any word on whether NJ has extended an offer to him? In the Devils’ shoes, I’d try to move Kovy prior to July 1, to his intended NHL team, if there is one, and pick up some later round draft pick in the process. Or try to pluck a player of that team’s roster, so that it can accommodate Kovy’s new GOLDEN deal. Depending on who that team is, they may be forced to jettison players anyway? Why not let the Devils try to get someone they like from that team’s roster?? Just a thought.

World Be Free

June 8th, 2010
6:49 pm

Bill, do your numbers suggest that we resign Hedberg for one more year? Just asking…

To add to Bill’s thoughts on John Anderson’s concept of team defense-poor coverage down low by the centerman, leaving pointmen uncovered contributed to our high shot total. I do not know our success rate in the faceoff circle, but I have to assume we were in the lower half of the league winning draws in our own zone. As Red Light noted, let’s hope the next coach has an NHL-caliber system. Craig Ramsay would be a perfect selection.

Keeping the defense intact is probably important to Dudley, since we have to assume he is shopping for a new # 1 goaltender, a top 6 forward to replace Max and a few other odd parts. One battle at a time.

World Be Free

June 8th, 2010
7:02 pm

Red Light-agreed on the shut down d-man, like Volchenkov.

Getting the #1 center means we would have to get in on the Jason Spezza derby, if there is one. What would we offer up for Spez? The Sens would want a bunch. I think the bridge has been burned for him in Ottawa.

Hope Plekanec or Lombardi hit the open market and offer either of them big bucks?
Getting a center would allow Antropov to move back to wing, his natural position.

glovesave29

June 8th, 2010
7:30 pm

rob

June 8th, 2010
7:41 pm

Rawhide or Vivs…..
Can we get an idea of just what Duds REALLY thinks we need and what he wants? A lot of talk is going on about who what blah blah, but I am curious about having something from the horses mouth as to the state of the team as he sees it, and not just some rosy, I like where we stand comment but an actual in depth look at our strengths, weaknesses, and what he would like to do to improve them. A GM talk with the fans kind of thing to see where we really stand.

GaVaHokie

June 8th, 2010
7:43 pm

rob

June 8th, 2010
7:58 pm

GS,
That is hilarious!!! Now if they had Carcillo in a diaper and bonnet for all his childish talk too!!!

LAC

June 8th, 2010
8:47 pm

Sign Boogard from Minnesota, He WOULD keep it order on the ice. Boulton has done a decent job, but this guy would be a Monster to go up against, Hear that cooke, and those other Pittsburgh crybaby’s ???

Rawhide

June 8th, 2010
8:48 pm

Bill, do your numbers suggest that we resign Hedberg for one more year? Just asking…

WBF – That wasn’t really my intention, but Dudley has indicated he has no problem returing the Moose & Opie show between the pipes. Oh, and BTW….check your e-mail, dude.

Rawhide or Vivs…..Can we get an idea of just what Duds REALLY thinks we need and what he wants?

rob – C-Viv is the one better suited to answer that. I’ll pass it along.

War Eagle

June 8th, 2010
10:02 pm

Good breakdown Rawhide. The opening paragraph about opposing forwards being able to file for the Homestead exemption was good for a laugh out loud. It never gets old seeing our defensive men smash opposing players into the glass. Looking forward to some old school hockey.

glovesave29

June 8th, 2010
10:18 pm

sigh…I sure wish the AJC would need to print this -

http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/acrobat/2010-05/54023508.pdf

World Be Free

June 8th, 2010
10:32 pm

LAC-I am totally on board with Booghard or however you spell his name. He’s a monster, a Tony Twist and Stu Grimson type player. Like having Clint Eastwood as your sheriff.

André Benjamin

June 8th, 2010
10:35 pm

Now who else wanna fu<k wit the thrashers?!

LAC

June 8th, 2010
10:54 pm

WBF, I read he is like 6′8″ and saw a couple fights on Youtube and he beats the CRAP out of anyone who dare fights him. If they don’t try to fight… They Turtle for sure !!!

I think he would keep order on the ice for us and would be a good signing, but he won’t be a top
contender for the Art Ross by no means…. But try to bully us around then.

Getting him would be cheap and a solid move, but when WE the fans know what would be good for the team, You can bet the Thrashers are looking at signing som 5′6″ guy who will never play in the NHL… Too bad we have such IDIOTS owning and running this franchise !!!!!!!

World Be Free

June 9th, 2010
6:06 am

LAC-YouTube Duds and you can see he’s dropped the gloves a few times as well, so he knows the value of a policeman. Looks like Minnesota might not have the $$$ to retain him.

World Be Free

June 9th, 2010
7:57 am

Goalie prospect-looks like Jose Theodore is not going to get a new contract from Washington. Theodore endured some struggles in November and December, but he rallied down the stretch and finished with a 30-7-7 record, a .911 save percentage and a 2.81 goals against average. He made $4.5M with the Caps last season. He is only 33, so maybe a 2 year deal for Jose?

GaVaHokie

June 9th, 2010
8:18 am

WBF… I want nothing to do with Jose. I don’t trust his consistency.

glovesave29

June 9th, 2010
8:28 am

Jose is a decent goalie, but the guy’s been through the ringer emotionally with the death of his son. I just see him being like a hockey version of Steve Avery…great guy and great tools, but dealing with issues that we can only hope to never have to address. That’s why I don’t sign him.

World Be Free

June 9th, 2010
8:30 am

Yeah he’s had his ups and downs over the last few seasons. The Caps need the “cap” space too, if they are going to retain their role players and make a run at Volchenkov. If they jettison Jose, the Washington’s combined goaltender cap hit for next season will be less that $2M.

GaVaHokie

June 9th, 2010
9:11 am

I’m fine with our goalie tandem… I think Pavs will continue to improve, which should reduce the amount of games Moose is having to play.

I don’t want Moose going anywhere else… I want him to finish out his career as a back up and move into an Administrative position within the organization… whether it’s Goalie Coach or Front Office, I don’t care.

Red Light

June 9th, 2010
9:31 am

Ah, but Theodore would be available for a song in comparison to his existing deal because of the issues outlined above. But, I still think there are better, cheaper options. Like Boogaard too, but as he only plays 5-6 minutes a game, what’s his real value other than dropping them?

Interesting choice of Guy Boucher in Tampa. Operates a 1-3-1 forecheck with the onus on good puck movers and skaters on defense. He has a few of them, but let the bidding begin for a new No. 1 goalie there as if the forecheck breaks down, lots of open shots will be the inevitable result. Sound familiar?

Dwayne

June 9th, 2010
9:33 am

I have one positive on Todd White….Isn’t he due for a good year?? one bad, one good, one bad, one good. Go Flyers!!!!

Red Light

June 9th, 2010
9:34 am

Why wouldn’t the Caps go with the Neuvirth-Varlamov tandem at a steep discount to the Theodore-Varlamov tandem? If Varly isn’t a true No. 1, they need to find out quickly. They will earn more than 100 points again next year too, while the rest of the division seeks improvement.

Putting On The Foil

June 9th, 2010
9:51 am

Is Todd White not gone yet?

rob

June 9th, 2010
9:53 am

RL,
Agree on the division. The key here is if the Thrashers actually play as a team, but because of the shake up at the top and the learning curve the guys will need to coach etc., will the fans come back? A lot is being thrown around about Duds being such a good team builder, but as with anything else, it won’t happen overnight. There should be a lot of positive movement, but not necessarily gonna happen at once, so what would be considered a positive for a team that is being overhauled from the top down and searching for the identity that they have never had before?

Joe Friday

June 9th, 2010
10:05 am

“If you really want to know who is running the Thrashers ship, watch to see if Waddell or Dudley takes the podium to announce the draft picks in two weeks.”

Great minds think alike and all. I’ve been waiting to see the same thing. But to me it’s to watch if Waddell is even there. Dudley will surely be the one to be at the podium making the announcement, but if things have truly changed, then there’s no reason for Waddell to be there, he’s only business side now and out of personnel decisions, right?

My guess is that yes, he in fact will be there as he’s still in on all the decisions, but to continue the charade he’ll stay at the table and let Dudley go up there.

Two biggest improvements this club needs that can turn it around quickest are getting the solid goalie, not more projects, no more making backups like Moose or Ellis et all into your starter. And the 2nd is getting a true #1 dman that can eat minutes. Those guys don’t grow on trees. My only hope for that is for Bogosian to turn into that guy. I’d put chances at 25% he could do it next year and that it’s more realistic for him as he matures, but that’s our best hope. You really have a hard time trading for or signing a UFA true #1 (Pronger aside).

It’s back to our house. Orange Crush. Pronger has a monster game. Leighton shuts them out. Briere skates circles around Campbell. Let’s go, Phlyers!

Lee

June 9th, 2010
11:02 am

The poster is hilarious!! LOL…

World Be Free

June 9th, 2010
11:03 am

R/L-I still think Valamov’s knee is hurting him a bit. That’s the only downside of letting Theordore go. Neuwirth is a pretty good backup, we saw him last season during that 8-1 victory for the Caps at Philips last year. Not that the Thrashers tested him much during that disaster of a game.

I am still interested to see what Dudley will do with the scouts. He has to be evaluating their performance as well. Bet some of those guys are nervous.

Dwayne-I will be really surprised if White isn’t bought out. If Max isn’t Dudley kind of player, how could White be? I think he’s gone.