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

Lee

June 9th, 2010
11:04 am

Spud Webb

June 9th, 2010
11:06 am

Move Boris to the wing, let him and the big guy artugo be our 4th line. They’ll be no more pushing the trashers around, which also along with the bad blueline been our montra since day 1!!!
I hope we re sign kubina, but I doubt that we will.
Very sad that hockey is almost over!

Lee

June 9th, 2010
11:06 am

GaVaHokie

June 9th, 2010
11:06 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.

Oh, that’s easy… Waddell will certainly be there, but Dudley announces the picks… another $1 bet, Stroz? :)

Alan R.

June 9th, 2010
11:07 am

Come on, Chicago. You’ve got one nail, and a coffin full of feathers. It’s time to close this thing once and for all.

Lee

June 9th, 2010
11:08 am

If the Hawks lose today, where is game 7 gonna be played???

GaVaHokie

June 9th, 2010
11:10 am

Here are your choices…

A) Waddell and Dudley are both there; Dudley makes the picks
B) Waddell and Dudley are both there; Waddell makes the picks
C) Waddell is not there; Dudley makes the picks alone
D) Waddell is not there; Waddell makes the picks via satellite. :)

Red Light

June 9th, 2010
11:44 am

In Chicago Lee!

World Be Free

June 9th, 2010
11:47 am

GaVa- “A”

Red Light

June 9th, 2010
12:15 pm

I think Laviolette made the right call going with Leighton tonight. He has won six straight playoff games at home and is 14-1 since Jan. 6 in the City of Brotherly Love.

World Be Free

June 9th, 2010
12:33 pm

J-F
Agreed, on the shut down d-man, been hoping for that for a long time. Look what Pronger did for Philly as the season progressed and in the playoffs. Dan Hamhuis is of interest, he would be a top 4 d-man pickup in free agency.

kracker

June 9th, 2010
12:40 pm

A – of course.

3stripes

June 9th, 2010
12:54 pm

I vote A. I think Waddell will be there, but understands the animosity toward him from the fans well enough to allow Dudley to make the pick. In fact, even if he is there, I don’t think Waddell takes the podium at all. Or at least I hope that’s the case.

Cliff Fletcher

June 9th, 2010
1:00 pm

Can we tell Waddell that the draft is in Montreal?

The Real Thrash

June 9th, 2010
1:22 pm

Anyone who wants the same defense, statiscally or team-wise does NOT want us to be successful and make the playoffs.

GaVaHokie

June 9th, 2010
1:30 pm

Waddell won’t make any of the picks, but he’ll be involved when trade scenarios come around I’m sure, he’ll let Dudley know to ‘bite’ or ‘don’t bite’ when Lamoriello and Burke try to fleece him.

Dudley will use Waddell to get info on other GM’s, I would think. How to get the most out of a trade.

They are friends after all… I’m sure they respect each others opinions.

World Be Free

June 9th, 2010
1:34 pm

Thrash-I accept the current defense because I believe Dudley will be concentrating on a new #1 goaltender and top 6 forward. The time and resources might not be there to make changes in the current defensive corps. Hamhuis in place of Kubina might be the only change, if Duds can’t get Kubina signed by July 1.

Lee

June 9th, 2010
2:03 pm

I think it’s D, nah, A….

Telfo

June 9th, 2010
2:32 pm

of course Waddell will be at the draft

Trades happen at the draft
trades involve players that make money
money involves Waddell

GaVaHokie

June 9th, 2010
2:36 pm

Actually, Dudley should let Waddell pick in the 7th and 8th round. :)

7th round picks: Postma, Kulda, Oystrick
8th round picks: Exelby, Enstrom

R. Stroz

June 9th, 2010
2:50 pm

Trades happen at the draft

Yep, the 2005 draft is proof positive of that.

How did that turn out? Where is Alex “I Could Win the Nathans Hot Dog Contest with my Big Buck Teeth” Bourret now?

Brendan

June 9th, 2010
2:51 pm

Glovesave29, that was a funny Chris Pronger photo.

Hokie: Choice A.

Brendan

June 9th, 2010
2:54 pm

R.Stroz, per Wikipedia, he’s currently with a relatively successful Czech Republic team. I notice he hasn’t played any games for them. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Bourret

Brendan

June 9th, 2010
2:57 pm

Ohh okay. He played 16 games for the Czech league team. He had an assist. Bourret had 18 goals last year in the ECHL, playing for the Las Vegas Wranglers. Here’s a link. http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php?pid=70696

Brendan

June 9th, 2010
2:59 pm

Cue Sage of Bluesland for the famous Waddell quote, “Bourret was who we wanted all along. (At pick # 8 in the 2005 draft)”

R. Stroz

June 9th, 2010
3:01 pm

GaVaHockie – I’ve been keeping that dollar in a very special place.

glovesave29

June 9th, 2010
3:11 pm

Ah, I am ready for a night of silver polish and white gloves…but the end of hockey for a few months. Glad the World Cup will take up a pretty good chunk of that time. Go USA!

GaVaHokie

June 9th, 2010
3:13 pm

Well, the Alex Bourret “disaster” was based on poor prospect evaluation. The logistics of the trade were fine… lets say Waddell brokers a trade that moves us down to #12 or #15 and we pick up an extra 2nd round pick. Now we let Dudley make the pick and he gets Ryan Johanson, Jeff Skinner or John McFarland at #15… I don’t think we’ll be complaining.

GaVaHokie

June 9th, 2010
3:19 pm

Hmmm, that got the Hamster Wheel spinning… I just noticed Boston is sitting at #15.

Patrice Bergeron and a swap of the 8th and 15th pick?… Blake Wheeler?

Anybody see a trade partner you like in the #10-#15 range?

GaVaHokie

June 9th, 2010
3:21 pm

Anybody see a trade partner you like in the #10-#15 range?

Meant to give a link…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_NHL_Entry_Draft

kracker

June 9th, 2010
3:30 pm

Bourret > Kopitar

R. Stroz

June 9th, 2010
3:40 pm

I really enjoyed the Bourret pick. Guys like that make me look less ugly…..and fat.

glovesave29

June 9th, 2010
3:49 pm

Not so sure that is possible, Stroz.

C’mon man – you walked into that one.

R. Stroz

June 9th, 2010
4:16 pm

glovesave29 – Then maybe we should bring Zhitnik into the discussion.

kracker

June 9th, 2010
4:21 pm

The next to the last game is tonight!!!….oh wait, nevermind, it’s tomorrow night.

Cliff Fletcher

June 9th, 2010
4:28 pm

Looks like the Yotes are staying in Phoenix. Bet there will be a great deal of crying and belly aching in Canada tonight!

rob

June 9th, 2010
4:42 pm

WBF,
I think Duds made it clear he is happy w Pavs/Moose which is kinda scary but what he said. That being said I still would like to let Kubina go and find someone younger for him who can work more with our young guys and wont be a liability as he continues slowing down and becomes a liability with a high salary we cant move. If you sign Kubina for 3 years, and after 2 want to deal him….good luck is all I am saying. But a younger guy with similar contract might not be as hard. Just my thought. I like Kubina but think this isn’t the time to give him a big 3-4 year contract. Other than him I am OK with Zach, Hainsey, Olduya, Enstrom, maybe Pops coming back and Kulda coming up. And a strategy drawn up to tighten up defensively as a TEAM.

kracker

June 9th, 2010
5:01 pm

I was right the 1st time, it is tonight :)

World Be Free

June 9th, 2010
5:15 pm

rob-Dudley is happy with the current tandum. I still think we need to do better and get a real number one goaltender. The position is too important to hope that the 2 guys you had last year can duplicate their efforts next season. Especially since we do not have another NHL-ready goaltender in our system. That’s too much hoping for my comfort. I’d be surprised is Kubina gets a 3 year deal out of the Thrashers for big money; Hamhuis is younger and very sound defensively. Still gotta replace Max too, since it looks like he’s headed towards the open market.

Brendan

June 9th, 2010
10:42 pm

What a finish to Game Six!! Wow.

Brendan

June 9th, 2010
10:50 pm

Will the Stanley Cup be won in overtime???

Okay, bloggers. Put your “thinking touques” on. Pick me 3 players from each team to win it. For Philly, I’m going with Gagne, Hartnell, and Pronger. For Chicago, I like Toews, Hossa, and Byfuglien. Just imagine if Toews scores the Cup-clinching goal?

Okay Hossa-haters, rejoice in knowing that the “very late” game-tying goal for the Flyers was deflected into the Blackhawk net by Marian Hossa. For Hossa to score the Cup clincher, wouldn’t be the 1st time a former Thrasher scored a Stanley Cup-clinching goal. Frank Kaberle did it for Carolina, in 2006.

Brendan

June 9th, 2010
10:52 pm

WBF, I think Atlanta has to get a goalie in free agency. Even Waddell hinted at that.

Brendan

June 9th, 2010
11:15 pm

Jonathan Toews is the Conn Smythe winner for Chicago. An interesting choice. But it’s made. Congrats to Marian Hossa for winning the Cup. Congrats to Pat Kane, for scoring the overtime winner. Congrats to the Flyers for a memorable run.

Somaatl95

June 9th, 2010
11:24 pm

Nice. Congrats Chicago! Now the Thrashers can get their coach and next season can get here faster…

Joe Friday

June 9th, 2010
11:27 pm

Kaner!!! Woo hoo!!!!!

Brendan

June 9th, 2010
11:29 pm

Is someone gonna say it? That was a “weak” goal let in by Leighton. That’s a tight angle shot that should just be sticked aside. Very comparable to the Gold Medal overtime winner by Crosby, that just left people stunned and confused that the game was suddenly over. Leighton must feel terrible. But he had a tremendous playoffs.

Flagstaff

June 9th, 2010
11:30 pm

I always like to joke that while our Kane beats up Matt Cooke, theirs only beats up innocent cab drivers. Now, he’s come full circle from being drafted there in ‘07 (when, on an interesting note, he noted that his favorite NHL player was Kovalchuk). What a series!

Now, Torchetti Watch™ is officially on.

glovesave29

June 9th, 2010
11:37 pm

What did I say after that bad goal in game 5? That last one is on Leighton too – not squared up to the shot and he paid for it.

Congrats to the Blackhawks. They certainly deserve this.

LAC

June 9th, 2010
11:38 pm

What a complete turn around in Chicago, New Family owners who WANT to win, know how to win and get the Players to win with.

In Atlanta, SOS, They DO NOT WANT TO WIN, lose key players, know nothing except how to lose, lose, lose and resign a player that they will NEVER win with.

How refreshing would it be to have a COMMITED OWNER, who wants to win and do what it takes to win.

But I look for NOTHING this of season except more of the same crap we have had to endure for ten years now, another non playoff season in 2010-2011.

Lastly, if you are a player and want to WIN you MUST LEAVE Atlanta, because they have NO desire to win and until we get a new OWNER, we will never win with Atlanta STUPID Group in control.

It hurts to be a fan and want to WIN so badly and see these owners and SOB waddell scam everytjing, leaving NOTHING for the fans to be looking forward to, a total SHAME !

stendek

June 9th, 2010
11:38 pm

Hi Bill. Just cannot say anything. Too aggravated. Here:http://hubpages.com/hub/National-Hockey-League-Outcomes-Rigged?done