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

stendek

June 9th, 2010
11:38 pm

Adam

June 9th, 2010
11:41 pm

in twenty minutes Toronto is on the clock ;)

Tom

June 9th, 2010
11:42 pm

I want Sharpe for 2010-2011. Bad…

Brendan

June 9th, 2010
11:44 pm

Jeremy Roenick was nearly in tears, lamenting that he did not win a Cup during his time in Chicago. He insists he won’t touch the Cup, because he’s never won it. He’s retired, I believe. So, I think it’s safe for him now, lest he be planning a comeback.

Brendan

June 9th, 2010
11:45 pm

Tom, Sharp’s game tying goal, 2-2, during the 4-on-4 was huuuuge for Chicago.

Brendan

June 9th, 2010
11:48 pm

Brian Burke knew Toronto was on the clock before they interviewed him for the GM job. Burke is one of the few people who WANTED to go into that hornet’s nest, in the Mecca. For Burke, winning another Cup in Anaheim wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as being the GM who finally got the Leafs off the schneid.

World Be Free

June 9th, 2010
11:50 pm

Congrats to Chicago, they earned the Cup. Big ups to Philly for never giving up. They made the playoffs on the last shot of the regular season and rode it all the way to the finals.

Who is going to the airport tomorrow to pickup Torchetti?

Brendan

June 9th, 2010
11:57 pm

Joe Friday, be sure to remind everyone, years from now, what a tremendous run the Flyers put together. Because it WASSSSS just that. They gave us a great series in the Finals. Their 2nd round comeback against Boston, down 3-0, hadn’t been done in 35 years! Philly overcame injuries. Boucher had to step in. Then Leighton returned. Gagne returned in the 2nd round. The Flyers made a coaching change in mid-season to bring in LaViolette. Philly has reached the CF twice in the past three (2/3) years. As disappointing as their fans must feel right now, I’ll remind them that, since 1974, their team has reached the CF 36.1% of the time. And the Flyers have been in the Finals 22.1% of the time, since 1976. That’s an average of a trip to the Finals a little better than once every five (1/5) seasons.

Now, I hear ya. Don’t think I don’t. That’s six straight losses for the Flyers in the Finals. Okay, yes. That’s true. There’s no denying that, but the Flyers have to be “in it to win it.” So, at least they’re getting their opportunities. Philadelphia has a good nucleus of players. They won’t be dismantled next season. They’ll lose players, just like Chicago will lose players. But this is what GM’s get paid to do. They have to make these tough calls. Is Leighton their guy next year? Will Boucher even be back? What about Ray “the headcase” Emery? Will they move ‘em all, and get Nabokov? Ya never know. The Flyers were awesome in these playoffs. They were fun to watch. And I just love their attitude. They never quit. If Leighton makes that save on Kane, who knows? We could be going back to Chicago for Game 7. Bygones. It’s still a fabulous run, for the ages.

Brendan

June 9th, 2010
11:59 pm

I meant, 1974, not 1976. Mea culpa.

Red Light

June 10th, 2010
12:22 am

Tough way to lose a game for sure but the real problem is: WTF do we watch for the next four months? Sad to see the playoffs end but at least we can now fully focus on the next chapter in Thrashers lore.

a la Brendan in the past, we should all pick who will be Atlanta’s first unrestricted free agent signing on July 1 or July 2, not currently under contract with the Thrashers.

I’ve got two upset picks who will come at a considerable discount from what they made this year, and both have a connection to Dudley. Any guesses? Tell us all tomorrow and I’ll post the two who are more logical than you think!

Brendan

June 10th, 2010
12:31 am

I have no clue, Red Light. I can’t imagine any UFA signing at a discount with Atlanta. Not even Slater. Are we talking Blackhawks, or former Lightning or Panther players?

Red Light, did you know Briere came within a point of tying Gretzky’s record for points in the Finals? I guess I can’t complain about his cap hit anymore, eh? Briere was a legitimate Conn Smythe candidate. Toews won it. I don’t know why I seem surprised by that.

Brendan

June 10th, 2010
12:36 am

Lost in this, of course, will be Leighton’s 37 saves. No Flyer fan wants to hear that, I’m sure. They’ll just want to talk about how Leighton should stopped it. That’s rough. As fans, I think, we hope for a good goal, on an exceptional play. But, it is what it is. I do happen to think that the better team did win the series. But the Flyers deserve much credit.

Red Light, I finished 10-5 this year. (Yo Adrian!! I did it!!!)

R. Stroz

June 10th, 2010
1:11 am

I hope someone reminds Kane to properly tip his taxi driver tonight.

World Be Free

June 10th, 2010
5:45 am

Stroz, shot tip a cabbie in Philly and he’ll cut your arm off.

Red Light

June 10th, 2010
7:16 am

Yes, I am thinking of two former players that Dudley coached or managed, one from Dudley’s Florida stint and one while he was in Tampa Bay.

World Be Free

June 10th, 2010
7:50 am

Here’s a opinion of Brian Campbell that I found surfing the web with morning. an intersting take on a guy who has been the subject of several recent posts–

“Campbell will be moved as soon as Bowman can find a buyer willing to commit $7.14 million guaranteed for the next six seasons. GULP! Its hard for Bowman to justify paying his 5th best Dman $7 large season. Keith, Seabrook, Kjalmarsson, and Sopel have been head and shoulders better than Campbell in the Hawk D zone in the 2010 playoffs. Campbell’s only contribution to his squad is that of 5 on 5 hockey. He has not impressed Joel Quennville enough to earn PP and PK time.”

From HockeyBuzz

glovesave29

June 10th, 2010
8:25 am

Brendan – Roenick will and SHOULD NEVER touch the cup. He has not earned the right. Retired or not…traditions must remain. Bettman can get rid of as many as he wants, but the players hold steadfastly onto those traditions. Reason # 35861745 that hockey is the greatest sport in the world.
Yeah, Leighton made 37 saves…but his effort was pedestian at best. Nothing terribly spectacular considering the Cup was on the line. You know me, I always stand by the goalies. They often take the blame when it was a defensive lapse that leads to a goal. But the D did its job in OT. Forced Kane wide…the slot was clear. Leighton was jumpy again last night and decided to anticipate a centering pass instead of play the shot. He was not squared to the shooter – and thus a seemingly innocuous shot wins the Cup for Chicago.

rob

June 10th, 2010
8:26 am

While many will say it’s a “bad” goal to give up….that is why you put the puck to the net any chance you get. A funny bounce, deflection, whatever. GOAL!!!! The Flyers “faithful” booing their team during the game is just……WOW. The 7 seed doing what they did…how they did it…to get there…and you BOO them? Retards. No class. No wonder the Flyers are such idiots, they take after their fans. I “greatly dislike” the Flyers, but a fan of that team has to LOVE what they did. The rest of the hockey world was watching JEALOUS because their team wasn’t there, and you BOO your team!!! Anyway, now we wait, impatiently, for next season to begin, and wonder what it will bring. The wife will be happy to have her evenings back for awhile, and I will get a little more sleep.
LET’S GO THRASHERS!!! now that Lord Stanley is handed out we can start to believe again

glovesave29

June 10th, 2010
8:26 am

uh…that’s will not and SHOULD NOT – sorry

glovesave29

June 10th, 2010
8:28 am

Rob – I did not hear any booing. All I heard was “Lets Go Flyers” even as the Hawks were celebrating. I am not a fan of Philly even a little bit, but I thought they behaved with civility last night.

GaVaHokie

June 10th, 2010
8:31 am

I like how Pierre interviewed Patrick Kane last night and said “you be sure to behave during the Stanley Cup Parade.” and Patrick replied, “Not a chance.” :)

I would suspect that Dudley gives Torchetti a week to celebrate, and maybe even another week to rest and vacation before interviewing for Head Coach… it’s going to be awhile.

World Be Free

June 10th, 2010
8:42 am

I think alotta the boos were directed towards Bettman, who gets booed in every arena in the league. Think it’s time for that to end.

R. Stroz

June 10th, 2010
9:26 am

Philthy fans booed Santa Claus. Bettman, the Crotchby promoting stooge, was bound to hear jeers.

Adam

June 10th, 2010
9:28 am

WBF there was a point in the middle of the 3rd when when Chicago was just pounding away keeping the puck in the Philly end when the fans did boo some. I thought it was classless as well. Once the game was over I was shocked by how well they handled the loss.

Adam

June 10th, 2010
9:44 am

I still can believe most of you guys falling for Joe Friday’s pulling for Philly. I knew is was all just sarcastic diatribe meant to stir things up ;)

The win still seems anticlimactic to me. The way that shot went in and jammed under the padding kinda robbed you of that jump out of your seat moment. But I’ll take it :D Growing up in Chicago and watching the frustration of an owner that only cared about money really left little hope for so many years. Then the one Cup run in 92 ended in a sweep left me wondering if I’d ever see this moment. Once Dollar Bill was out the way Rocky stepped out of the shadow of his dad and did everything right.

In a couple of years I will have been in Atlanta over half of my life. I hope I don’t have to wait as long to see the Thrashers hoist the cup…

Joe Friday

June 10th, 2010
9:57 am

“I still can believe most of you guys falling for Joe Friday’s pulling for Philly. I knew is was all just sarcastic diatribe meant to stir things up”

You’re half right. See, every team I root for loses. Cubbies, ‘Hawks, Thrashers. So I decided to foil the hockey gods and root for the opposition, and it worked like a charm. I rooted for the Pens (well, they’re my wife’s club, kept the Cup in the house!) as I figured them as our opposition in the Finals, gone. I rooted for the Canuckleheads, gone. I rooted for San Jose, gone. Then I rooted for Philthydelphia (threw up in my mouth, but you’ll notice I never typed their name right), gone. You guys should pay me to root for every club the Thrashers play next year, they’d be assured of the Cup.

Grew up in the old barn watching Tony O backstop Makita, Magnusen and the boys. Had season tix in the Larmer, Secord, Savard days. Never thought I’d see it until old Dollar Bill kicked the bucket.

Booed their own club when the Hawks were all over them while on the kill, booed Bettman, booed Toews when he lifted the Conn, booed Toews when he lifted the Cup. Crap, even Detroit fans cheered the Pens last year. Stay Classy, Philly.

Lloyd, Eklund? Really? Come on, brother! Campbell and all the boys drank from the Cup last nite. That’s all that matters. Woot!

Smoothie

June 10th, 2010
10:02 am

Red Light – just off the top of my head: Voinny Prospal and Cory Stillman??

Red Light

June 10th, 2010
10:08 am

C’mon Smoothie. Prospal is 35 and Stillman is 37 and has a year left on his contract. Dudley won’t go for the aged. Geez, I thought you knew hockey? JK LOL.

World Be Free

June 10th, 2010
10:09 am

Adam-I was in a bar and couldn’t hear the booing too well until Bettman stepped on the ice.
Joe-Eklund under Garth, the Sabres’ contact. I agree, it is all that matters. Just look at Roenick’s tears at the end of the telecast, especially when 2 of his former teams were duking it out for the Cup.

R. Stroz

June 10th, 2010
10:34 am

For a good laugh, click the link below, courtesy of J.K. Sockey.

Warning, a few special words are used.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Okb_CTmUNIE

Joe Friday

June 10th, 2010
10:35 am

“Just look at Roenick’s tears at the end of the telecast, especially when 2 of his former teams were duking it out for the Cup.”

I have no problem with JR’s tears, his heart was always as a Chicago Blackhawk and if not for Dollar Bill, he’d have retired one. JR epitomized Blackhawk hockey during his tenure there. My distaste for Waddell pales in comparison to my disgust at what Dollar Bill did to the Hawks. JR and Cheli should have both retired Hawks. To see Cheli go out as a Thrasher was surreal, to say the least.

rob

June 10th, 2010
10:39 am

GVH,
Did you hear Kane’s “oh crap” just before that part about the parade?!?! About fell off the couch laughing….too funny
GS,
The fans got on them during a PP when they got hemmed up in their zone and the Hawks had a couple of shots short handed, and then of course afterwards. For a sport that has such tradition and hand shakes after spending a series slugging it out, I was disappointed in the boos
JF,
I cheered enough for the Hawks for you, and appreciate the sacrifice you made to ensure the Bums loss…as noted in a previous post. I don’t think I could have done it, even using other names for them!! :)

Lee

June 10th, 2010
10:48 am

OH MY BOYS! “HAWKS WIN” WAS ALL I SAID LAST NIGHT!

Rob – Kane’s a funny guy. Did you see when Hartnell slipped for no reason, I love when they do that, ecspecially “tough guy” Hartnell.

Brendan – Thought you might know. Has there been any time when the Cup was dropped/broken?
If the Hawks broke it, I would be rolling on the floor laughing….:)

Larry

June 10th, 2010
10:51 am

Who is going to the airport tomorrow to pickup Torchetti?

I’m in Chicago today on business… anyone know where Torchetti lives? Maybe I could stop by and pick him up on my way back to Atlanta :-)

R. Stroz

June 10th, 2010
10:52 am

If Hossa dropped the Cup, would that still be considered the “Hossa Jinx?”

Flagstaff

June 10th, 2010
11:06 am

Joe Friday– Chelios could always sign a one-day contract with the Hawks, to retire as one. Because nobody wants to retire as a Thrasher.

rob

June 10th, 2010
11:08 am

Giroux has to have had a sleepless night. He missed some point blank scoring chances last night, and after his OT goal in 3, I just cringed watching, but Niemi and the D held him off enough to nullify his chances. Twice he had Niemi down and out only to be stoned glove side once and blocker the next!!! The d on the blocker shot pushed him out just enough because he had an empty net he couldn’t shoot at because of the D position, which gave Niemi enough time to throw the blocker up!!!

Joe Friday

June 10th, 2010
11:13 am

“I cheered enough for the Hawks for you, and appreciate the sacrifice you made to ensure the Bums loss…as noted in a previous post. I don’t think I could have done it, even using other names for them!!”

And I appreciated it! There’s not many clubs I just plain can’t stand, but Philly is one of them, with the Wings of course being the other. But they put up one hell of a fight and had an amazing run, when they tied it up late all I could say was “who are those guys?!?”. I kept thinking last nite that the Hawks probably would not have beaten the Pens in the Finals, so we were very lucky that Philly had the run they did. I give all credit to Laviolette, he did one whale of a coaching job.

On another note, has anyone ever seen such poor tending in a Cup Final, on both ends of the ice? Those rebounds Niemi was giving up were atrocious, and of course Leighton giving up 5 hole on a shot from that angle is inexcuseable, his Game 5 meltdown was pretty bad as well.

No asterisk on this Cup win though, ala Brett Hull’s!

Somewhere, Keith Magnusen is smiling that gap toothed smile today…

GaVaHokie

June 10th, 2010
11:15 am

Lee

June 10th, 2010
11:16 am

I was looking at the frozen moments on NHL.com and it’s blackhawks pictures, game pictures, then….Justin Bieber? Holding the cup. Why should he hold the cup? Usher gave him a ferarri for his 16th birthday. Really? I know he’s famous and all, but….

I don’t know.

rob

June 10th, 2010
11:25 am

JF,
Agreed it was not what one would expect of goaltending in the SCF. Think everyone ran outta gas emotionally just getting there, and relaxed knowing it was over one way or another.

R. Stroz

June 10th, 2010
11:30 am

For some extra insight, check out stendek’s very own sports page.

http://hubpages.com/hub/National-Hockey-League-Outcomes-Rigged

Adam

June 10th, 2010
11:30 am

I grew up in Niles and as a teenager during the mid 80’s would go to as many games as I could. My step-dad took my to my 1st game in 82 or 83 and I was hooked. So coming from a broken home without much money this meant taking the El from Cumberland or Harlem to Ashland & Lake and walking the rest of the way to the Stadium. The only time I ever felt safe doing this was for Hawks games. Sometimes other fans would give us a ride back to the station after the game. I got a car in 88′ which made it easier. Then in 92 I moved down here in September and I jonesed for Hockey for some time. With Dollar Bill running the show very few, if any, games were ever televised. What a change his passing has made for the team & city, as sad as that is to say.

Red Light

June 10th, 2010
11:36 am

Hokie: Maybe the NHL should consider Indianapolis for expansion. Didn’t know the Hoosiers cared about hockey but outdrawing Minneapolis and Boston is impressive. The Pacers drew only 14,202 per game this year, so maybe they’re like everyone else, their fans are waiting for a winner. I guess their 32-50 record didn’t help matters but the hockey TV numbers are strong.

Rawhide

June 10th, 2010
11:37 am

Now that the season is officially over…is Atlanta about to be “Torched” again?

Brendan

June 10th, 2010
1:24 pm

Lee, yes. The Stanley Cup has been dropped and dented in the past. Someone put out a book on this very topic. It chronicles the Cup’s foibles, such as being left in a ditch, kicked into the River in Quebec, and discovered in some secretary’s office, filled with soil, with flowers growing in them.

Barry

June 11th, 2010
9:26 am

Actually Rawhide I agree with you about our defense. If we can get Kubina back I think we will have a very solid defensive group. The issue has always been our forwards not playing good defense and those players like Kovy and Kozlov will be gone. Also I don’t think the past few seasons the Thrashers had a good scheme for playing defense or handling very aggressive forechecks. Compounded with the fact that alot of our forwards are smaller and just downright overworked and out muscled along the boards by some other teams leads to spending too much time in our own zone. Hopefully a new coach can help allieviate this problem and maybe sign another big body up front should help out.

Lee

June 11th, 2010
10:27 am

Brendan – Hmm, interesting. Thanks.