So what do Jimmy Slater and Eric Boulton have in common? Well for one thing, they are the only two players that remain on the Thrashers 2007 playoff roster. The pair were held without a goal or assists in the four game sweep to the Rangers and were a combined –3.
Since then, we’ve seen the other twenty or so players depart Thrasherville, including Ilya Kovalchuk, Slava Kozlov, Kari Lehtonen and Garnet Exelby in the last 14 months.
But Boulton and Slater will be surrounded this season by a number of players who have “been there, done that” in regards to the Stanley Cup Playoffs… a total of 365 collective NHL playoff games in fact. Add that to the 8 between Bolts and Slates, and what you have a roster that could represent a grand total of 373 NHL playoff games worth of experience.
Upon learning that number, I set out to see if there were any rosters of Thrashers-past that compared to the one assembled now. To be honest, I thought I would have to make my way back four or five years in order to find a squad with near as many playoff games under their collective belts…back to the 2005-06 or 2006-07 teams that consisted of Marian Hossa, Peter Bondra, Greg DeVries, Nic Havelid and Kozlov just to name a few.
As it turns out, I only had to go back twelve months.
The Thrashers entered last season with a group of players that had suited up for 370 NHL playoff games in their careers. And that’s not counting the two that Kari Lehtonen started in 2007 given the fact that Kari began last season on injured reserve. He did not play in a single game for Atlanta before being traded to Dallas in January.
However, almost one-third of those 370 games belonged to just one player, Slava Kozlov who played in 118 during his long NHL career. All but four of which came while wearing Detroit’s red winged wheel. Maxim Afinogenov and Pavel Kubina took with them another 87 career playoff appearances.
Now the Thrashers’ leader in playoff game experience is defenseman Brent Sopel with 64. Then there is Freddy Modin with 57 and Andrew Ladd with 53. Add in Dustin Byfuglien’s 39 playoff appearance, Ben Eager’s 37, Nic Antropov’s 35 and Chris Rissmiller’s 30, and you can see the Thrashers have a decent amount of players who have “been there, done that” when it comes to participating in the annual hunt for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Buff, Ben and Brent won the Stanley Cup just last June along with Ladd. For Ladd it was the second time skating the Cup, his first being in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes. Freddy Modin was a part of the 2004 Cup winning Tampa Bay Lightning, making it a total of five Thrashers players who not only have “been, there, done that” but have their name etched upon the Cup to show it.
Another big difference can be found behind the bench. New head coach Craig Ramsay has experienced not only 89 playoff games as a player, but he’s also seen significant action as an assistant coach for NHL teams in the playoffs. He sipped Champagne from the Cup in 2004 along with Modin and the rest of the Lightning.
Last year the Thrashers had a coach who had played in 37 NHL postseason games. Prior to that they had a coach in Bob Hartley who had coached the Colorado Avalanche to a Stanley Cup championship in 2001. But this will be the first time they have ever had a bench boss who has played in and coached during the NHL playoffs. They also have an associate coach, John Torchetti, who won an NHL championship, coming to Thrasherville after last spring’s successful run with Byfuglien, Sopel, Eager, Ladd and the rest of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Also worth mentioning is assistant coach Mike Stothers who played in five NHL playoff games as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers back in the 1980s.
The question is, can this collection of players and coaches who have “been there, done that, got my name on the Cup to show for it” make a difference for those Thrasher players who have not done so yet? Can players like Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, Toby Enstrom and possibly a handful of rookies like Arturs Kulda and Patrice Cormier benefit from their experiences should the Thrashers find themselves in a playoff push or…dare I mention it…playing past the scheduled 82 games?
These are the answers that will be revealed as the Thrashers 11th season finally gets underway next month. But going into it, the organization is deeper than it’s ever been in regards to those bringing with them previous experience…and success… playing in games 83 and beyond, both at the playing level as well as coaching.
And that certainly can’t hurt.