On Thursday, the Thrashers sent out an e-mail to fans advertising a playoff ticket pre-sale.
That might have seemed a presumptuous for an organization that was in danger of missing the postseason for the ninth time in 10 seasons and faced a remaining schedule of Washington (road), Pittsburgh (road), New Jersey, Washington (road) and Pittsburgh. But when an arena is tw0-thirds unsold, a marketing department needs as many sale days as it can get.
I don’t know if the Thrashers will make the playoffs. After Thursday’s narrow, 2-1 loss to the Eastern Conference-leading Capitals, keeping them two points out, it doesn’t look good. But — and, yes, here’s a bit of sunshine for an organization that rarely gets it — I’ll concede this team has stayed in the race longer than expected.
The Thrashers were 24-23-8 when they traded Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey. They’re 10-9-4 since. Basically, no difference. They recent had a six-game losing streak. Then a four-game winning streak. Then dreadful consecutive losses to Boston (4-0 at home) and Toronto.
So much for confirmed direction. There’s your microcosm of franchise history.
But it says something about the remaining core players on this team that they’re still playing hard. This is still a very average team. But in a watered-down league that awards points even for losses, effort will keep you in the race. It doesn’t necessarily represent a sign that great things are ahead. The power play has dropped from average before the Kovalchuk trade (17.5 percent) to anemic since (14.4). And only four wins since the deal have come over teams expected to make the playoffs: Philadelphia twice, Buffalo and Ottawa. But they haven’t folded.
Coach John Anderson deserves some credit for this. There have been whispers that this team is too soft and needs an edge, even a lack of accountability in the locker room. That might be true, and Anderson could be out of a job after this season. But if players were totally shutting him out, they would’ve folded long ago.
Besides, I’m never going to put the onus on the coach when management has been a problem from day one and ownership doesn’t appear committed to hockey.
Will the Thrashers make the playoffs? The odds say no. But they’re still in the discussion with four games left. Franchise history tells us that’s where the bar is set. That’s the unfortunate part.