If Thrashers are still alive, is that considered progress?

BLI_header2_0910

THR_Playoff_Header_wblueOn 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.

John Anderson could be out of a job after this season, but players haven't quit on him.

John Anderson could be out of a job after this season, but players haven't quit on him. (Curtis Compton/AJC.)

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.

49 comments Add your comment

Denver

April 2nd, 2010
12:02 am

Blueland lives in Colorado!

Stewart

April 2nd, 2010
12:39 am

Welcome back, Jeff. Missed you on these pages. Sorry to hear about your mother.

Wayne stuck in AL

April 2nd, 2010
12:45 am

Thrashers?…PROGRESS???

Isn’t the opposite of progress CONGRESS??? (Old joke.)

You are right though about the bar being set too low; Waddell and Anderson will be back (sigh!) which is why STH’s are leaving in droves, ratings are sinking, and 680 The Fan is dropping the team after this season.

Whopper Dawg

April 2nd, 2010
1:01 am

Welcome back, Jeff.

Reid Adair

April 2nd, 2010
1:05 am

Jeff, so sorry for your loss. I missed your story about your mother when it appeared in the paper. Thanks for sharing it again.

As for the Thrashers, I don’t think it’s progress at all. The Kovalchuk deal was a disaster, and while the record didn’t drop dramatically after the trade, it was just another example of the poor leadership from Waddell and Anderson.

cadilac

April 2nd, 2010
4:02 am

Jeff,
I am sorry for the loss of your mom, I pray that God will give you comfort.

Lehnerd

April 2nd, 2010
4:04 am

Oh right same GM who hired Dan heatley as coach n after made playoffs n struggled fired Dan Heatly cause he told Waddell what kinda crap he was doin to Us. And again he fire a coach after 3 seasons are 2. Nope Progress n get u Playoffs Tickets when they in Quebec playin in 2012!

Buzz29

April 2nd, 2010
4:39 am

Hockey? In Atlanta? Who knew?

Richard Bagge

April 2nd, 2010
5:57 am

We sure do have hockey in Atlanta! I wore my Gladiators shirt just yesterday!

no round ball, please

April 2nd, 2010
7:29 am

Who knew? Me. That’s who.

bugman

April 2nd, 2010
7:43 am

I’m as surprised as anyone that you can still mention “Thrashers” and “playoffs” in the same sentence.

I would reckon their fate is more up to the remaining teams they face and BO/MO/PHI than in their own hands.

The Real Thrash

April 2nd, 2010
8:15 am

Goodbye Thrashers.

Johnboy

April 2nd, 2010
8:17 am

To know that your child is strong , happy and leads a good life is the most fulfilling satisfaction that a parent can know. May you take comfort in knowing that she could look upon that and be at peace. A well lived life is what we all hope to reflect on one day.You are one of the “good guys” she can be proud of that. Welcome back…

Fast Freddie

April 2nd, 2010
8:26 am

Glad to see you back on the job stirring the spit pot, turkey!

Jeff

April 2nd, 2010
8:40 am

Caught myself rooting for even a tie last night so we could get a point. Tough losing when the Flyers and Bruins both lost. Maybe, if we split the next four games, Philly will continue it’s free fall, and we can back into the playoffs (where we will likely get swept again, but that’s another story).

Don Waddell

April 2nd, 2010
8:43 am

This is just the beginning of our current 5 year plan…part II. How I still have a job in this league sometimes baffles my feeble little mind.

Eraserhead

April 2nd, 2010
9:04 am

I am glad you are back. Is this really the Thrashers’ 11th season? Hard to get excited about an 8th or 9th place team.

Just Curious

April 2nd, 2010
9:06 am

Anyone saying “the Kovalchuk deal was a disaster” must be referring to the bag of magic beans Lou got for Bergfors, Oduya, Cormier & a pick….(You know, that figure-eight skating prima donna 20-something game rental that turned down $101 MIllion.) He still doesn’t play defense…..He ran into and knocked the stick out of his own player’s hands to lose to Boston at the end of OT. He looks as out of place (in a bad way) on the Devs as he looked out of place (in a good way) on the Thrash! My worst nightmare isn’t that we just fail to squeak into the #8 spot…..I’m thankful we’ve had exciting NHL hockey in this town for the final month of the season – complete with roller coaster highs and lows. A TRUE RARITY!!

My worst nightmare is somehow Kovy ends up being signed to a ridiculous contract in his “triumphant” return to ATL in the off-season. I wake up in a cold sweat and trembling from that one!

Oh, and thanks Jeff for some positive press on the Thrash for a change……That IS what this was, right? At least I kind of, sort of think it actually might have been. ;)

Supes

April 2nd, 2010
9:26 am

This team lacks identity, passion, size and consistency.

The entire organization from top to bottom needs a fresh start. DW, coach Anderson need to go, about half the players need to hit the road as well. Start over with a new GM, coach. We need a star goal scorer, someone that opposing coaches have to scheme and plan for. Right now who scares you on the Thrashers offensively? We don’t even have a 30 goal scorer on this team…oh that’s right the one we had we traded to NJ! We need an offensive identity! Just damn, so many holes.

I would be willing to support this team if they started over, but if DW and Anderson are back…it’ll be the same old thing in 2011.

DWTOO

April 2nd, 2010
9:54 am

Jeff – Went back and read your column on your Mom. She certainly was a brave woman. I’ve read a good deal about the war and the consequences of living in Nazi occupied terrority. It’s hard to fathom from reading and here your Mom is living an ordeal most of us can’t comprehend.

May the Good Lord be with you and your family.

J-man

April 2nd, 2010
10:19 am

Really, do I have to say this again? Just Curious – Kovy will NEVER re-sign here. NEVER. He and Waddell have moved on with their lives. Is it really so hard to understand this? Have you not ever in your life changed jobs and gotten a better job and just not been interested at all in returning to your old job? Waddell and the owners won’t make him and offer and if they did he won’t take it. There is no chance of this happening.

PMC

April 2nd, 2010
10:26 am

yeah they’ve made some progress this year. They didn’t mortage the next 3 years to make the playoffs with Keith Tkchuck. The problem is this is where we finish every year just out of the playoffs.

The 13,000lb pink elephant in the room is that the GM is incapable of building a franchise that can compete in the playoffs. Don Waddell has had opportunities and he has failed miserably at building a team that can compete for a Stanley Cup.

I feel a lot better about the defense this year. I like the way they play most of the time sans Kovy… but really honestly… how long is it going to take for them to look at just the division teams and go… wow Carolina built a good team… Tampa built a good team. It’s been a decade…. fire the guy already and bring in someone else even if the new guy can’t do it either… at least it’s someone else picking players.

[...] Are the Thrashers showing progress? [...]

PMC

April 2nd, 2010
10:29 am

They have some really good and interesting young players here and thusly they play like it good one night awful the next…. they are fun to watch most of the time but how long does one have to wait for some competance and consistancy?

Just Curious

April 2nd, 2010
10:39 am

Yeah J-man, just like he was NEVER going to leave the Thrashers, remember? And believe me, I’m not one of the ones hoping for his return. I say good riddance!

But how does Kovy have a “better” job right now. Sure, he gets to go to the playoffs this year as more than a spectator, but also as something less than an impact player. This ownership/GM has a history of doing the unthinkable. In that perspective, there is a greater than zero chance of him re-signing in the off-season.

And the new job he has is a “temp” job, right? It’s not permanent employment. He’ll soon be looking for another “better” job again in less than the time between oil changes for our family ride. So I’m curious……Why would you say Kovy has a better job now than what he enjoyed as King Kovalchuk, the franchise player in ATL? He sure didn’t choose this new, better job or even interview for it. He was told who his new employer would be….

Brendan

April 2nd, 2010
10:47 am

Jeff, sorry for your loss. Glad to have you back. It’s time to enjoy what’s left of the hockey season. As far as the Thrashers go, they haven’t ever really had an identity. This speaks to the acumen of the GM, after a decade. They haven’t really had good ownership. This speaks to corporate ownership running a sports franchise like a business, coupled with the Spirit, LLC wanting to own a basketball team, forced to take the Thrashers, as well.

What’s it all add up to? Seven of nine completed seasons in the bottom third of the Eastern Conference. It appears that Atlanta will miss being #11 in the East this year. I don’t see them finishing any worse than 10th. Progress?

Stop. Progress is a relative thing, to be sure. But let me ask all something. Where do you think a team, with six lottery draft picks and 9 overall Top 10 draft positions should be after a decade? I say, “in the Conference Finals, at a minimum.” That it’s never won a playoff game should speak to how this organization deals with accountability. The hockey fans in Atlanta deserved better. They deserved a GM with a legitimate “vision.” They deserved ownership who, at a minimum, would fork over the money then get the heck out of the way, allowing the GM to manage in an unfettered way. And if the GM faltered, he got fired.

Bygones.

Per Forbes Magazine, Don Waddell’s contract is up in either April or June of 2010. I don’t rightly know what Don’s contract really stipulates. Maybe there’s an automatic one-year renewal, if he’s not fired. But, to boltster tickets sales, Waddell must be fired.

Bill

April 2nd, 2010
11:34 am

Jeff….after all the speculation as to the reason for your absence I send my prayers to you and your family at the loss you have suffered. At the same time, I took comfort and strength from reading about your Mom and her courage in life and the travails she overcame. Your Mom`s life can give us comfort in knowing that any obstacle can be overcome if we show the required strength and focus needed to triumph. Also comforting is knowing she undoubtedly sewed that strength of character into her own children. As a High School history teacher of 14 years I cherish the passing on of real life struggles and their glorious conclusions to a younger generation who so depserately need true life stories of success in the face of overwhelming disaster. Your Mom`s story shows that life is typically a battle with periods of peace intermingled throughout. Her common sense attitude about life was refreshing to hear and reminds of a time when MOST people lived by that mindset. Press on Jeff, knowing you now carry the family mantle.

Thrashers will never be anything more than what they are now until ownership changes. New ownership will get rid of this GM and demand better. Can`t expect anything more until that ocurrs.

scottc

April 2nd, 2010
11:39 am

Jeff, the loss of my father almost 3 years ago was devastating, and I am so sorry for your loss. Expect the next year to just be . . .different. Hang in there.

I agree with you on the Thrashers–the team is average but still fighting to stay alive and you have to give them credit for it, considering the management seemed to give up on hockey a long time ago.

Art Vandelay

April 2nd, 2010
11:39 am

I really don’t like being a wet blanket when it comes to Atlanta sports, but I was here when the Flames left town, and I fully expect the same result for the Thrashers. An occasional run to a playoff berth (and likely sweep out of the first round — again) isn’t enough to sustain any real local interest in the team. Basically just reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. Atlanta is not, never has been, and never will be a hockey-friendly city until we have some sort of significant youth outreach including organized leagues and ice rinks around town. How are people supposed to get enthusiastic about a sport they’ve never even been able to play?

I wish the Thrashers and their fan(s) nothing but the best of luck, but I just can’t be optimistic about a team that considers it significant progress when they’re even marginally in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Sage of Bluesland

April 2nd, 2010
11:46 am

I’m glad you’re back, Jeff…You’re the only one there at the AJC with any guts to tell the truth no matter the circumstance. The only one who asks the really tough questions. The only one who actually serves the fans’ ‘best’ interests.

As always when it comes to the Thrashers, Jeff’s commentary is spot-on.

It’s a shame when Waddell and ownership are actually given applause at the silly little townhall meetings. What message does that send? I simply can’t believe it.

Subsidization of incompetence doesn’t improve anything. What a joke this organization is…an absolute joke.

Puckwench

April 2nd, 2010
12:33 pm

“Atlanta is not, never has been, and never will be a hockey-friendly city until we have some sort of significant youth outreach including organized leagues and ice rinks around town. How are people supposed to get enthusiastic about a sport they’ve never even been able to play?”

AV – Atlanta does have several ice hockey leagues and has, in addition to the Ice forum, two other ice rinks on which at least 3 adult leagues play, in addition to numerous youth leagues. So, ice hockey has gotten a niche in Atlanta.

Hillbilly Deluxe

April 2nd, 2010
1:33 pm

Atlanta is not, never has been, and never will be a hockey-friendly city until we have some sort of significant youth outreach including organized leagues and ice rinks around town. How are people supposed to get enthusiastic about a sport they’ve never even been able to play?

If they were to start winning, that would all change. Of course in order to start winning, you first have to show some evidence that you’re serious about winning.

KLS1

April 2nd, 2010
1:35 pm

This is better team now than with Kovy…the owners saved a lot $ in that trade. Best case scenario is that the Thrash back into the playoffs this year and then are ready to compete in the playoffs next year.

New One

April 2nd, 2010
1:38 pm

I’ve got a son that after the Olympics, is in love with hockey and wants to play. Do you know how hard that is in this town?

Jeff

April 2nd, 2010
1:54 pm

New One: Feel free to move up North and decrease the surplus population here.

Seriously, folks...

April 2nd, 2010
2:16 pm

I understand this comment has more-than-likely been alluded too, but in today’s NHL it’s almost impossible not to get a point (in the standings) as most of the teams are as mediocre as the Thrashers. That said, we’ll see what this team is really made of over the last four games, against the best in the East and with a playoff spot on the line.

Win; lose; shootout; whatever: FIRE WADDELL!

GetOffTheIce Chelios

April 2nd, 2010
2:17 pm

How much progress can you claim when you have a 48 year old on the roster? Did you see Chelios get knocked off the puck last night on the losing goal, he looked awful watching the puck go in from behind the net. Hope Kubina gets to play in the last four games.

PuckHalfFull

April 2nd, 2010
2:21 pm

Jeff, sorry indeed to hear of your loss and I think the story is “fair and balanced”. Playoffs are not likely but the team did not sink like a rock after Kovy was shipped out, which many on these boards predicted. I’m not buying the Atlanta’s not a hockey town BS, Atlanta is a fairweather sports town. None of the local teams draw when their not winning including the Hawks, Braves and Falcons. Hockey is but another….Hey New One, I’d buy your argument about it being hard to find a hockey program if you live on the southside of town. Northside…no way…in Cobb you have a rink with leagues in East Cobb and Kennesaw. Alpharetta/Roswell has the Cooler where my kids play and the travel teams from there represent very well up north and in Canada…the programs they have are first rate. The Ice Forum in Duluth where the Thrash train also has an abundance of leagues and has first rate education for beginners…Lots of options for a newcomer to the sport…just do the research

MB

April 2nd, 2010
2:31 pm

Seriously, it’s more likely that we’ll see what the other teams in the “race” are made of. Basically, we’ve seen what the Thrashers are made of…each time they had a chance to claim their spot, they spit the bit. Remarkably, so has every other team fighting, no, fumbling for playoff position. It’s like watching the old Monty Python Twit Olympics sketch.

John Gotti had nothing on our own Teflon Don. How Waddell has managed to keep his job is one of the great mysteries.

urm...

April 2nd, 2010
2:35 pm

BTN

April 2nd, 2010
5:42 pm

Well done urm… I was just wondering how hard it is to call the rinks….nahhhh thats too difficult. Past years aside, almost all the roster moves this year have been successful (Antropov, Afinigenov, Kubina, Bergfors, Oduya). Sure all the DW haters will say it was Dudley’s influence, but either way a step in the right direction for once.

HMH

April 2nd, 2010
6:58 pm

To bad it took DW and team 10 years to figure out the only model we can afford is the Nashville/Buffalo model. Small but dedicated fan base, no real stars, grid it out hockey and almost always in the running for a playoff spot. Oh and yes, reliable goaltending.

You can build a low cost competitive team if you have good goaltending. Moose and Pavs are good backups, we need a number one. I hate to say it, because it has been said before, we are almost there – the “NEW” model will work. Not sure if DW and JA are the guys that can pull it off.

ATLthrasHER

April 3rd, 2010
12:45 am

Don’t forget about roller hockey. They play outdoors in Woodstock and the NW Cobb Y and indoors at the NE Cobb Y. There are indoor rinks at some of the ice arenas too. There is also AARHO, which supports teams for middle school-age children and feeds into the high school teams. I grew up playing on ice, a lot of it outdoors, and my son plays on rollerblades and has just as much fun as I did. Many of the kids play both roller and ice. Good times.

Barry

April 3rd, 2010
12:23 pm

Ya I appreciate all the players are trying to do to make these playoffs but to have gone on that 0-5-1 streak I think it was after going like 4-0-1 streak before really killed this team’s chances in the playoffs. I’m so frustrated with out powerplay. It was struggling back in December before Kovy was traded and it hasn’t really shown much signs of improvement. I believe Waddell and the ownership is committed to hockey side of things but they aren’t the smartest apples in the barrel and have made many management mistakes that has really hindered this franchise. Anyway this team needs to pretty much win the last 4 games to really stand a chance here. Twice other teams had lost in regulation and all Thrashers had to do was win on those nights and they would be in a playoff position. Two losses really stand out to me is the Toronto OT loss at home and that horrible 4-0 loss to the Hurricanes. I went to that game. I literally left halfway through he 3rd. That was just a piss poor effort and really stupid hockey played by the Thrashers. You can’t be losing to teams under you in a playoff race.

JR

April 3rd, 2010
12:54 pm

I ASK AGAIN: HAS ANY ONE HEARD ANYTHING ABOUT RRE-SIGNING KUBINA AND MAX? I SUSPECT THE SILENCE IS A RESULT OF NO ONE HEARING ANYTHING BECAUSE NOTHING IS BEING DONE.

Brendan

April 3rd, 2010
10:40 pm

JR, the Atlanta Thrashers are perhaps best known for:

1. Procrastination and
2. Inaction

And, what the hey,

3. No accountability

B. Thenet

April 4th, 2010
9:31 am

I think the Anderson points are fair ones. Like all things, Anderson is a mixed bag. I do think he has some issues holding star players/young draft picks accountable, and the team is consistently inconsistent…..but he has done well with the team after Ilya left and the team is playing a much better defensive game as of late…which I think has made the last two games vs. Washington and Pittsburgh competitive til the end.

I think this team has met my expectations, which were much loftier than the hockey media in general for this team. The real disappointment is that they went from 5th in the East to 10th since December, and squandered their March homestand with a 6 game losing streak.

One can only hope that 10 years is enough for Waddell, but Levenson & Co. seem to be inclined to maintain the status quo….for what reason I have no idea.

Oh, and welcome back Jeff. Hopefully each day gets a little bit better…

RhondaK.

April 4th, 2010
11:14 pm

I think Coach Anderson has done a great job with this team! He deserves more credit than what is shown here!

ETAPA

April 7th, 2010
2:17 pm

The Thrashers are poorly coached and none of the players on the roster are willing to pay the price. They play like spoiled millionaires. Nik Antropov is pretty much a useless player. He’s 6′6 and you’ll rarely ever see him parking his big butt at the net to screen the goalie. Enstrom never takes a point shot and the opposing teams know he’s going to pass the puck 99 out of 100 times when he’s in the point so it’s pretty easy to intercept a pass. The Thrashers don’t give any goalie support. Their performance in the last 10 games was pitiful. No goalie support whatsoever. You never saw a single Thrasher block shots or clear the net when the opposition had their players parked in front of the net. Yesterday’s game against New Jersey highlighted all their weaknesses. Their powerplay was pitiful because they refused to dump the puck in the corner and get their hardhats on and fight for puck possession. The Thrashers were carrying the puck into the offensive zone thinking that they were the Detroit Red Wings. If the Thrashers are going to be successful next year, they need to fire the coach and get a defensive minded coach to instill into these players that they have to work hard every game to get victories. They need to get a few grinders on the team and a big defenseman with a booming shot to take the shot from the point while on the powerplay. They need a gritty forward who is willing to take the punishment in front of the net and create deflections.