The Hawks have made the playoffs three straight seasons. The Thrashers have made the playoffs only once in 10 seasons and never have won a postseason game.
So why does it seem like the hockey team is the better of Philips Arena’s two tenants right now?
Seriously: If you had to choose, which team would be your pick to win more games and go farther in the playoffs right now, the Hawks or Thrashers? I’ve got a poll up. Before you make your choice, here are a few things to take note of:
♦ TRENDS: Yes, it’s early. Neither the NHL nor NBA are even at the halfway point of the regular season. But the Thrashers (18-11-5) are one of the NHL’s hottest teams (11-2-2 in the last 15). The Hawks (17-12) are 11-12 since a 6-0 start. The Thrashers are coming off a 7-1 flattening of the once-mighty, now-decrepit New Jersey Devils (and Ilya Kovalchuk). The Hawks lost at New Jersey Sunday 89-82. (They play Orlando Monday night at Philips Arena.)
♦ COACHING: The Thrashers’ Craig Ramsay has to be the early leader for NHL coach of the year. He has a team with the league’s lowest payroll in first place. The Hawks’ Larry Drew, whom many considered a surprise replacement for Mike Woodson, actually has done a pretty good job. He has gotten the Hawks to share the ball a lot more on offense. The team also has had more injuries than a year ago (Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Maurice Evans).
♦ IDENTITY/CHEMISTRY/LEADERSHIP: We know what to expect from the Thrashers. They attack from the opening faceoff. They forecheck. They’re fun to watch. Despite the number of new players, they’ve how learned how to play well together. The Hawks have had largely the same roster as the last two years but at times still look like they lack flow and consistency (possibly because of the injuries). The Thrashers have great leadership from Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien. The Hawks’ best leader is Al Horford. That’s not really Johnson’s strength. (On a related note: Johnson made only four of 16 shots in Sunday’s loss.)
♦ FUTURE: The Hawks just watched the Orlando Magic remake their roster in trades because they didn’t think the team they had could succeed in the postseason. The Hawks had the entire offseason to make a major move but chose not to (declining one option: to bring in Shaquille O’Neal). Their most likely candidate to go in a trade is Jamal Crawford, who has value and is in the final year of his contract. But Crawford is a popular and effective player. The big problem: Johnson’s contract precludes the team from being able to do much in the trade market. Rick Dudley has done a masterful job as Thrashers’ general manager. The possibilities for roster additions are limitless, given the Thrashers have tons of salary cap room, but ownership must be willing to increase the payroll first.
♦ BOTTOM LINE: The Thrashers have hit their stride. The Hawks are struggling to find theirs. February and March often are the telling months in NHL and NBA regular seasons. But in December, the Thrashers get the edge.
Agree or disagree? And what are your thoughts on the rest of the season?