Time is running out for Thrashers (and their Cup winners)

Dustin Byfuglien is still hoping the Thrashers have enough to rebound and make the playoffs.

Dustin Byfuglien still believes the Thrashers can rebound and make the playoffs but it has been a struggle lately. (AP photo)

First they amazed us, then they settled, then they sank.

It’s not the way any team wants a season to unfold, let alone one encumbered by knucklehead ownership, economic realities and 37 rumors a week about being picked up in Atlanta one day and dropped in Quebec, Winnipeg or maybe some lovely prairie just outside of Swift Current the next.

The Thrashers have 26 games left to try to secure a playoff berth. That begins with the Friday night game against, ironically, the New York Rangers, their only postseason opponent in history (which didn’t turn out so well).

Since the early wonder of a 10-2 stretch and a 19-11-5 start, they’ve descended. Two wins in the last 13 (2-7-4). Five wins in the last 21 (5-11-5). They currently sit out of a playoff position for the first time since Nov. 20.

There are too many nights when they look lost, overmatched and overwhelmed. Atlanta Spirit owners have responded as they do in most circumstances. They’ve shifted all of their passion and resources into filing another lawsuit.

It’s enough to make a recent Stanley Cup winner wonder what went wrong – and the Thrashers have three of those. A year ago at this time, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Brent Sopel were flying through a 52-win regular season with Chicago. They went on to win the Cup.

Ladd (the Thrashers’ captain) and Byfuglien (alternate) are two of the team leaders. Their frustration recently spilled over to the point that they met with coach Craig Ramsay over what they perceived as a falloff in effort and commitment by some teammates. The team’s play in the last couple of games has improved. But this season generally has been an alternate universe to what they experienced a year ago.

Andrew Ladd is trying to preach accountability to teammates. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Andrew Ladd has been preaching accountability. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

“Obviously we don’t have a lot of All Stars,” Byfuglien said. “We’re only going when the whole team is going. But that chemistry doesn’t happen overnight.  We’re a very young team, and when times get tough we can’t just run around. Right now we’re fighting things a little bit.”

He wasn’t deluded. He knew the Thrashers’ talent wasn’t at Chicago’s level. As he put it in hockeyspeak, “If the team wants to get into a shinny game, we don’t have the players to win like that.” (Shinny: Think street ball.)

That’s really what this is all about. The Thrashers’ roster leaves no margin for error. It was fine in the first 35 games when everybody was performing at max level, but maintaining that over a full season isn’t realistic. Byfuglien is a perfect example: He had 16 goals in 42 games as a defenseman, then went 13 without one.

If this team doesn’t make a significant move for a goal scorer before the Feb. 28 trade deadline, postseason hockey becomes an afterthought. Again.

Playoff teams can win games on off nights in part because of some individuals. As Ladd said, “In Chicago we could get away with maybe not playing our best game because Patrick Kane would have a great individual move and score a goal, or our power play would score a couple of goals. Here, the goals we’re going to get are usually second chances and rebounds. That’s fine. But you have to work for those chances.”

When things started to turn, Ladd didn’t need to look at the scoreboard for confirmation. He sensed a comfort level had settled in. Players were “losing battles,” which is half the game.

“We just sat back and thought we were better than we were,” he said.

Asked if, as a captain, he has been frustrated by the inconsistent effort, Ladd responded: “Sometimes the best way to push guys in a certain direction is just to have them watch how you work, busting your butt. You have to make sure when you tell somebody something that you’re accountable to it, too.”

Sopel, who at 34 is one of the team’s oldest players, said he thinks about winning the Cup last year “every day. … It was fun going to the rink last year, but we were winning. When you’re losing, it’s frustrating and you take things personally.”

Last season in  Chicago ended with a parade. Fans here would settle for something less. Hope, maybe.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

64 comments Add your comment

Freddie's Falcon

February 10th, 2011
4:41 pm

Sometime you have to strap the team on your back

Freddie's Falcon

February 10th, 2011
4:42 pm

Also, any update on the ASG liars? They must be in a cave with Osama.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bart Burnett, Jeff Schultz. Jeff Schultz said: Thrashers’ Stanley Cup winners would settle for a few wins http://bit.ly/e5O0ck [...]

Jeff Schultz

February 10th, 2011
5:09 pm

Freddie — No updates. Also, haven’t checked Kabul this week.

Philips Phlops

February 10th, 2011
5:11 pm

Hawks – Thrashers — two moribund franchises with loyal but maltreated fanbases abused by dysfunctional owners and selfish players. What benefiteth it the Thrashers to make the playoffs – the Hawks will and charge big $ for playiff tix and we’ll watch JSmoov and Marvin (#2 Overall) go down in the 1st round. Sad.

Tim

February 10th, 2011
5:17 pm

Man, I really hope they start winning again

tonyb

February 10th, 2011
5:47 pm

Theee is certainly a fan base in Atlanta. One that has been subjected to an ownership group that does not care one bit about the team it bought. What this team needs is an ownership hero, someone who will come in, buy the team, and commit to the fans a solid effort in building a good product. This ownership groups seem determined to run this team into the ground. The great fans of Atlanta sports deserve better than this.

To all of the hockey fans out there, its important to now more ever to buy tickets and come to the games. We need to show the NHL we are a viable market. That more than anything will help in getting the owners we deserve.

JSS

February 10th, 2011
6:05 pm

You folks are whining about the ownership; this team’s problems are on the ice! All of the little things which had them hovering around the middle of the playoff hunt 3 weeks before the All-Star break have flown out the window… Kane’s injuries (he’s a warrior) have shown what happens when your intangible players go down. They are out gunned. Moreover, they have to bring all of their “A” level defensive effort each and every night! It must happen!

"Chef" Tim Dix

February 10th, 2011
6:28 pm

I believe the truth about the owners intentions has permeated the team, knowing with cap to spare, there is no hope coming from the owners.

Players, cash your checks quickly before they bounce.

WTF?

February 10th, 2011
6:41 pm

when I see Thrash tommorow night I’m going to give him a book titled Coaching NHL Hockey for Dummies. I will ask Thrash to hand it over to Coach Ramsay so the assistant coach can read it to him since he never uncrosses his arms! When your leader has no emotion, the players will not have any either. Get rid of Ramsay and let all those who came from Chicago work that style of play and we’ll have a playoff contender, not just get into the playoffs.
Oh yeah and New York Rangers fans: YOU SUCK !!! and I will let you know tomorrow

BG33Brown

February 10th, 2011
7:24 pm

Jeff, while I sympathize with them and wanting wins-those are the players that are accountable for going out and making them happen.

Freddie's Falcon

February 10th, 2011
7:27 pm

I’ve got Club tixs for the game tomorrow night. I am going to drink myself blind to numb the pain.

Jeff Schultz

February 10th, 2011
8:36 pm

JSS –All of what you say is true, but deeper and more talented teams can withstand injuries and off nights easier. That stems from years of neglect, bad decisions and a dysfunctional minor league system — and all of that starts at the top.

Jeff Schultz

February 10th, 2011
8:37 pm

BG33Brown — They know that and I hope I didn’t you didn’t surmise they were whining.

Blueland Buddha

February 10th, 2011
8:55 pm

I am completely torn on this team. On one hand, I am watching the scoreboard hoping the Canes lose, and I cant wait for the games this weekend. I am trying to get people together to buy season tickets because I so want to believe in this team and its future. On the other hand, I am very apprehensive as to the team’s long term outlook. The spending is at the bottom of the league, the accountability isnt there, and the endless rumors are eating at my hockey soul. Season tickets go on sale tomorrow, and since the Belkin mess was just concluded recently, I think its a great time for Levenson and Gearon to address a note solely to Thrashers fans to give them a glimpse of hope. That they will increase their spending in payroll. That they have a vision to building a winner for the long-term. And that for the long-term they will be in Atlanta. Some would dismiss the notion as PR speak and not to be trusted. But it would mean a lot to me to see the effort.

In the meantime, there is a Facebook page for Concerned Atlanta Thrasher Fans (http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Concerned-Atlanta-Thrashers-Fans/157006297684589). I joined it to show the league and hopefully some local investors that the passion for hockey in this market is high, despite the turbulence we fans have been put through for the last 6 years.

scottbravesfan

February 10th, 2011
9:32 pm

I’m currently getting my MBA and I have to wonder if any of the Atlanta Spirit owners went to business school? Because they keep making the same mistakes that they tell you not to make the first semester you are in business school.

JSS

February 10th, 2011
9:51 pm

@ Jeff Schultz…
I really can’t worry about the past anymore… This franchise has to make the most of the remaining 26 games and get to the playoffs. Philadelphia was the walking dead last year. We all know how that turned out. The Thrashers are at point critical simply because of perception becoming reality in various circles. If they can right their ship and play .600 down the final 25, then everyone can get a chance to breath…

Artie B's not Walking Through That Door, People

February 10th, 2011
9:59 pm

@Blueland Buddah. The “we’re winners” duo of Levenson and Gearon did send out a letter exactly what your describing with all sorts of empty promises and it (I can’t make this crazy stuff up) was accompanied by two pictures of them clearly at a Hawks game. They couldn’t find a photo of them in Blueland nor thought it’d be better to just do media guide headshots. That’s all you need to know about the decision making process with these two, and it completely invalidated anything they wrote. And for those who keep clinging to hope that Saint Arthur will come rescue this team, the whole Bon Jovi courting means one thing and one thing only-he’s building a warchest to fund his own stadium outside of control from the GWCC.

5150 UOAD

February 10th, 2011
10:02 pm

JEFF
We/YOU know HOCKEY don’t MATTER. Hell the HAWKS make just a Blip on the ATL sports radar. It is COLLEGE FOOTBALL, NFL, and MLB or nothing. I love NASCAR pre-2003, But AJC is in the south and FOOTBALL IS KING with MLB sprinkled in. Maybe you guys at the AJC should cover COLLEGE BASEBALL more.

JSS

February 10th, 2011
10:21 pm

@ POAD…
“It is COLLEGE FOOTBALL, NFL, and MLB or nothing. I love NASCAR pre-2003, But AJC is in the south and FOOTBALL IS KING with MLB sprinkled in. Maybe you guys at the AJC should cover COLLEGE BASEBALL more.”

I know you love college football; but it is about as exciting as watching three year olds trying to master going to the potty. I.E. UGA vs Vanderbilt and Miami vs Tech last Fall. That was torture! And three week swoon that Braves made us witness last September… That was pure torture, boring, and goodness gracious torture to watch! NASCAR? Hasn’t been a exciting race in that since Yarborough and Allison got it on in turn four and pounded the stew out of each other and the King swept to victory… College Baseball is like watching a Tee League game on XBox… And I don’t like video games, so that should tell you something!

chas

February 10th, 2011
10:40 pm

So frustrating to watch this team through the years and it was frustrating at a Flames fan. It does start at the top. You cannot blame the fans. The team has never won a playoff game have they? That is pathetic. It is too bad because I actually believe this is a good hockey town or could be a very good one. Without a quality product on the ice it is difficult to get the fans. The fans are not stupid. They have made some good moves this year, but the fans do not forget the past. With all that being said I hope they can pull it together and win some more games and make the playoffs. I can only imagine what it would be like to have a hockey team that is a viable contender one day.

JSS

February 10th, 2011
10:45 pm

What is it? A majority owner in a NFL can not own a majority share in another major sports league. It is against NFL bylaws! The Arena League is an exception because it is not a major league… Blank is not going to save anybody!

Albert

February 10th, 2011
10:47 pm

JS– again, please stick with football and baseball and don’t try to write hockey stories.

Gen Neyland

February 10th, 2011
10:55 pm

Yeah, the promise of a good seaon has soured. Hope they turn this thing around. If it is to be, they need to play for it and let the business end of Atlanta hockey fall to the wayside. Gotta believe pros don’t get hung up with the front office follies, though…

5150 UOAD

February 10th, 2011
11:07 pm

JSS
You are on a sports BLOG so help me get EDUCATED. The NASCAR ref, was GREAT. I want to see J Gordon get som AZZ or hve NASCAR let Kevin, Tony nad Kyle do a WWF weekend in VEGAS on PAY-PER-VIEW. LOL

Hillbilly Deluxe

February 10th, 2011
11:09 pm

“We just sat back and thought we were better than we were,” he said.

That might be the sign of a young team but it’s time to step and get going, if they are going, too.

Hasn’t been a exciting race in that since Yarborough and Allison got it on in turn four and pounded the stew out of each other and the King swept to victory…

NASCAR died when the emphasis went from winning races to winning championships, in my opinion. When I hear a guy say, “I had a shot at winning but we have to think about the big picture”, I know I wouldn’t want him in my car. Well at least one good thing will happen this year, Pearson is going into the Hall of Fame. He should have been there last year; best driver that I ever saw.

5150 UOAD

February 10th, 2011
11:10 pm

WHAT happened to Tony barnhard? Mr. College Football don’t post no moe. Did the radio time keep TONY from posting on thr AJC or is he charging for hi posts? I like Tony and Wes on the RADIO, but is that making him Too Big for print?

5150 UOAD

February 10th, 2011
11:14 pm

H D-LUX
I hate to think your are right, but I do have to agree. I miss a good fist fight and a BLIP BLIP —BLIPing color comentary of the race, When they fined DALE JR for saying “DAMN” I knew it was over. Dixie Speedway on Saturday night is better.

Hillbilly Deluxe

February 10th, 2011
11:16 pm

5150

They had some good racing at Dixie back in the 70’s, when it was asphalt. Jody Ridley, Buck Simmons and the gang put on some good shows.

JSS

February 10th, 2011
11:48 pm

I grew up in Macon so we got the bigger Grand National racers and according hard glances when to the old speedway in Byron. Still remember how much of mess would dust and the Petty and the Alabama gang would get into late in races… NASCAR problem has always been the promoters, not the racers… Now back to hockey!

JSS

February 10th, 2011
11:59 pm

@ Hillbilly…
David Pearson… I couldn’t stand him when I was a kid… Nor Yarborough, but looking back they were fine drivers…

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

February 11th, 2011
12:13 am

we need something to turn this sports city around asap….let’s go thrashers!!!

Matty Jay

February 11th, 2011
12:48 am

I’m really starting to like your articles Jeff. Good stuff

Atticus

February 11th, 2011
8:02 am

Disaster ownership = disaster seasons

Freddie's Falcon

February 11th, 2011
8:56 am

Anyone ever see anyone of those Pin Head owners at either a basketball or hockey game? Even they know they suck. Their dogs don’t even like them and think they are arse holes.

Rip Van Winkle

February 11th, 2011
9:00 am

Don Waddell is STILL employed….AND HE GOT A PROMOTION?.

Hollywould

February 11th, 2011
9:16 am

Last chance weekend for the Thrash. I was up on this team early but when the other teams got the tapes of our early games they figured out how to play against the Thrash. I have said it before and it still rings true, This team does not have the skill players to win. It is that simple. I watched the Boston/Montreal game the other nite and marveled at the skill of those players. They also hit somebody at every chance. Thrashers hit nobody as usually they are not close enuf to hit anybody.
I will still pull for them but they have as much chance as me hitting the lottery.

PMC

February 11th, 2011
9:23 am

Aggree JSS, but in the entire existance of the Thrashers – Garnett Exelby….

has there ever been even 1 A level defensive effort?

Jimbo

February 11th, 2011
9:50 am

There is definitely a good, potential fan base here in Atlanta. Many of my friends and neighbors are transplanted northerners who know and like hockey and who have become disalutioned with the repeated promises of a “successful 5 yr. plan, winning teams, improvement”, etc. This ownership simply does not “get it”. Nor does Rammer. He plans to open up the offense when players like D-Buff maintain that we cannot win with a wide open game. DUH!

Coach Cool

February 11th, 2011
10:01 am

Just one question:

What would D McD do? (that’s David McDavid)

~ Sigh ~

Ted Striker

February 11th, 2011
10:15 am

I think ASG is overly maligned. They pay the bills, take the risks. Until someone else steps up and takes over, we dance with them.

KLS1

February 11th, 2011
10:28 am

They can’t buy a good team, no free agents want to come here. So at some point, the players they have an ones we can develop will need to rise up and win.

I love this team and would hate to see them leave town, but the way things are going…it wouldn’t surprise me.

Jeff, how does attendence for the FL Panthers stack up to Atlanta? They have been miserable as well in a “bad” hockey market.

Iron League 13

February 11th, 2011
10:57 am

This team was never fit to have even had the success they had in November/December, sorry, but that’s easy to prove on paper. That said I’ve maintained since the offseason that had they maintained guys like Max, McArthur and Kubina, I wouldn’t be saying that. Hell even Armie could benefit this team, don’t look at me funny, just tell me how awesome Modin, Stapleton, Cormier and Burmi are working out. The interest-lacking ASG cheapskates botched that and never replaced the lost production over something like an extra $4 million or so. How was this not obvious going in?

Anyways, nothing magical is likely to happen by the deadline, it will take several good players to make a real run, period. Mind you thats 2-3 good players needed only if Enstrom and Slates come back soon enough otherwise 4-5 players needed. That’s a good gut feeling, kinda like the one I had when I stated to people that this was going to be the worst season since about the 4th or 5th year. The way this last month has gone I’m leaning that way again.

Iron League 13

February 11th, 2011
10:58 am

retained guys…(that is) sorry

Iron League 13

February 11th, 2011
11:04 am

One more thing…

If these guys don’t get mentally psyched starting RIGHT NOW and grind, grind, grind, then they’ve got NO CHANCE. Heart goes a very long way in hockey. Reminds me of a team I was on once, not too deep, but rich with cajones. We always competed, because we worked hard and had pride. I rarely if ever see that with this team.

ATLFlamesFan

February 11th, 2011
11:25 am

Last season I often saw Levenson at seats in the club section. Haven’t seen him at all this year. If he is coming to games, he must be hiding in a suite.

Brendan

February 11th, 2011
11:33 am

Jeff Schultz, with your permission, I’d like to break a story right here, on your website. We go live, to the Onion News Network, for some BREAKING NEWS on your Atlanta Thrashers.

Brooke Alvarez: “That’s right. Put your hands in the air and spread your legs wide, you’re entering the ‘Factzone,’ where security checks are always mandatory. At the Onion News Network, we’re news without Mercy! We have some BREAKING NEWS for you puckheads out here. Bruce Levenson stunned the world today by ‘coming out’ as a BAD OWNER. Our field reporter, Jane Carmichael, has more. Take it away, Jane.”

Jane Carmichael: “Thanks Brooke. I’m standing here in front of the league offices of the National Hockey League, which was all a BUZZ this morning amid the shocking confession of Atlanta Thrashers part-owner Bruce Levenson … that he’s a really bad owner.”

Brooke: “I see. Can you shed anymore light on the causes behind this ’startling confession?’”

Jane: “Yes Brooke. I took some time out to interview Bruce. Let’s go to the video footage.” … “So Bruce, why have you ‘come out?’ Why now? And what’s it like to be one of the league’s few OPENLY BAD sports owners?”

Bruce Levenson: “Well Jane. There’s never really a wrong moment to start telling the truth. I haven’t been forthright about things, for many YEARS, really.”

Jane Carmichael: “I see. Uhh, tell us how you arrived at this personal epiphany?”

Bruce Levenson: “Well, ya see Jane. I’m uhhh … not good. Not good, at all, at what I do. And to cover it up, I sue everyone around me in an attempt to make it appear as if it’s THEIR fault, instead of mine.”

Jane Carmichael: “And how’s that working out for you?”

Bruce: “Well, I don’t like to comment on pending litigation.”

Jane Carmichael: “That’s probably smart of you. By the way, how’s that ‘Failure to provide adequate goods-n-services’ suit going against K-Mart (TM), for those insufficient in quality and duration … vibrating plastic pony rides they sometimes have in their storefront areas?”

Bruce Levenson: “Asked and answered Jane. I have no comment on pending litigation.”

Jane Carmichael: “Alrighty then. Uhh, so … what’s next, then, for Bruce Levenson?”

Bruce Levenson: “Attorney fees. And more attorney fees, if I lose. Whenever something doesn’t go my way, I sue or counter-sue to recover my losses.”

Jane Carmichael: “Including suing your own counsel??”

Bruce Levenson: “Missteps were made, Jane. By THEM. They must pay, like PizzaHut (TM) just did, when I recovered damages from them over what was ‘a pathetic attempt’ on their part at making a double-cheese pizza.”

Jane Carmichael: “I’m just glad you could reach an out of court settlement.”

Bruce Levenson: “Me too, Jane. Me, too.”

Jane Carmichael: “Well, that wraps it up from here, Brooke. ‘Outed’ bad sports owner Bruce Levenson, a man finally coming to terms with himself. Back to you, Brooke.”

Brooke Alvarez: “Well, it’s nice to him finally taking some responsibility for his many misdeeds. Any word on an increased budget for his fast plummeting hockey team?”

Jane Carmichael: “Brooke, Bruce said, and I quote, ‘I wouldn’t be ‘a Bad sports owner,’ if I went around FIXING things, or making them better.”

Brooke Alvarez: “Very good, then. That’s a point well taken. Great job, as always. And remember, Jane, smiling too much brings out your crows feet on HD television.”

Jane Carmichael: Jaw agaped, looks disgustedly at the camera, outraged.

Brooke Alvarez: “In a related story, the Florida Panthers said the Atlanta Thrashers are nothing more that ‘copycat wannabees,’ when in comes to being a lousy-run franchise. We’ll be sure to stay on top of that story, as it develops. Stay here, with the Onion News Network. We’re always with you–even when you ‘think’ you’re alone.”

Iron League 13

February 11th, 2011
11:39 am

Oh yeah, kudos to Mr. Schultz, he’s on a journalistic hot streak of sorts. Admittedly, I only pay attention to hockey, so…

Iron League 13

February 11th, 2011
11:43 am

Sued Pizza Hut over a lousy double cheese pizza, and K-Mart over crappy kiddie token rides HA HA HA.

Brendan

February 11th, 2011
12:08 pm

Jeff Schultz, quick question for ya. With $18 million in cap room, could it be ‘worthwhile’ to take at look at some of the BAD CONTRACTS that do exist out there in the NHL, that GM’s would gladly ditch for a bag of pucks and dinner at Applebees? The Oilers have a few. The Flames have a couple. And, still where GM Rick Dudley has some influence, there is the Brian Campbell contract in Chicago.

Unfortunately, Campbell’s contract does pay him until he’s 36 and all the way through the 2016 season, at a whopping cap hit of $7,142,875. On the other hand, how ELSE would the Thrashers get even a mediocre, but very serviceable defender like Brian Campbell to Atlanta? You’ll recall that they ALREADY TRIED the UFA approach (2008), which drove up his price tag to the ridiculous number I just provided, in a bidding war with Chicago. Hey, Campbell’s agent was ‘negotiating’ with the Thrashers! Campbell ‘could’ say that he’s ‘always been interested’ in playing for Atlanta. It wouldn’t EXACTLY be a lie; it’d just be a misrepresentation. Chances are, Chicago would give him away, just to free of that horrendous contract. Maybe Atlanta could offer, “future considerations” as the return? Yes or no, does Brian Campbell make the Thrashers blueline better? Just ‘yes or no.’ Yes or no, the Thrashers have no PRETENSION of maxing out their cap, anytime soon? Yes or no? The Thrashers have so much cap space … that they could literally take on several ‘horrible’ contracts around the league, without even giving up a coveted 1st round draft pick in the exchange. Essentially, it would only cost them money … and some flexibility for the coming years, cap-wise. And remember, this franchise has kept all of seven (7) players in its entire history when said players reach UFA eligibility. And none of them were of the Tier I variety. Look, I liked Nic Havelid and Slava Kozlov, but … ya know, superstars they weren’t. So, really, if you’re worried about signing Bogosian (2008, 3rd overall) and Kane (2009, 4th overall) and Burmistrov, (2010, 8th overall) past the age of 25 or 26, as a Thrasher … don’t be. They won’t stay, unless or until things are going well here in Atlanta. And that probably means different ownership. So, really … some of these “bad contracts” might be viable strategies for a pathetically-run organization. The players must ‘honor’ their contracts, or be forced to play elsewhere, in European leagues, while being subject to fines for failing to report.