Up next in our series of season previews, the Atlanta Thrashers. As Kings fans, we’re not going to be seeing all that much of the Thrashers this year, unless of course we both end up in the Cup Finals (what are the odds against that?) But what we do see of the Thrashers, we see early. They’re scheduled to visit Los Angeles for our Home Opener on October 12th, 2010. So what do we have to look forward to? Other than a hopeful victory, there are a few interesting plot lines to watch with the Kovalchuk-less Thrashers.
The Thrashers have struggled as a franchise since entering the NHL during the 1999-2000 season. They’ve made the playoffs only once since then, and it was an uninspiring immediate elimination. Perhaps the only real winners in this whole Kovalchuk debacle are the Thrashers, who managed to avoid all the crazy drama and get on with building a half-decent team. That said, I’m not expecting much from Atlanta this season, and they’ll likely struggle to make the playoffs this season.
Ron Hainsey, Nik Antropov, Dustin Byfuglien, Chris Mason, Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian
On offense, as with most parts of the team, the Thrashers are looking young. Lead by Nik Antropov and newly acquired Dustin Byfuglien (despite rumors that he may switch to defense, I think he ends up still a forward), the Thrashers don’t have a whole lot of top-flight skill at the moment, and they’ll be looking for their youngsters like Evander Kane and Bryan Little to take a step forward and increase their production. Little had 31 goals two years ago, before declining to a mere 13 goals last year. The Thrashers will need him to return to his previous 30+ goal level if they’re going to have any chance.
The defense is fully stocked, if not filled with an elite level. Much like the offense, the Thrashers are decent on the blue line, but frankly unspectacular. On the top end, the Thrashers are (second verse, same as the first) waiting for their youngsters to develop. Zach Bogosian is a talented player, and if he takes another step forward this season, he will be one of the better defenseman around. Bogosian is supported by some talent in Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, Johnny Oduya, Brent Sopel and a few others. It’s not a star-studded lineup, but it’s not bad either. Chris Mason in goal has some ability, but isn’t likely to steal many games for Atlanta, so they’ll need a strong team effort if they want to accomplish anything.
Let’s be frank, the Thrashers are in some trouble. They’re going to fall behind the Capitals in their division, that’s a forgone conclusion. They’re also likely to be behind the Hurricanes (especially if they continue their “1 up, 1 down” pattern), and the Lightening have made some impressive moves to get better. I’m thinking they’ll end up ahead of the Panthers, and if their youngsters take a big step forward and Mason performs out of his mind, they might sneak into the bottom of the Eastern Conference, since that’s all a crap shoot. If they were in the Western Conference it could get ugly…