Greetings hockey bums.
I'm here to offer a little bit of Southern hockey perspective. You probably don't get much of that since the game does struggle to survive in most markets in the SouthEast. However I will tell you that the passionate fans of the Atlanta Thrashers live and die by the team, just like every fan of the Canadian and big market teams in the north.
It's hard work being a fan of the Atlanta Thrashers. We are the red-headed stepchild of the NHL, confirmed recently by the likes of Dan Boyle and the lack of free agents willing to sign on the dotted line. Poor ownership, questionable GM moves, and an obvious lack of direction for the team are just a basic overview of all that fans in Atlanta ponder.
Concerning the recent Free Agent blitz and offseason changes, here's a little positive, and a little negative perspective.
- No impact FAs are willing to come to Atlanta. I like Ron Hainsey, but he was clearly plan B to Brian Campbell. Who else have we lured to North Georgia...NADA.
- With no big name upgrades, how are we going to secure the services of one disgruntled hockey star Ilya Kovalchuk? My opinion is that he is already looking to his next stop...GMs around the league are too.
- Casual fans? Forget it. We lose Kovy, like Hossa, like Heatley, it spells the beginning of the end for the franchise.
Positives: OK folks, I'm a homer, but let me give you a real (positive) assessment of the team we are going to ice this Fall.
- Alexei Zhitnik is gone. Zhit was an absolute cancer on this team last year. He came to camp out of shape and played like it all year. When you count on a guy to be in your top pair and he ends up being benched late in the season, it puts a lot of pressure on guys that are not top 4 defenseman to achieve. They did not, and the team was one of the worst in the league in GA.
- Bobby Holik is gone. I have loved the type of game Holik plays for as long as I have watched him, but his time has passed. He was highly overpaid, and did nothing but set this team back leadership-wise with the captaincy. Nobody expected the guy to come in and score 20, but we did need consistent veteran leadership that he did not offer.
- Goaltending. Kari Lehtonen backed up by Moose Hedberg with Ondrej Pavelec waiting in the wings. Talented youth that will only get better, with a clubhouse leader in Moose.
- John Anderson. The guy is a winner. Recent success of guys like Bruce Beaudreau and John Stevens proves AHL coaches can win at the next level. I love this hire.
- Colby Armstrong and Eric Christensen. Crusher will get his chance to show his talent now, having spent his career 4th on the depth chart in Pittsburgh. Army is a young guy who will announce his presence with authority every night on the ice and in the lockerroom.
- An improved defense. Sophomore season for Toby Enstrom, solid veteran work from Nic Havelid, and another young puck mover in Ron Hainsey. Add in a the physical specimen Zach Bogosian (who apparently has a real chance to make the team), and we are going to be improved in our own end. Put Exelby back where he belongs, playing about 10 minutes a night crackin' skulls!
- Youth. Jordan LaVallee, Bryan Little, Colin Stuart, Boris Valabik, and maybe even Arturs Kulda all have a chance to make huge impacts for this team. This may be a tough year still, but I would rather see these guys toughin' it out every night than a bunch of overpaid vets mailing it in.
It's bad, but it's not THAT bad. Addition by subtraction, a new solid coaching philosophy, and infuse the youth. Waddell will make a trade or two in the next couple of weeks (Havlat?) to shore up the top 2 lines and we will be a mediocre team in '08-'09. We won't win the SE, but we won't be the worst team in the league either.
Keep it right here for the REAL DEAL goings on in the Southeast Division...don't settle for the ramblings of the national media types who like to spell DOOM for the South!