Thursday, July 16, 2009
While the Colby Armstrong re-signing has yet to be confirmed by the Thrashers organization (now confirmed), the same website that broke Kari Lehtonen's acceptance of his qualifying offer has been very reliable in the past.
Both Kari Lehtonen and Colby Armstrong have agreed to one year contracts, with Lehtonen scheduled to make $3 million dollars for the next year (his same salary from 08-09) and Armstrong's contract worth $2.4 million.
These two signings knock out the high profile restricted free agents left for Waddell with the likes of Jordan LaVallee, Tim Stapleton, Joe Motzko, Boris Valabik, Grant Lewis, and Scott Lehman remaining.
Let's take a deeper look at the Thrashers re-signings, starting with yesterday's inking of the young Finn netminder. Last year, Lethonen posted a record of 19-22-3 in 46 games while registering a goals against average of 3.06 and a save percentage of .911. In four full seasons with the Thrashers, Lehtonen has only appeared in more than 50 games one time (2006-07) and Kari's GAA was over three per game for the first time in his career.
Kari's 2008-09 numbers were very similar to his 2007-08 statistics and Karppa missed significant time in both seasons due to injury.
Regarding Lehtonen's contract and status within the team, I think that Kari accepting his one year qualifying offer was a solid move for both sides. Lehtonen's numbers don't warrant a raise and the arbitration process may have just proven that even further. Kari has stated numerous times that he wants to remain in Atlanta, but this is the second consecutive one year contract that the Thrashers have signed with Lehtonen.
From the Thrashers standpoint, I think this is a very smart move. I've been met with some opposition on the official Atlanta Thrashers Message Boards. Here are my reasons why I think that a one year contract is beneficial:
1. Because this is a one year deal and Kari Lehtonen is neither 27 years old or has seven years of NHL service, Lehtonen will remain a restricted free agent next offseason.
2. With Lehtonen's injury history and inconsistency in net, the Thrashers are not committing multiple years to an unkown commodity.
3. Atlanta doesn't give up on Kari Lehtonen; giving Karppa every chance (two one year deals and a roster spot is very generous) to live up to his talents and potential.
4. Ondrej Pavelec, while a very good prospect, is still not ready for a starting spot in the NHL. Pavelec should be given a real shot to make the roster this camp, regardless of Lehtonen and Hedberg being under contract already.
5. If the Thrashers fall out of contention, Kari Lehtonen still has a good bit of trade value. Atlanta doesn't need to get a king's ransom in return because the prospect pool is reasonably stocked and the NHL roster is starting to take shape.
To me, I think the one year deal makes sense for Lehtonen and his future as an Atlanta Thrasher. This is yet another opportunity for Kari to prove himself to this franchise and raise his game to the level that fans have only seen for five or six game stretches. As for Colby Armstrong, I'm less of a fan of his one year contract.
Armstrong is reportedly going to make $2.4 million on a one year deal that the Thrashers agreed to before his case went to arbitration. Colby had his first 20-goal season in his first full year with Atlanta in 2008-09 and ended up with 40-points (22 goals, 18 assists). The salary of $2.4 million seems fair for Armstrong; a young player with positive scoring upside, solid defensive game, a good physical presence, and a strong locker room personality with leadership qualities.
Colby, after a slow start that mirrored the team's, really picked up his play around the holidays last season. After scoring just three goals in his first 29 games, Army churned out 18 goals in the final 53 games; a scoring pace of nearly 28 goals per 82 games. Colby finished with 31 points in the in those final 53 games from December 16th on.
While I feel the $2.4 million invested in Colby Armstrong for next season is certainly worthwhile, I can't help but be pessimistic about the Thrashers chances at signing Army long-term. The general consensus amongst fans (for what it's worth) is that Colby was heartbroken after his trade from Pittsburgh to Atlanta in part of the Marian Hossa trade during the 2007-08 season. There is speculation, not completely out of thin air, that Colby Armstrong is not enamored with hockey in Atlanta; the atmosphere, the culture, the coverage, and possibly even the product on the ice.
The Thrashers are going to have a hard time convincing Army to stay in Atlanta for the long-term when his first chance at unrestricted free agency comes available next summer. Colby has done nothing but put on the right face for the public in Atlanta, but I'm hard pressed to believe that Armstrong wouldn't take advantage of the opportunity to listen to offers from larger, more traditional hockey markets. There was plenty of interest in Army at the trade deadline this past season and he is coveted by many executives around the league. Colby has the build of a perfect addition for a playoff bound squad.
I know that Don Waddell insisted on Armstrong in the Hossa deal and that the Thrashers GM would love to sign him to a long-term deal. I can't help but feel that this short-term contract was pushed from Armstrong's camp. The NHLPA is in place so that players like Armstrong can take advantage of unrestricted free agency when that right is afforded to them. I would not take any intention to test free agency next summer as a personal insult to the Thrashers either... My crystal ball doesn't always work, but I foresee this coming season as Armstrong's last in the ATL.
However, if Armstrong doesn't factor into the Thrashers' long-term plans, then Atlanta could have a very valuable bargaining chip come the 2010 trade deadline day. Also, Atlanta is not without solid checking line wingers in the system with Spencer Machacek, Riley Holzapfel, and Carl Klingberg all pointing to NHL time within the next couple of seasons... not to mention the likes of Joey Crabb, potentially Jordan LaVallee and Tim Stapleton, Anthony Stewart, and even long shots like Niklas Lasu, John Albert, and Andrew Kozek.
Colby is a really good hockey player and maybe a surprise and spirited run from the Thrashers in 2009-10 might not just convince Ilya Kovalchuk to remain in Atlanta, but also quality depth guys like Colby Armstrong as well.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Evander is back in Atlanta!... and Zim is back onto the blogosphere! Sorry for the long stretch between entries. I'm not going to make excuses, but my excuse for not updating the blog has been that I was planning an elegant and dazzling broom-jumping ceremony. As a result, my left hand seems a tad heavier than my right.... and time was very hard to come by before the 2009 NHL Entry Draft Day (a great way to remember my anniversary is to remember the day the Thrashers drafted Evander Kane!).
So, much has happened in Blueland since Slightly Off-Topic was last up and running. Atlanta added nine new hockey men to a prospect pool that is starting to look very respectable (and we'll learn more about in this post and also in reports from the Thrashers Prospect Development Camp which starts tomorrow.)
Thrasher fans waived goodbye to the very popular Garnet Exelby and hard-working Colin Stuart in favor of former all-star and Stanley Cup champion Pavel Kubina and the rights to Tim Stapleton.
Also, Atlanta has signed Nik Antropov to a four year, $16 million dollar deal and re-inked the likes of Marty Reasoner, Nathan Oystrick, Jim Slater, and Joey Crabb and re-re-signing Jason Krog and Joel Kwiatkowski and just plain signing some goalies Drew MacIntyre and Peter Mannino.
Busy offseason for Waddell and with five goalies now on the roster for essentially two professional teams, Don may not be finished as rumors and speculation of a trade circles the Thrashers.
But for now, this blog of entry will deal with finding out more about the Thrashers' draft choices not named Evander Kane. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled with the selection of Evander in the first round at fourth overall, but information is a plenty regarding Kane, his game, his future to the Thrashers and so on and onforth. Let's dig a little deeper into a Thrasher draft that many independent sources have ranked quite favorably.
Atlanta's 2nd Pick - 2nd Round, 34th overall - Carl Klingberg (Gothenburg, Sweden)
As a second round pick, Klingberg has naturally gotten a good amount of press already. Touted as a physical player with some size (6-3, 205 lbs.) and a North American power forward mentality. In the great job that fellas like Ben Wright from the Blueland Blog and The Falconer from Bird Watchers Anonymous have done in getting information from the recent draft picks, the fan base (us!) have learned that the Thrashers had Klingberg rated as a first round pick.
Lost in all of the toughness and power forward talk was just one sentence from the NHL European Central Scouting Service that got me very excited:
“He has explosive acceleration and is strong on his skates – he is hard to hold off when he’s driving the net. He works hard down low in the zone and is courageous enough to go into tight battles.”
Explosive acceleration! That's not a descriptive phrase that just gets thrown around lightly. Klingberg isn't just big, tough, and physical, but the kid can skate too. According to various sources, Klingberg doesn't have the greatest hands in the world and collects most of his offensive points around the crease and driving the cage.
Zim's Take: Great pick. Waddell has already stated that Klingberg will go back to Sweden and compete for a spot in the SEL for Frolunda. The Thrashers really added a lot of size and skill to the prospect pool with this draft and Carl is at the top of that list. I think it's safe to say that Klingberg projects at his very lowest as a third line winger (think Colby Armstrong-like production) and with a steady development of his offensive game Carl's ceiling is a top six guy.
Atlanta's 3rd Pick - 2nd Round, 45th overall - Jeremy Morin (Auburn, New York)
Another second round pick, Morin has also gotten a good bit of publicity from the contingent of Thrashers bloggers, reporters, and public relations folks (with Ben Wright and The Falconer once again leading the way).
When looking up scouting reports from Jeremy Morin all over the internet there is one consistent phrase that keeps popping up: pure goal scorer. In one article I drubbed up from Kevin Allen in the USA Today, USA Hockey's Jim Johansson called Morin, "possibly the best pure goal scorer in this age category in the world." At 6-1, 189 lbs., Morin has an average NHL body size and well on his way to bulking up his frame.
In an interview with USA Today two days before the draft, Morin described himself as "... a goal-scorer, a guy who takes pride in scoring goals. I like to create offense any way I can and I'm not afraid to get my nose dirty and I'm willing to pay the price to score goals."
Morin then compares himself to Brett Hull in style (a fair comparison by all the literature I've read on him) and also talks about his weaknesses "I'd say I can always get stronger — that's going to come in time. But skating, I can improve my skating a little bit. I don't consider myself a slow player at all, but I can even out my stride. I can work on the defensive side of the game a little more."
Zim's Take: Pure goal scorers aren't easy to come by especially when we look up and down the Thrashers prospect depth chart. Though nobody would say it in any of the interviews, I get the impression that Morin is still a bit raw. He'll be going to Kitchner, which is a very good junior program, and I think that Jeremy has a good chance to be an NHL player. He's one of those guys that has the top end skill, but how his skating, strength, and defensive tendencies develop and relate to the NHL game will determine whether he's a top six guy for the Thrashers or the Wolves long-term.
Atlanta's 4th Pick - 4th Round, 117th overall - Edward Pasquale (Toronto, Ontario)
After a third round with no selections, the Thrashers took a goalie with their fourth pick of the draft in the form of Edward Pasquale. A 6-2, 218 lb. kid, Pasquale was a somewhat surprising pick for the Thrashers, even in the fourth round. With Kari Lehtonen and Ondrej Pavelec currently battling for NHL top goalie status and a promising Alex Kangas playing NCAA hockey with Minnesota along with the drafting of Chris Carrozzi in 2008, Pasquale joins a goalie corps. with some depth (a rare franchise luxury).
However, the Thrashers saw enough in Pasquale that Waddell decided to cash in his fourth round pick on the Toronto kid. NHL Central Scouting's Al Jenson had this to say on Pasquale: "He's got the look of an NHL goalie down the road. I like his foot speed, he's got an excellent butterfly, and when he goes down he covers the net well. He moves well with excellent net coverage."
Sportsnet.ca had a good pre-draft writeup on Edward as well, highlighting the fact that he was a workhorse for Saginaw (OHL) and his stats could have been affected thusly. Conditioning appears to be a concern for Pasquale, something that Thrasher goalies of the past have battled.
This USA Today scouting report praises Pasquale's glove hand and technical skills, but calls to caution Edward's emotional and inconsistent play as well as an inability to win the big game. Evidence to Pasquale's emotion is this video.
Zim's Take: Atlanta is taking a risk in Pasquale. I'm willing to bet that the Thrashers scouts loved his technical ability, fire, and size... I'm guessing that the Thrashers are willing to be very patient with Edward as he matures into a professional hockey goalie. Conditioning and inconsistency are two very important parts of goaltending at the NHL level and to me those are very big concerns. I'm all for taking risks in the fourth round, but I'm not sure that Pasquale couldn't have been had later.
Atlanta's 5th Pick - 4th Round, 120th overall - Ben Chiarot (Hamilton, Ontario)
The first defenseman the Thrashers took in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Chiarot is an interesting pick. Another young man with a solid frame (6-2, 211 lbs.), Chiarot is described as "a no-nonsense, stay-at-home defenseman" in this article on the Guelph Storm website. The same article makes reference to Chiarot's on-ice vision and overall awareness improving throughout this past season, but also notes Ben's lack of top end skating ability and some poor decisions on the puck. The article praises his one-on-one defensive skill, his utilization of reach, disrupting passing lanes, and his positional awareness defensively.
A full article on Ben Chiarot from The Hamilton Spectator (solid read if you like to get some background information), back in January, gives an honest description of Chiarot's game: "His game is all about simple. The next time he goes on an end-to-end rush will be the first. He clears the front of the net, makes a good outlet pass and generally introduces bruises to any opponent stupid enough to hang around the Storm net. And so far this year he's posted an impressive plus-11, proving how responsible he generally is."
Zim's Take: Chiarot will be an interesting prospect to follow for the Atlanta Thrashers. With very low-to-average defensive depth (in terms of prospects) in the Atlanta organization, Chiarot has a very good opportunity to make some noise for the Thrashers. A stay-at-home guy in a defensive system, Chiarot isn't the prototypical John Anderson defenseman and the learning curve is going to be very drastic when he becomes a professional in a couple of years. With good physical attributes and defensive mold, Chiarot could end up being a valuable asset for Atlanta.
Atlanta's 6th Pick - 5th Round, 125th overall - Cody Sol (Woodstock, Ontario)
The Thrashers took their second Saginaw Spirit prospect when drafting 6-4, 215 lb. Cody Sol in the fifth round. Known as a tough guy, Sol is an imposing physical presence on the blueline, especially on his juniors team. Cody had 128 PIM last season.
According to this piece in the Sentinel-Review, Sol was also being looked at by Vancouver and Chicago heavily. With the addition of Rick Dudley to the Thrashers front office from the Blackhawks organization, I can't help but think that Dudley had a good bit to do with the drafting of Sol. The same article states that Sol expects to be in Saginaw next year to continue development on his puck handling skills and his skating acceleration.
Information on Sol is hard to come by on the net, but I believe that The Falconer has some upcoming articles on the Thrashers draftees and I seem to remember reading that he talked to Sol.
Zim's Take: Another large, physical defenseman to add to the mix can never be a bad pick up. Sol doesn't quite have some of the upside of some players that were still on the board that might have been a bit riskier, but Cody does add an element of toughness coming from the blueline that the Thrashers have rarely addressed through the draft (only Valabik comes to mind). Atlanta does done very well drafting defensemen after the late rounds (Exelby, Enstrom, Kulda, Postma)
and with some hard work, Sol could be added to that list.
Atlanta's 7th Pick - 6th Round, 155th overall - Jimmy Bubnick (Esterhazy, Saskatoon)
Surprisingly, at 6-2 and 194 lbs. with a solid 57-point season for Kamloops in the WHL, Jimmy Bubnick was still around for the Thrashers to grab in the sixth round. Rated by the Thrashers (or so they say) as a second round pick, Don Waddell was lucky to add a talent like Bubnick so late.
If taken earlier in the draft, Bubnick would have been labeled a high-risk, high-reward type player, but at 155th overall he can only be a low-risk, high-reward guy. In an interview with Faceoff Factor, Bubnick described his play: "I’d tell them that I’m a power-forward. I can go into the boards and win a lot of battles. I’ve got a pretty good shot. I’d say that I focus on winning battles in the front of the net and creating room for myself that way." Later in the interview, Bubnick admits that foot speed is the weakest part of his game.
McKeens Scouting Report on Bubnick (via the Star Phoenix), along with some other fun tidbits: "Bubnick has a goal scorer's instincts and good hockey sense in the offensive zone. Inconsistency plagued his first two seasons in Kamloops but he does have potential to produce at the next level."
The Red Line Report via USA Today also voices concerns about Bubnick's foot speed back in October of 2008: "Another sniper with skating issues is Jimmy Bubnick of Kamloops, who leads all WHL snipers with seven goals after eight games. We love just about everything about Bubnick, except for the heavy boots. But if he continues to score at this pace, he may force us to move him into our first round regardless of our reservations about his skating."
Zim's Take: Does Jimmy Bubnick really skate so poorly as to drop him from a potential first rounder all the way to the sixth? I guess so because it happened. Goal scoring and offensive awareness doesn't grow on trees so for the Thrashers to find a viable offensive option so late is always a bonus. There are some NHL players that have made healthy careers by putting up points without blessed speed... former Thrasher Andrew Brunette comes to mind. Bubnick has a long road to hoe if he wants to play NHL hockey, but that road is not impossible. I'm glad that Atlanta didn't select him any earlier.
Atlanta's 8th Pick - 7th Round, 185th overall - Levko Koper (Edmonton, Alberta)
The second forward that Don Waddell drafted in the late rounds that he claims to have had as a second rounder, Levko Koper is an interesting commodity. After doing some research on Koper the other day (the inspiration for this blog post!), I found that many sources had Koper as a potential second or third round pick. Unfortunately, Koper's "wild" incosistency cost him until the seventh round to hear his name called.
A great scouting report is written up by Michael Remmerde of the NHL Draft Notes blog and the full article can be found here. Remmerde lists Koper's strengths as his skating speed and acceleration, his ability to finish and get to scoring areas, his penalty killing, as well as his performance in big games.
Of concern is his inconsistent production, but more worrisome is his inconsistent effort. Remmerde description is priceless, but a little eerie for Thraser fans: "Inconsistency drove me nuts. I could give him either a 75 or 25 on competitiveness, depending upon when we're talking about. Was at his best in May 2008, during Spoke's Memorial Cup run. Was very underwhelming through much of the middle of this past season, before stepping up again in playoffs."
Koper received a bit of a jab from the Red Line Report via USA Today when some of his most productive teammates were playing international hockey back in January: "We haven't seen fit yet to drop Levko Koper significantly on our list, but it's definitely worth noting that he scored exactly zero goals in the three weeks that Drayson Bowman, Mitch Wahl, and Pat Johnson were away competing for the U.S. at the World Juniors. Hmmm… it's a little suspicious, no?"
Zim's Take: Koper seems to be one of those enigmatic players with a ton of potential and natural ability but a floating mind. Organizations will always take chances on guys like this, especially in the low rounds, because the upside is too much to pass up. If Koper can consistently bring the type of pesky energy that he's gained notorioty for, then Levko may have a shot of being a 3rd line guy in the NHL. I'm very interested to see how Koper develops over the next couple of years.
Atlanta's 9th Pick - 7th Round, 203rd overall - Jordan Samuels-Thomas (Hartford, Connecticut)
Jordan Samuels-Thomas has some size at 6-3, 198 lbs. and being an American, I'm quite confident that Waddell has good knowledge on the Thrashers final draft pick of 2009. There isn't much in the way of scouting reports on JST available on the web, but all accounts are that he has developed nicely after a 54-point season in the USHL. JST will probably not be playing in that league in the coming year as he attends Bowling Green University.
Zim's Take: Another guy with size and a scoring touch at a lower level, Samuels-Thomas is probably a long shot to make an NHL roster. I can't seem to find much about his actual attributes and game in terms of scouting reports. Waddell has done well to find some guys like John Albert and Jesse Martin in the later rounds that have turned in good NCAA careers so far... maybe JST will fall into that category as well.
This is all of the information I could find on the Thrashers non-Kane draft choices. I hope you enjoyed it and it was informational. I encourage you to read all of the linked articles as there is some really good character stuff in there... it's always fun to learn more about these guys (kids), even if it's not hockey related.
Thanks for reading and check in later for some more Thrashers posts on the way including some Nik Antropov talk and much much more! I'm back baby!
Monday, April 13, 2009
Feel free to disagree away!
John Anderson (35-41-6; 76 points; 4th in Southeast Division) – For John Anderson, this season must have been a tremendous learning experience; exciting and humbling at the same time. In a mostly down year with some timely ups,
Ilya Kovalchuk (43-48 = 91; -12) – After a slow start by Kovalchuk standards (six points in the first 11 games), Ilya provided the type of point production and exciting play down the stretch that has made him one of the most exciting players in the NHL. His 91-point season total is his second best ever and his 48 assists are a new career-high. There is no doubt that John Anderson’s decision to bestow Kovalchuk with the captain’s “C” was the spark that lit Ilya’s phenomenal 2009. After the calendar turned to the new year, Kovy scored 31 goals and notched 23 assists in 41 games. Despite his spirited play (including dropping the gloves near the end of the season), there were still mistakes in Ilya’s game. In the final 10 games of the season, Kovalchuk began hanging out in the neutral zone when the opposing team had puck possession down deep. Personally, I thought that Ilya was less-dangerous on the powerplay this season because he rarely altered his plan of attack. Every player cannot be perfect and Kovalchuk’s strengths outweigh his weaknesses.
Offseason Outlook: There is one year left on Ilya’s contract and everybody knows it. Waddell has stated that his goal is to sign Kovalchuk, but I think Ilya will be very patient, if not reluctant, to sign early in the summer. The captain has made some comments about getting established skill players through free agency, but Waddell has shown commitment to growing this team through youth. Could the franchise direction and the superstar growing into his prime be at an impasse? I want Kovalchuk to re-sign, I think that
Slava Kozlov (26-50 = 76; -14) – Slava, how did we ever doubt thee? A 41-point season a year ago had Thrasher fans clamoring on about whether or not Kozlov had lost it or was finished. Two minor surgeries to repair nagging injuries and a full year later has erased doubts that Kozlov is anywhere near the end of his point producing career. Kozlov was a technician on the powerplay for much of the season, many times feasting off the man-advantage. In my opinion, there is no doubt that Slava’s heady play and extra-man playmaking was a huge part of
Offseason Outlook: One more year left on Slava’s contract as well, but his situation is much different than Kovalchuk’s. Kozlov has already taken less money to stay with the Thrashers in the past and if he feels his career still has legs by the end of next season, I think
Todd White (22-51 = 73; -9) – Another player that struggled two seasons ago and caught a lot of flack from the fan base, Todd White was a breath of fresh air for the 2008-09 campaign. White spent half of the year playing with Kozlov-Little and the other half centering Kovalchuk, Little, and Armstrong at times. As a whole, White was much stronger on his skates and in the corners than a year ago. With the addition of Rich Peverley and a 30-point season from Marty Reasoner, the Thrashers still don’t have a true first line center, but there is some scoring depth down the middle.
Offseason Outlook: White has two more years left on his contract which carries much more value after his production this season. Aside from Angelo Esposito, the Thrashers currently don’t have a top six center prospect in the wings so Todd White should have relative job security going into next season.
Offseason Outlook: Rest.
Colby Armstrong (22-18 = 40; +5) – In his first full season with the Atlanta Thrashers, Colby Armstrong was a steadying force; especially in the second half. Colby, like many Thrashers, looked lost for large parts of games at the beginning of the season. It seemed as if he didn’t know whether to be a grinder or a scorer and Anderson compounded that confusion by using him the top six and on the third line. When Rich Peverley was acquired, the Thrashers forward lines began to take shape on Armstrong found a comfortable role as a gritty RW on the ice with Rich and Slava Kozlov. The three were very adept at working the boards and cycling down low in the opposition’s zone. Armstrong’s 22 goals, a career-high, provided some much needed scoring depth. Among Thrasher fans, there had been a underlying thought that Armstrong took a long time to adjust to life in a Thrasher sweater… some even thought he pined to go back to
Offseason Outlook: Colby is a restricted free agent and is in line for a nice little bonus. Army was a sought after commodity at the trade deadline and there could be a chance that Canadian team looking for grit might try and swipe him away from the Thrashers. Personally, I think Armstrong re-signs in
Ron Hainsey (6-33 = 39; -16) – Ron Hainsey’s season might best be described as up-and-down. Signing a large contract with
Offseason Outlook: According to Don Waddell, the Thrashers will be in the market for a top four defenseman come July 1. This would be good news for Hainsey as Ron doesn’t need to rack up the type of minutes he was required to play this season. I’m not sure if Ron’s deal is going to be worth his numbers, but Hainsey is a good veteran presence and fit for
Rich Peverley (15-29 = 44; +13) – Acquired from Nashville of waivers on January 10, Rich Peverley may be Don Waddell’s best acquisition since the trade that brought Marc Savard to the Thrashers. Peverley has tremendous stick skill, a confidence on the puck, and great skating speed. Rich’s shot is above average and Pevs seemed to find chemistry with everyone and anyone he stepped onto the ice with this season. In 39 games with
Offseason Outlook: Peverley’s point production with
Tobias Enstrom (5-27 = 32; +14) – The groupthink idea about Toby’s 2008-09 season is that he struggled early, Havelid was traded, Enstrom was paired with Bogosian, and all of a sudden Tobias was on fire. This has some truth to it, especially when regarding point production, but Enstrom’s season is not as rocky as it may have seemed. Tobias was a plus or even player in 60 of 82 games this season and ended the year with a +/- in the green; +14. Toby’s offensive play was jump started by the trading of Havelid and his return to the top powerplay unit, which resulted in a much more confident, aggressive defensive weapon. Was Tobias’ early season struggle a sophomore slump? Was he content after signing a contract extension? Maybe so… but we got to see the real Tobias Enstrom in the final 50 games.
Offseason Outlook: Enstrom is locked up for a while and let’s hope that he comes back more prepared for this coming season than last September. Tobias is a special talent and I loved the emotion out of his game at the end of the season. Enstrom always had a stoic look when paired with Havelid, but the younger Swede came out of his shell after his elder statesman departed.
Marty Reasoner (14-16 = 30; +11) – To get 30 points, determined play, great defensive effort, and faceoff wins out of the third line center spot is a tremendous boost to a team. Marty Reasoner personified the type of attitude, effort, and dedication that John Anderson wanted from his team the entire season… this is why Reasoner won the Player’s Player Award. Marty scored some big goals for the Thrashers this season and rarely ever made mistakes on the ice. The only major detraction from Marty’s season was the horribleness of the penalty kill with Reasoner as one of the main killers.
Offseason Outlook: Reasoner is an unrestricted free agent starting July 1, but Don Waddell has stated the organization’s desire to keep Reasoner and Marty has expressed an interest to stay. Unless Marty asks for an unreasonable amount of money, then this is a deal that should get done.
Eric Perrin (7-16 = 23; -2) – Perrin’s season was one of frustration on many levels. With some new additions to the Thrashers top six, including the emergence of
Offseason Outlook: Perrin will probably not be back for the Thrashers next season for a multitude of reasons. His comments, lack of production, and the Thrashers emerging checking line youth (LaVallee, Holzapfel, Machacek). Despite the comments made by Perrin, the Thrashers have done everything within their control to help him out… he was put on waivers but kept on the main roster, Anderson played him a lot (as if the comments were never made), and Perrin produced some highlights at the end of the season. However, if Perrin wants a top six job, he may have to go back to
Erik Christensen (5-14 = 19; -7) – A failed experiment from the Marian Hossa trade, Erik Christensen struggled mightily in
Zach Bogosian (9-10 = 19; +11) – In 47 games of his rookie season, Zach Bogosian turned heads… again and again. Rivaling Ilya Kovalchuk in exciting the crowd, Bogosian came back from a broken leg and a stint in
Offseason Outlook: Get bigger, faster, stronger and come back with the same intensity and nastiness that he played the final 20 games of the year with… this kid is going to be great.
Jason Williams (7-11 = 18; -9) – When Williams was signed late in the summer of 2008, I thought that Jason was going to be a guy that could come in and play a versatile role and chip in offensively on a regular basis. Instead, the Thrashers got a player that was completely lost in the John Anderson school of hockey. Williams would skate listlessly around the neutral zone without any intent to play defense or do some checking. Williams was shipped off to
Jim Slater (8-10 = 18; E) – Missing 20 games this season might have prevented Jimmy Slater from setting a new career-high in points and goals. Slater has caught a lot of slack from Thrashers fans over the years for his lack of balance, hands, and not living up to his first round draft status. Regardless of where he was drafted, Slater is a great fourth line center… which real hockey fans will acknowledge is an important part of the game. I think Jimmy’s skating game has improved and the fact that he can jump on the kill every now and again will only increase his value to the team.
Offseason Outlook: The Thrashers have some decisions to make on their RFAs and Jimmy Slater is one of those players. Slater doesn’t have much competition behind him unless
Mathieu Schneider (4-11 = 15; -10) – A salary cap filler, Schneider came in as a veteran presence and gap-filler. Schneider fought some injuries and poor play in the first part of his season, but Mathieu started to come around a couple of weeks before he was traded to
Chris Thorburn (7-8 = 15; -10) – After being moved around on a couple of line combinations in the first 30 games or so, Chris Thorburn found his home where it has always been in the NHL: the fourth line. Thor’s game is a physical, high-speed brand of hockey and, for a fourth liner, Chris works hard in the corners with soft hands, relatively speaking. Too many times this season Thorburn vanished from the physical side of the game. Chris had his share of bouts, but there were crucial times in games, especially in the first half of the season, where Thor didn’t provide the fisticuffs.
Offseason Outlook: With John Anderson giving Joey Crabb a vote of confidence after sending him to the minors (paraphrasing, Anderson said that he expects Crabb to be with Atlanta full-time next year), Chris Thorburn is going to be in a tight spot as a RFA this offseason. Waddell has said one of his goals is to get a top six winger, undoubtedly at RW, and that pushes Armstrong down to a third line RW… if Crabb is on the team, where is Thor?
Niclas Havelid (2-13 = 15; +4) – Nic Havelid’s career as an Atlanta Thrasher came to an end during the 2008-09 season when he was dealt to New Jersey. The move is more than just a hockey business deal, but a transition from old to young for the Thrashers. Havelid, as dependable as he was, didn’t fit into John Anderson’s mobile defensive hockey system. Nic played extremely well in his time in
Eric Boulton (3-10 = 13; -3) – Boults catches a lot of flack from a certain contingent of Thrasher fans for not being a heavyweight, but there is no questioning that Eric is tough as nails on the ice. For his size and role on the team, Boulton has delivered some of the most entertaining fights in Thrashers history. What makes Eric a valuable enforcer is his solid skating stride and knack for a big play. Boulton had 13 points and was just a -3 for
Offseason Outlook: Boulton is signed through next season and will certainly find himself on the wing of the fourth line in
Nathan Oystrick (4-8 = 12; -2) – A surprise out of training camp to make the Thrashers, Nathan Oystrick filled in admirably as the seventh defenseman.
Offseason Outlook: Oystrick will be a category VI free agent this summer and I’m not sure exactly what
Joey Crabb (4-5 = 9; -2) – In 29 games with the big club this season, Joey Crabb might have earned himself a spot on next year’s squad with his agitating, chippy play. Though not a large human, Crabb played a feisty game at the NHL level. What makes Crabb so valuable is that he is a good penalty killer and has a tireless work effort. Joey still needs to be consistent on a night-to-night basis to be a regular in the NHL.
Offseason Outlook: As mentioned earlier, Crabb received a big vote of confidence from John Anderson when he was last sent down to
Colin Stuart (5-3 = 8; +3) – In 33 games for Atlanta in 2008-09, Colin Stuart provided a boost to the penalty kill unit and the third line with inspired play night-in and night-out. A great skater with sneaky hands, Stuart was a force on the penalty kill with three SHG and one SHA. After a great start last year in his call-up, Stuart tailed off… this year that did not happen as Colin took full advantage of his call-up. Colin plays a very safe game so it is hard to find any harsh criticisms of his play, but everyone on the penalty kill gets deducted for the overall unit’s poor showing this year.
Offseason Outlook: Colin appears to have played himself into a chance for an everyday role for a full 82 next season. However, if the Thrashers do some upgrading in the top six (free agency or draft), Stuart could be one of the players that gets knocked down the depth chart. Stuart is signed through next season.
Garnet Exelby (0-7 = 7; -2) – Exelby was limited to just 59 games of action this season because of a broken leg that Garnet actually attempted playing on. Exelby had 120 PIMs and returned to his customary game, using his fists, more often than in years’ past. However, after a strong start positionally, Exelby hit ruts this season. A vocal leader on the team and a fun player to have, Garnet needed to be better this year to live up to his salary.
Offseason Outlook: Exelby will be making $1.725 million next season before becoming a free agent. If Waddell could find a suitor, Exelby could be potential trade bait this offseason… especially if
Boris Valabik (0-5 = 5; -14) – Valabik now has 57 games under his NHL belt with 50 coming this season. Boris showed signs of the type of defender the Thrashers brass drafted in the first round a few years ago, but Valabik also showed signs that his lateral mobility and on-ice decision making is not quite up to NHL speed. Heeded by fans for more rough stuff, I thought Valabik was very good about clearing the crease and dropping the gloves when need be. The last two games that Boris played were his best and if he can continue to improve on that effort for next year he should come into camp with a spot to lose… rather than win one away.
Offseason Outlook: As a RFA, the Thrashers shouldn’t have too much trouble negotiating a new deal for Boris. Valabik is still young, 23, and growing as an NHL player. Not likely a top four player, Valabik will have to muck things up to stay with
Anssi Salmela (1-2 = 3; E) – In nine games with Atlanta after being acquired a few days before the trade deadline for Niclas Havelid, Anssi Salmela was impressive. Though he didn’t quite take Thrasher fans by storm a la Rich Peverley, Salmela was a different kind of acquisition. A slow, strong, meanderer of the puck, Anssi showed the skills of a future powerplay quarterback (though
Joe Motzko (1-0 = 1; +1) – Motzko played in six games for Atlanta and scored one goal… other than that Joe didn’t really make a ripple in the NHL. Motzko is just about all but labeled a AAAA hockey player.
Offseason Outlook: Motzko is a RFA and will only be retained as a depth forward, not as a serious threat to make the roster.
Brett Sterling (1-0 = 1; -3) – Brett also appeared in six games for the Thrashers registering one goal, but Brett also nabbed a SO victory with a late round GWG.
Offseason Outlook: Signed for one more season, Brett will get another look in training camp but his road is almost entirely up hill at this point.
Grant Lewis (0-0 = 0; E) – Played in one game and I thought Grant looked pretty good. Lewis was jumping into the play, taking the puck deep, and seemed very comfortable in John Anderson’s system. Unfortunately, when Grant got back to
Offseason Outlook: As a RFA that is injured, Grant has a serious battle on his hands. I’d like to see
Spencer Machacek (0-0 = 0; E) – With a great season down in Chicago and a cup of coffee for Atlanta this year, I think Spencer Machacek has primed himself for a chance to make an NHL roster next fall. Machacek has a good, albeit hirky jerky, skating stride and is a digger in the corners. In his two NHL games I thought Spencer was chasing a little bit, but other than that he looked as if he could play serviceably on the lower lines.
Offseason Outlook: The Thrashers are going to try and get deeper up front so Spencer is going to have be very good over the next four or five months for a serious shot at the roster. Machacek should have every opportunity to make the team, but starting the year in
Jordan LaVallee (0-0 = 0; -1) – For the second straight season, Jordan LaVallee was called up for a two game stint with the big club.
Offseason Outlook: A critical contract situation for LaVallee as he is a RFA this offseason.
Clay Wilson (0-0 = 0; -1) –
Offseason Outlook: Another category VI unrestricted free agent, the Thrashers will gauge what they liked and didn’t like about
Kari Lehtonen (19-22-3 3.06 GAA .911 SV % 3 SO) – Another year from Kari Lehtonen with spurts of greatness and time spent injured. Lehtonen had sever back spasms in December that kept him out of a large chunk of games. When Kari returned, he wasn’t quite sharp until six or seven starts into his comeback. Then, for a long period of time through January and February, Lehtonen was stopping everything. His numbers are mediocre and the results of this season are dull, but Kari did show that, when healthy, he can be the anchor for the Thrashers.
Offseason Outlook: Aside from Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract status, Kari Lehtonen will be the most talked about Thrasher in the rumor mill. As a RFA for yet another season, Lehtonen hasn’t done much to improve his bargaining status. Had Ondrej Pavelec played well in his NHL time, Lehtonen might even have been moved at the deadline… he still might. I expect Kari to sign in
Johan Hedberg (13-12-3 3.49 GAA .886 SV % 0 SO) – Another year and another solid season as a backup goalie for Johan Hedberg. Not spectacular or flashy, the Moose is a competitor. As competitive as he is, the early season must have been hard for Hedberg as he struggled to find his game. A winning record is the result of a good second half, but the Moose will not be pleased with his save percentage or the amount of points the Thrashers left on the table.
Offseason Outlook: Johan is signed through next year, but
Ondrej Pavelec (3-7-0 3.60 GAA .880 SV % 0 SO) – With all of the hype surrounding Ondrej Pavelec coming into the season, the Thrashers goalie of the future was thoroughly disappointing in his NHL time this season. After winning a Calder Cup in the AHL last season, Pavelec caused an uproar when his agent flew off the handle to the press about Don Waddell and the Thrashers organization. Ondrej had a golden opportunity, with Lehtonen out for an unknown amount of time, to make a statement for his case as the starter. Pavelec, behind a poor playing team, choked away his chances… one by one. For a goalie to be so highly touted and skilled, Ondrej has not made his path to the NHL any easier.
Offseason Outlook: The Thrashers are still very high on Ondrej and covet him as an asset, either to mind the net in Philips Arena or for a hefty price. Pavelec is a great prospect, but until he puts together a string of games like Lehtonen has done in his career then Ondrej is going to remain just that… a prospect. Pavelec’s training camp next season could shape his career.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Initial reaction from 99.9 percent of Atlanta Thrashers fans? Who?
Anssi Salmela is a hard-nosed, hard-shooting blueliner that has been tagged with the label “offensive defenseman.” Salmela is somewhere between 5-11 and 6-0 tall and 185-195 lbs. according to different sports websites and has been in involved in some shady moments both on and off the ice.
Salmela is rumored to have been in a bar fight in Finland a couple years ago and also took on David Backes (one very tough customer) at the World Junior Championships not too long ago. Anssi is 24 years old an was an undrafted free agent signed this summer by New Jersey.
Before coming to North America, Salmela played for Tappara Tampere in the Finnish League with Thrasher prospects Jonas Enlund and Niclas Lucenius, both forwards. According to Ben Wright of the Blueland Blog, Don Waddell had between 35-40 scouting reports on Salmela before he pulled the trigger on this deal.
Anssi has played 17 games with the Devils this season with three assists and six minutes in the penalty box. Salmela has scored well at the AHL level with 24 points (8 goals, 16 assists) with Lowell, New Jersey’s minor league affiliate.
Also in the Blueland Blog were Waddell’s plans for Anssi Salmela. Due to a blow to the head in an AHL game last week, Salmela has been off the ice recently. Atlanta plans on sending Salmela to Chicago for a conditioning stint over the weekend and then calling him up for the road trip that begins on Monday.
Some other news and notes involving this trade… Waddell said he received offers for 2nd round picks but opted for a player that could step in now… The Thrashers didn’t settle for Salmela but actually got a player they wanted (according to Waddell)… Due to little ice time at the ECHL level, Myles Stoesz’s agent had asked Waddell to look into the option of moving Stoesz to a team that might give him an opportunity.
So, there is the news… Zim’s take:
• Not that this was near as dramatic as the Marian Hossa saga of last season (that obviously affected the team’s play on ice), but the Thrashers’ moving their biggest chip in the early stages of the “trade frenzy” might not be such a distraction to the team tonight as they take on the Panthers.
• Anssi Salmela is young, experienced, and tough as nails. The Thrashers are starting to assimilate a defensive unit that has players with multiple skill sets. So many years in the past Atlanta has had a tough guy that can’t skate or shoot or an offensive-minded powerplay specialist that can’t play a lick in his own zone. Salmela brings a chippy game with some offensive upside. He’s by no means a blue chip, but the Thrashers seem to think he’ll fit the system.
• Salmela is Finnish. I know this might not seem like a big deal, but Kari Lehtonen is a Finn and communication, along with comfort, for foreign players in North America can be very helpful on the ice. The Thrashers also have a pretty promising center prospect in Jonas Enlund that has already played with Salmela and doesn’t know much English. Salmela, though not brought in for this purpose in any way, shape, or form, could help the small, but potentially growing group of Finnish players on the Thrashers.
• Salmela is cheap and an RFA after this season. Anssi is making $562,000 and unless he completely impresses in the final 19 games of the season, Salmela won’t be too expensive to re-sign.
• With Havelid and Schneider gone, the Thrashers have committed to the youth movement… especially on the blueline. In honesty, this is what I’ve wanted all along; to grow defensemen together. With veteran presence from Ron Hainsey and Garnet Exelby, the young group of Zach Bogosian, Boris Valabik, Anssi Salmela, Nathan Oystrick, and possibly Artus Kulda are part of the immediate future. Atlanta also has brought up Grant Lewis, maybe to play tonight, along with Chad Denny, Scott Lehman, Brett Skinner, and Clay Wilson as depth defensemen. The Thrashers have some promising youngsters in Paul Postma (tearing up the WHL) and Andrei Zubarev (highly touted Russian).
• First and foremost, the Thrashers lose a consummate professional and a rock steady presence on the blueline in Niclas Havelid. Though it may not be a boast to call Niclas Havelid the best defenseman in franchise history, the fact is that it is true.
• Waddell is taking a slight risk on Salmela. He’s not an established talent and Waddell has yet to see a similar trade that brought promising, but unproven players to Atlanta (Hossa bringing back Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen) pay off.
• The Thrashers could have tried to push the price up by waiting until closer to the deadline. Waddell was receiving offers that included 2nd round picks. In a deep draft, the Thrashers could have picked up a second pick in that round and draft three of the top-60 players available in the world. There is always a chance that Salmela will not be as good as the player that could have been drafted.
• If Salmela does play in the NHL, Atlanta still has seven defenseman and somebody is going to have to sit each and every game. Honestly, this doesn’t bother me as I believe that Nathan Oystrick is a perfectly serviceable seventh defenseman in the NHL.
To me, the pros outweigh the cons on this deal. Atlanta gets a player that the front office wanted, for whatever reason, and right now I trust that judgement. I’ve been much more impressed with the type of young talent that Waddell has brought in over the past three drafts/seasons. The Rich Peverley acquisition has worked out well, I’m willing to wait on Anssi Salmela.
Personally, with some of the youth already in the system and the fact that we still have all of our draft picks for June and then some, I like Waddell’s approach of trying to find players that can contribute now or very soon. Prospects and promising young players are the GM’s targets this deadline and I agree.
Everybody always wants to look at draft picks as the right way to go, but the percentages are lower than you might think… I believe The Falconer valued 2nd round picks as yielding NHL regulars 15-20 percent of the time.
I look forward to watching Anssi Salmela the rest of this season and I certainly wish Niclas Havelid well in New Jersey. We will miss his steady play.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Making up lines is not as simple as just putting three guys on the ice at a time and hoping that everything goes well. There are schools of thought, prevailing ideas, style of play considerations, and many more moving parts that factor into the forming and breaking up of line combinations.
As an Atlanta Thrashers intensive web log, Slightly Off-Topic will focus on the overall themes of line combinations, but relate those ideas to John Anderson and our interpretations of his forward jumblings.
The first part of this discussion is going to seem relatively obvious for true hockey fans, but we are going to go through it anyways. First, we must identify the lines themselves. In the traditional forms, the four forward lines usually serve these roles:
First Line – A scoring line that normally features each team’s most dangerous offensive player. The #1 line is called such because the idea is that a team’s top line is the trio of forwards that delivers the most offensive production. This does not always mean that the three most talented offensive players make up this line, but rather the three players that consistently provide offensive zone time… at the least.
Second Line – May feature great offensive threats, like the first line, but generally provides depth scoring. In hockey, there are many great players that aren’t considered “first line material,” but still have the offensive skill set to be top six players. The top six forward slots are generally reserved for point producing NHL players. There are exceptions to every rule and depending on some of the line philosophies that we will look at later in this entry, teams may decide to purposely put a bottom six style player into a top six role. In general, the second line is a unit that doesn’t have the same level of skill as the first line, but is cast in an offensive role.
Third Line – The most diverse line on most teams, the third line is a swing line for many coaches. Traditionally, the third line has been a defensively sound trio of forwards that has some, but not much, offensive punch. Many teams, in today’s NHL, look to the third line to provide energy and forechecking. The type of players that make up third lines usually have some grit to their game, but also provide depth on offense. Many NHL teams will feature a 20-goal scorer on the third line, but generally it is a unit that has a defense-first mentality.
Fourth Line – In most cases, the fourth line is a unit that is built solely to provide toughness and energy. Of four lines, the fourth (obviously) will get the least minutes on ice. This should allow the fourth line to have fresh legs each and every shift… leading to strong forechecking shifts and some agitating play. The fourth line will normally feature a NHL team’s most likely fighting option. Goals are few and far between for the fourth line, but any offensive contribution generally comes as a result of a strong forecheck.
In a nutshell, those are loose descriptions of what the four forward lines look like in the NHL traditionally. As coaches begin to evaluate their rosters and start piecing together line combinations, I am of the belief that most hockey coaches will try and do two things first:
1.) Every coach is going to identify the most likely sources of offense. Essentially, where are the goals going to come from? For Atlanta Thrashers fans, there is one obvious choice to start with and he comes in a 6-2, Russian sized wrapper. That man is Ilya Kovalchuk. When assigning line combinations, Ilya Kovalchuk is the star of the show… who gets to play with him? How does he get used? Who has chemistry with him? Ah, the C-word… an opinionated, intangible quality of a line.
2.) What are my weaknesses? Every coach knows what their strengths and weaknesses are going to be and in some cases a certain combination of lines may be able to hide some of those problems. If Atlanta, as a team, does not match up in a certain way, such as speed, size, or skill, then the coaches’ job is to mask that weakness as best he can.
It is at this point, when the strengths and weaknesses of a team’s forward unit has been identified, that the overall schools of thought come into play. What I mean by this is that some coaches have different ideas of how lines should work.
There is a common perception that balance is an important theme when creating lines. The size, speed, and skill of the forwards must be balanced so that other teams have a hard time matching up.
As an example, earlier in the season John Anderson put defensive-minded players Marty Reasoner and Chris Thorburn onto a line with offensively-gifted, but defensively-challenged Ilya Kovalchuk. What was the purpose of this line? In the past, Kovalchuk had shown some decent chemistry with Chris Thorburn on his right wing and even further back, Ilya had done well with chippy right wingers (Mellanby, Sim, Petrovicky).
Anderson, noting this, might have tried to mask Kovalchuk’s deficiencies on the backend by putting out more responsible two-way players. At the same time that John Anderson tried this trio, his second unit of Slava Kozlov, Todd White, and Bryan Little were producing many offensive chances and points. Anderson could afford to tinker with Kovalchuk’s line.
Balance is not always the way. Depending on the personnel of a team, an overloading tactic is a possibility as well. There are many teams in the NHL that have three premier players that play on the same line. The most obvious example is the Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley line in Ottawa. Rather than attempting to balance the scoring, the Senators have gone with the one dominating offensive line that gets a ton of minutes and gives opposing teams fits in the match-up game.
Personally, I like balance in the lines and I think it is evident that John Anderson feels the same way.
Now the difficult part of creating lines… what works? This is where chemistry sets in. An attribute of a line that some people see and others don’t and when the others that don’t see it do, then the ones who saw it don’t anymore… confusing right? So is the mystery of chemistry.
With the broad theme of full set of lines in place, the hard part is taking the pieces and connecting them together. What makes that even more difficult is that the puzzle is constantly shifting and changing… rendering something that fit and looked good at one point totally useless 15 games later.
Each hockey coach, whether they will admit it or not, has an idea of what will and won’t work. With that idea in place, many hockey coaches will try the same thing over and over again hoping that it will finally click. Sometimes it does and other times it does not… it’s just a human tendency… to want to make your ideas work.
There is a philosophy that playmakers don’t necessarily need the most talented players around them to be successful. Example: Joe Thornton hops on a line with Jonathan Cheechoo in San Jose a few years ago and Cheechoo scores 52 goals.
There is a philosophy that a North American style large winger can benefit by playing with teammates that play an east-to-west, lateral style game. Example: Mike Knuble this season with Philadelphia.
There is a philosophy that having the top two offensive lines with different styles, one with a puck possession game and the other a quick-hitting, on the rush style will keep an defense off-balanced. Example: This season’s Boston Bruins.
There are countless hockey philosophies, but the most important aspect when creating and dealing with line combinations is flow. Similar to chemistry, but not the same, flow the part of the game that you notice without noticing.
Chemistry is knowing what the other player is going to do and when they are going to do it… a trust and a complimenting style of play. Flow is the execution of that complimenting style of play. What we are seeing from Bryan Little and Ilya Kovalchuk in the current line situation for the Thrashers is the development of chemistry, but the flow of their games was already intertwined.
Little and Kovalchuk play the game at the same pace and fill lanes, gaps, and patches of ice for each other.
There is no science to making line combinations. It is an art in which the players themselves are self-propelled brushes painting wonderful masterpieces or chaotic confusion. The coach just gives or doesn’t give them the opportunity.
For the Thrashers current lines, I believe that John Anderson is trying to create a balanced, unified attack. The speed that Kovalchuk and Little have is unmatched by any other Thrasher. Todd White may not share the chemistry with those two that Rich Peverley could, but White is holding his own.
Peverley, in turn, has shown pretty good chemistry with any linemates and that has continued with Marty Reasoner and Slava Kozlov. With a not-so-educated guess, I believe that Reasoner is playing second line minutes to be showcased for a potential trade.
The third line has received a speed boost from Colin Stuart and Erik Christensen as Anderson has really placed at least one strong skater on every line. Stuart’s offensive skills are solid and Colby Armstrong is on pace for a 20-goal season. Christensen, despite his struggles, has an offensive mind, but has played slightly better on defense as the third line center than he did on the first or second lines.
The fourth line provides the grit with Boulton and Thorburn. Eric Perrin has played extremely well and skated with purpose over the last 15 games. When Jim Slater is healthy to return, the Thrashers have a very energetic and opportunistic fourth line that is usually defensively sound.
As a whole, with the current success, these lines make a certain amount of sense for Anderson. I think that Reasoner is not long for the top six, despite his good play. Erik Christensen isn’t a prototypical third line center and has struggled to stay in the lineup this season. I don’t think Todd White is a #1 center. It is my opinion that White is better in the number two slot and without Kovalchuk to his left.
Would I do the lines differently? Initially yes, but there is a method to Anderson’s line of thinking and he’s not just flipping lines around, like Bob Hartley, to hope that something sticks. John has a reason for what he’s doing with the forwards and in recent days that has translated to some success on the ice… which we can all appreciate.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
But first, there is more pressing news… though old by now, Mathieu Schneider has been traded to the Montreal Canadiens for a 2nd round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft (originally
I’d diagram this trade from a Canadien perspective, but I just don’t care. The Thrashers were essentially able to trade Ken Klee and Brad Larsen for two third round or better picks in the next two drafts. An additional second rounder this year could be an extremely valuable asset. Due to the projected depth of this year’s draft class, holding two second round picks could be a large bargaining chip if
What this deal does for
Two second round picks, in such a deep draft, are going to be very important in complimenting whatever the Thrashers end up doing with the top-5 pick. If
The acquisition of Mathieu Schneider, though not necessarily successful on the ice, was a smart move by Waddell. Schneider filled salary requirements, relished a role of mentor for our young Zach Bogosian, brought a professional attitude to the ice every day, and then was moved for assets more valuable than what he cost to bring him here.
All-in-all, the Schneider saga in
Waddell did the right thing by moving Schneider now and getting a solid return. Since Schneider was the only blatently obvious tradable commodity, Waddell can now pick and choose on potential deals for the likes of Marty Reasoner, Colby Armstrong, Niclas Havelid, and any other Thrashers that might draw interest come March 4.
With Schneider in the review mirror, how about the Atlanta Thrashers and that killer offense, eh? Where did this come from?
Over the past two games, both wins over
But… (dang, not a but!), let’s be honest here.
Okay, I got the best of both worlds on Tuesday… watched Atlanta get a win after another sweet shootout move by Erik Christensen and also saw Anze score two goals and an assists. For those that may not know, I’m of Slovenian decent and Kopitar is the first to play in the NHL (but hopefully not the last… Go Jan Mursak in
As bad as the starting goalies were for both teams, nobody can take anything away from Ilya Kovalchuk. You see that article that is at the bottom of the blog? Cross that sucker out because Kovalchuk is back! The last two games, he’s been Ilya good. Ahem, by the way, Kovalchuk is now on pace for 41 goals (Monty… this is your big fat “I told you so.”).
Great start on the road trip, but
Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen on Thursday. I want it to happen, but I don’t think so. Coaches are weird creatures and John Anderson hasn’t won enough at the NHL level to change things up after a two game winning streak… unless somebody is banged up.
One guy that won’t be coming out of the lineup in favor of LaVallee is Colin Stuart. With back-to-back games netting a short-handed goal, Stuart might be making a player like Eric Perrin expendable on the trade market. Stuart has an NHL skating stride and he’s playing the type of game that could earn him an NHL paycheck. The key for Colin is to continue on the path… he played really well in his initial call-up last season, but eventually fell into a pattern of mediocrity. Hopefully, Colin learned his lesson and now knows what to bring on a nightly basis to stay in the NHL.
Great start to the trip. Great trade by Waddell. Great seeing Kovalchuk get hot. Even greater watching
Thursday, February 12, 2009
What does this mean?
This means that Joe Motzko, while playing decently in his NHL time with Atlanta, is not a part of the future for the Atlanta Thrashers. This means that Jordan LaVallee should get a chance to prove that he is worth a full-time roster spot for more than two NHL games. This means the line predictions before Sunday's game against the Anaheim Ducks will be plentiful.
We don't yet know where Jordan will play (most likely LW) and on which line (my guess is between a healthy Marty Reasoner and Colby Armstrong), but his role is actually pretty well defined: show up ready to play every day, give 100 percent, play defensively responsible, and use your size.
These are all aspects of LaVallee's game that should translate to the NHL. Will his 15 AHL goals lead to some scoring opportunities at this level? This blogster thinks so, but I have to admit that Jordan has been one of my favorite prospects since his drafting in 2005.
Don't expect highlight reel goals or no-look passes, but Jordan should bring a north-south, hard nosed game to the rink... a much needed style of play as the Thrashers embark on a Western Conference swing.
Good luck Jordan and earn yourself an NHL paycheck!
Today, Thursday, February 12, 2009 at whatever time this finally gets posted, I have no such cool, laser-guided, music-pumping, introduction. I thought briefly about having some sort of chess reference and how the Thrashers don’t have the right pieces in place to implement a successful strategy. Upon further review, that intro was really lame… so this is what you get. I hope you are still reading.
On-Topic: RE: Thrashers defense via the personnel… forward we go. This is Part Two.
As layed out on Monday, the most glaring problem with the Atlanta Thrashers defense, in my estimation, is the lack of a consistent, aggressive forecheck. Before I go clamoring on about how Jordan LaVallee is a perfect fit and Riley Holzapfel is the checking line center of the future, let us discuss the type of attributes that players need to have in an aggressive forecheck… in order of importance.
- Everyday I’m Hustlin’ – The most important part of a successful forecheck is hard work. The whole concept surrounding a good press is to force turnovers based on offensive third pressure. A team that is willing to work tirelessly on the forecheck is going to create tons of opporunities through sheer work ethic.
- I feel the need, the need for speed – Skating, more specifically. Straight foot speed is a bonus, but overall skating ability is more important to the forecheck. The difference between them is simple. Skating incorporates speed, but also factors in acceleration, the ability to change directions (mobility), and response time (agility). Forwards need to have all or a combination of most of these skating skills to be relatively effective on the forecheck.
- Who is responsible for this? – Otherwise known as the mythical, intangible “hockey sense.” Responsibility on the ice is difficult to gauge. Some players are taught a responsible role from an early age, others are taught much later on… even at the NHL level. Discipline and awareness are integral working parts of a player becoming responsible. In an aggressive forecheck, a team must have hockey savvy players that are aggressive at the right times. Responsibility factors in when a player makes the wrong decision, but is able to recover in some form or fashion. This is all just a hurricane of words to do describe a good defender.
With these three broad aspects in mind, who on the current Thrashers team has what? I’ve compiled a list of the current Thrashers forwards as of the current date with each players forechecking qualities. You may disagree, if so, please note why in the comments section… I’d love some feedback on this.
Colby Armstrong – 1, 3
Eric Boulton – 1, 3
Erik Christensen – 2
Ilya Kovalchuk – 2
Slava Kozlov – 3
Joe Motzko - 3
Eric Perrin – 1, 2, 3
Rich Peverley – 1, 2, 3
Marty Reasoner – 1, 3
Jim Slater – 1, 2
Colin Stuart – 1, 2, 3
Chris Thorburn – 1
Todd White – 3
Now, I know there is going to be some disagreement, especially when you factor in some of the performances of these players this season. Please keep in mind that this is based purely on an attribute level, not on performance this season.
Out of the current Thrashers forwards, I see four players that consistently show all of the characteristics of a good forechecking forward.
Now, no team is going to have 13 forwards that will top the charts in all three categories. The main concern with the Atlanta Thrashers (and this is a team-wide concern, not just defensively) is that this team doesn’t have enough combination forwards. Guys that have at least two of the three forechecking qualities, plus intangibles like size or strength or good hands.
Take Todd White and Slava Kozlov for instance. These are both veteran players that were two-thirds of the Thrashers best scoring line for the first half of the season. The name of their game was puck possession though, not turnovers off the forecheck. White is a relatively responsible defensive player that has a good skating stride, but I wouldn’t say he skates as well as the other 2’s on that list. Personally, though Todd’s game has been much more consistent this season, I still see him conserving energy on the forecheck… the same goes for Kozlov.
Not every line has to be a force on the forecheck and that can work to the Thrashers advantage. However, if the system is to be uniform, then all of the players must at least play a style of the uniform forecheck. This is something that I, as a fan, have just not seen.
Now the fun part… who could help the Thrashers? Understanding what type of player the Thrashers need to be successful on the forecheck is the first step to finding out who can help this team and where.
In my opinion, the upgrade on the forecheck has to start in the bottom six. Though this could be a topic for a blog any other day, the Thrashers have tried to force many square bottom six pegs into top six circle slots.
Guys like Joe Motzko, Chris Thorburn, Marty Reasoner, and arguably Colby Armstrong are all bottom six players that have been given shots to play in a top six role. This is not a problem if there are some bonafide forecheckers and/or scoring options in the bottom six to level out the lines… but for the Thrashers there aren’t.
There will be plenty of free agent options, many of which won’t be Thrasher material (either by our or their own estimation) in July, but let’s focus on some of the Thrashers prospects that might have a chance to crack the lineup in the legitimate future.
Spencer Machacek – By all accounts, Machacek is nearly a 1, 2, 3 player already for the Wolves of Chicago. A right winger, Spencer has heralded by scouts for his tireless work ethic (#1 on my list for a good forechecker) and is also scouted as being good in the high traffic areas as well as in the corners. Machacek is the prototypical forechecking winger.
Where could he fit? It’s too early to peg Machacek for a top six role and especially not with the added pressure of playing the right side of Ilya Kovalchuk (dreamers take note). Machacek could definitely fill the role of an Eric Boulton, Joe Motzko, or even (if he gets moved) Colby Armstrong on the bottom lines by next season… depending on the deadline deals
Jordan LaVallee – Got a cup of coffee last season and with his size, fluid skating, physical presence, and work ethic, Jordan is certainly a 1,2 player and probably on his way to getting 3 down as well. With a couple years in the Wolves system, LaVallee has shown that he can put some pucks in the net, play the penalty kill, and deliver some sound body checks. For some reason, I have this feeling that the Thrashers want LaVallee to play more of a role like Chris Thorburn (enforcer with some offensive skill) rather than what I’d like to see him play (a Colby Armstrong-style player on the left side). I think
Where could he fit? Third line left wing spot looks perfect to me. Maybe not this season, but if Atlanta were to put LaVallee with Reasoner in the middle and Armstrong on the right side… oh man, that looks like a forechecking line to be reckoned with on a nightly basis. Once again though, I think the Thrashers want him to be a different type of player than he really is.
Riley Holzapfel – Apparently, Riley has third line center written all over him. I’ve seen less of Holzapfel than the other two, but Riley may not be strong enough up the middle to be a center at the NHL level. Holzapfel is another guy that has 1 and 2 of the above categories along with the potential to be a defensively sound player.
Where could he fit? Unless Marty Reasoner and Eric Perrin get moved at the deadline, Holzapfel won’t play center at the NHL level this season. I could definitely see Riley make the transition to left wing, at least to start off his NHL career. Colin Stuart said after he came up that both Machacek and Holzapfel were players to watch for as each was playing good hockey when Stuart left the Wolves.
I’m holding off until the deadline to state what the Thrashers should do at the forward position regarding call-ups. Atlanta my bring in a player or two that has NHL potential that might get a look over those three or a trade might open up a spot for one or two current Wolves.
The fact is that these three players could be very valuable in the Thrashers future as they look to improve the defense starting from up top.
So, 1,557 words later, the future of the Thrashers defense actually gets to the blueliners. With the trade deadline looming a little less than a month away, the Thrashers are sure to have a shake up on the backend. Mathieu Schneider is almost certainly guaranteed to be on the move and Niclas Havelid has been a subject of trade rumors as well.
The Thrashers actually have a couple of promising young defensemen that give rise to hope… if the forecheck can be fixed. Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Boris Valabik, and Nathan Oystrick all occupy NHL roster spots and are likely to do so for the rest of the season.
As this season has gone on, I’ve changed my view as to what this team needs at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Though this is also a topic for another blog, a much later blog, the Thrashers draft plans will affect what happens at the deadline this year.
Honestly, I think that Enstrom, Bogosian, Valabik, and Hainsey can all be above average defenders in the Eastern Conference. Bogosian and Enstrom have the talent to be extraordinary, Valabik can fill a role and be a steadying presence of physicalness, and Ron Hainsey the veteran presence.
Garnet Exelby is a mystery. He played well at the beginning of this season, but injury problems have really taken it’s toll on the type of game that Exelby used to play. A guy that would deliver bone-crunching hits, Exelby has gone away from the game that got him to the NHL. By the end of Ex’s contract, if he’s not a third pairing defensemen then
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