Monday, April 13, 2009

Thrashers End of the Season Evaluation

At the end of every season, I like to go through and do a player-by-player evaluation of everybody that played for the Thrashers that season. This year is no different. Despite the fact that this is the first blog here at Slightly Off-Topic since March 3, I have not been working on this for the last month plus... I've just been really lazy, but that is going to change because the offseason is one of the most fun times to talk hockey.... oh yeah, the Stanely Cup playoffs or something like that is going on...

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, Anderson spent much of the season trying to find scoring balance and convincing his team to “buy-in” to his system. In the beginning of the season, all of the pieces Anderson had to play didn’t belong on his chess board. Slowly but surely, Don Waddell and Anderson began to put together a roster that resembled the type and style of players that the former Chicago Wolves coach could mold. I think, as fans, we witnessed a high level of resolve from Anderson this season. Losing has never been a part of his hockey coaching career and John was able to take the a team is disarray the first half of the season and put together a foundation for the coming years. I never expected this year’s team to be in the playoff hunt and the type of hope that Anderson’s Thrashers gave us during the second half of the year is the way to regain an excitement about this team. Don’t let us down.

Grade: B-

Offseason Outlook: Anderson needs to stay close to this team for the summer. Working with prospects to help improve organizational depth is a must, especially with some good talent turning pro this summer like Angelo Esposito and Paul Postma. Further development and assimilation of Europeans Anssi Salmela, Jonas Enlund, Nicklas Lasu, and Nicklas Lucenius is also important. Most importantly, Anderson and Waddell need to find some players that will help this team in the immediate future and help address the overall skill of the team.

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.

Grade: A

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 Atlanta can wrap him up, but I’m not going to expect anything.

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 Bryan Little’s success in front of the net. Kozlov was steady as a rock in 2008-09. The only criticisms of Kozlov’s game this season are ones that have been there his entire career; Slava remained streaky and had some games where he completely disappeared, but in my estimation those were few and far between.

Grade: A

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 Atlanta could retain Slava for a reasonable price. There is one thing that is nearly 100 percent certain about Slava… he will be in pristine physical condition come next September.

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.

Grade: A-

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.

Bryan Little (31-20 = 51; -5) – One of the few Thrashers who wasn’t tearing up the scoresheet down the stretch, Bryan Little completely revamped himself at the NHL level. B-Lits’ 30-goal season is a tremendous personal benchmark for just a 21-year old kid. Watching Little’s game, you’d think that most of his goals came on breakaways or off the rush… you’d be wrong. Bryan was a battler in front of the net and he took a beating doing it. I can’t help but think that Little’s lowered production towards the end of the season was the result of a grueling 82-game schedule at the highest level of hockey.

Grade: A-

Offseason Outlook: Rest. Bryan, despite being young (not a Young, but young), now knows what it takes to play a full season at the NHL level physically. Bryan is an important part of this team’s future and I think he will probably remain at right wing for the time being. Little is a legitimate top six forward with the capability to score 70-plus points.

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 Pittsburgh. I’m not sure how much I believe in those thoughts, but I do think that Colby now feels like he is a part of something in Atlanta, whereas before I though Armstrong looked like a player without an identity on the ice.

Grade: B

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 Atlanta for three or four years and becomes a fixture on the third line.

Ron Hainsey (6-33 = 39; -16) – Ron Hainsey’s season might best be described as up-and-down. Signing a large contract with Atlanta in the offseason put a lot of expectations on Hainsey and early on in the season Ron delivered. Hainsey racked up 16 points in the first 24 games and was on pace to shatter the franchise record for points by a defenseman in a season. However, Hainsey would go 57 games without scoring a goal before notching one in the season finale a few days ago. Ron had a rotating cast of defensive partners throughout the year, but played his best when paired with Garnet Exelby early in the season. Hainsey was asked to do a lot by his coach John Anderson and as the season wore on, Ron seemed to tire. His stand up defense wasn’t quite as effective late in the season and being paired with a young Boris Valabik compounded some of the problems. Despite struggling though the middle portion of the season, Hainsey’s 39 points still set the franchise record for points in a season.

Grade: C+

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 Anderson’s system.

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 Atlanta, Peverley notched 13 goals and 22 assists for 35 points. His point production is only outdone by his solid defensive play as Rich was a +16 while dawning an Atlanta jersey this year.

Grade: A

Offseason Outlook: Peverley’s point production with Atlanta over a full 82 would look like this: 27 goals, 46 assists, and 73 points. While I think that type of production for Rich is probably asking too much, Peverley could certainly be a 60-point man for Atlanta. His versatility makes him very valuable as Rich played center and wing for Atlanta this season.

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.

Grade: C+

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. Atlanta did score a ton of short-handed goals in 2009 and Marty was a big part of many of those (1 SHG, 5 SHA).

Grade: A+

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 Bryan Little and the resurgence of Slava Kozlov, Perrin was relegated to mostly third and fourth line duty for the season. After a 40-plus point season last year, Eric believe that he deserved a better shot at the top six than he got from head coach John Anderson. Perrin made this known to the French Quebec media when Atlanta played Montreal and once again to Mark Knobler of the AJC right before the trade deadline. Of course, that type of comment is not going to sit well for fans and the Thrashers faithful were not pleased in the slightest. However, Perrin, true to his word, said he would play his hardest for whatever team he was on for the duration of the season… and he did.

Grade: C-

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 Europe.

Erik Christensen (5-14 = 19; -7) – A failed experiment from the Marian Hossa trade, Erik Christensen struggled mightily in Atlanta. With stick-to-puck skills to spare, a good skating stride, faceoff winning capability, and a wicked wrister, EC looked primed for a spot at the Thrashers top center position. The 25-year old kid put too much pressure on himself and began to squeeze the stick tightly after a slow start… with each shot that went off the crossbar or sailed high, Christensen was losing confidence. When Atlanta acquired Peverley in January, the writing was on the wall and Christensen was sent to Anaheim for prospect Eric O’Dell. EC had nine points in 17 games for the Ducks.

Grade: F

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 Chicago with a purpose: to play nasty. Bogo mixed it up plenty of times this season and took on some major heavyweights. His great skating stride and well above average hockey sense, especially for his age, put Zach in all kinds of scoring situations. Zach’s stats projected over an 82 game schedule would look like this: 16 goals, 17 assists, 33 points. Bogosian’s only real problems will be corrected with experience in the league. An exhubarent 18-year old, Bogo can take himself out of position from time-to-time when making decisions at his own blueline.

Grade: B+

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 Columbus for Clay Wilson and a sixth rounder.

Grade: F

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.

Grade: B-

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 Atlanta wants to replace him with Riley Holzapfel (which they won’t because Riley has more offensive upside than a fourth line center) or Rylan Kaip. With his consistent effort on the ice and his community involvement off the ice, there is no reason that Waddell shouldn’t bring back Slater.

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 Montreal. Atlanta got draft picks in return and a good example for their young defenseman for 44 games. I’m not a believer that Schneider “mentored” Zach Bogosian on the ice, but there is no doubt that the two defensemen became sound friends during the season. Schneider is a professional hockey player in the truest sense, but he just wasn’t right for Atlanta in the long-term… and Waddell knew it all along.

Grade: C

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.

Grade: D+

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 Atlanta and, for now, I feel confident in saying that he was the Thrashers best all-around defenseman… but Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom are not far behind.

Grade: B-

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 Atlanta in a fourth line role… the fourth line role that he relishes.

Grade: B

Offseason Outlook: Boulton is signed through next season and will certainly find himself on the wing of the fourth line in Atlanta next season. Get some rest Boultsy, you’ve done well fighting for the crest on the front of the jersey this season.

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. Atlanta had a lot of movement on the backline in the forms of injuries and trades, but Oystrick was always poised and ready when needed. During the middle of the season, when Oystie was getting most of his ice time, I thought Nathan played hockey with a physical edge and a good nose for the pinch. Towards the end of the year, as Boris Valabik, Zach Bogosian, and Anssi Salmela received more ice time, Oystrick’s game seemed to fall off just a tad. Nathan showed he could be a Shane Hnidy type player, but he might have also given the Thrashers a glimpse of the ceiling of his game.

Grade: C

Offseason Outlook: Oystrick will be a category VI free agent this summer and I’m not sure exactly what Atlanta is going to do with him. Waddell already has four defensemen under contract for next season not including Valabik, Salmela, and Grant Lewis who are RFAs. Waddell has also inked Paul Postma and Arturs Kulda in the last year. If Atlanta does re-sign Oystrick, his role will be as a seventh defenseman and I doubt the deal will be longer than a year.

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.

Grade: C+

Offseason Outlook: As mentioned earlier, Crabb received a big vote of confidence from John Anderson when he was last sent down to Chicago. Joey has the type of game that will keep him in the bottom six in the AHL, but as another category VI unrestricted free agent, Atlanta will have to battle every other team for his services if he makes it to July 1 without a contract. Crabb could have value to other NHL teams.

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.

Grade: B

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.

Grade: C-

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 Atlanta goes with a defenseman in this June’s draft. I’d expect Garnet to be back wearing Thrasher blue come next September.

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.

Grade: C-

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 Atlanta for a full season next year.

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 Atlanta has plenty to choose from). Salmela was scouted as having a physical side as well, which we didn’t see much of in Atlanta. Personally, I liked the Havelid deal because of what Salmela showed in his nine games.

Grade: B

Offseason Outlook: Atlanta got a nice look at Anssi to gauge how the organization wants to approach negotiations this summer. Salmela is a RFA and, unless Waddell brings in a serious top four defender, Anssi could challenge for more ice time. I’m not opposed to having Salmela start the season off in Chicago next season, but I’m personally going to be rooting for him to make the team.

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.

Grade: D-

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. Sterling continues to struggle to translate his game from the AHL level to the show. Brett, sadly, may just be too small to be effective at the NHL level.

Grade: D+

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 Chicago he incurred a knee injury and missed the rest of the season.

Grade: INC

Offseason Outlook: As a RFA that is injured, Grant has a serious battle on his hands. I’d like to see Atlanta sign him to a one year deal, or thereabouts, and continue to keep organizational depth at the defense positions. Lewis has seventh or sixth defenseman potential.

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.

Grade: INC

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 Chicago couldn’t hurt.

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. Jordan started off slow in Chicago, but finished the year with 17 goals on a defense-minded team that wasn’t as talented as years past. LaVallee didn’t look particularly good in his two games in Atlanta, unlike last season. The coaching staff wants Jordan to be more physical and play with more energy.

Grade: INC

Offseason Outlook: A critical contract situation for LaVallee as he is a RFA this offseason. Jordan is too young to just let walk and Atlanta will find a way to sign him, but I fear that the Thrashers are starting to sour on LaVallee’s game. With Machacek and Holzapfel projecting as bottom six wingers, LaVallee is going to have to utilize his assets (size, speed, crunch) to make a play for the NHL roster.

Clay Wilson (0-0 = 0; -1)Wilson played two games for Atlanta at the end of the season after coming over in the Jason Williams trade. Clay was solid, but not spectacular in his two games with no major, glaring mistakes… or attributes.

Grade: INC

Offseason Outlook: Another category VI unrestricted free agent, the Thrashers will gauge what they liked and didn’t like about Wilson and make a decision on whether to offer him a contract. Clay will have complete freedom to choose his fate, which will likely be a depth defenseman for Atlanta… in Chicago.

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.

Grade: C

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 Atlanta and be the starter next season.

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.

Grade: C

Offseason Outlook: Johan is signed through next year, but Atlanta is expected to address it’s goaltending position at some point in the offseason. With Pavelec nipping at the heels of an NHL roster spot, Hedberg’s job could be in jeopardy.

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.

Grade: C-

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.

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