2008-09: 35-41-6 (13th in the East – Out of Playoffs)
Pre-Season TSN Power Ranking: 26
General Manager: Don Waddell (12th Season)
Head Coach: John Anderson (2nd Season)
What They Did In The Offseason:
It was a busy offseason in 'Hot-Lanta,' as the Thrashers did their best to re-work a roster that took a step backwards last season. The team started off by picking Vancouver Giants centre Evander Kane fourth overall in the NHL Entry Draft. Kane is a proven winner, having captured a Memorial Cup and gold medal for Canada at both the 2008 Ivan Hlinka tournament and the 2009 World Junior Championship. The budding sniper will be given every opportunity to make the team out of training camp and could well end up on one of the Thrashers' top two scoring lines.
General Manager Don Waddell also added some scoring punch to the team's blueline by sending Garnet Exelby and Colin Stuart to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Pavel Kubina and Tim Stapleton. The team then dipped into the free agent market by picking up Nik Antropov, Noah Welch and Anthony Stewart.
Biggest Issue facing the team:
The Thrashers' entire season will revolve around Ilya Kovalchuk. The Russian sniper is entering the final year of his contract and while the team would like to re-sign him, there is a good chance that he'll test the free agent market at the end of the season.
Waddell has been active in trying to strengthen the team in an effort to convince the two-time 50-goal scorer to remain in Atlanta. But the question remains - is it enough?
It would be hard to fault Kovalchuk for looking for a way out. He has played a grand total of four playoff games in his seven seasons with the Thrashers and a competitor like him would undoubtedly like to have the chance to play meaningful games in April.
One area where the Thrashers appear to have improved is along the blueline. The addition of Kubina, along with the development of Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom, should be able to cut down the 280 goals they allowed last season (only the Toronto Maple Leafs allowed more).
The team will also be looking for a bounce back campaign from netminder Kari Lehtonen. The Thrashers are hoping the back injuries that limited him last season are a thing of the past and the motivation of a one-year contract signed this off-season will be enough to goad a big season out of the Finnish keeper.
Player to watch:
While all eyes will be on Kovalchuk, it will be interesting to see how Antropov fits into the Thrashers plans. The lanky Kazakh has teased fans with his combination of size and skill and enjoyed his best offensive season last year while setting career highs in goals, assists, shots and games played. That final category may be the most important, as Antropov has battled injuries throughout his career.
While he appears to have shed the fragile label, he still remains a bit of an enigma. The Thrashers will be looking for a significant return on their $16 million investment and will need Antropov to provide an additional scoring punch so that teams can't focus solely on Kovalchuk. That may be a lot to ask of a player who is smack dab in the middle of his prime, but has yet to reach the 30-goal plateau in the NHL. If he is able to build on what he accomplished last year, Atlanta could be a real surprise in a wide-open Southeast Division. If he struggles or gets injured, the team will have no shot at reaching the post-season and the Kovalchuk era in Atlanta will most likely draw to a close.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
Fantasy interest in the Atlanta Thrashers begins with Ilya Kovalchuk, the prolific Russian sniper who has topped 40 goals in each of the last five seasons. Though Kovalchuk remains a plus-minus liability, he offsets somewhat with excellent power play production, tallying at least 30 power play points in each of the last five seasons.
The good news for the Thrashers is that they have more at their disposal than just Kovalchuk.
Free agent signee Nik Antropov has been much-maligned throughout his career, but scored a career-best 28 goals and 59 points last season. The big winger won't lack for chances in Atlanta.