Monday, November 05, 2007

Atlanta's battle from the bottom

Even the worst teams in the league — Atlanta and Washington in the East, Edmonton and Phoenix in the West — are only three or four points out of a playoff spot. So there is little interest in selling and the quality that everybody is looking to buy — an experienced goal-scorer — is in short supply.
This is a point I'd meant to write about at some point — and certainly as it relates to the Thrashers.

Atlanta's 0-6 start prompted a collective head nodding in the hockey world, as if it was foreseen far and wide that this was a team headed for the basement, but even with a schedule that has seen them play their last seven games in a row on the road, they're 5-3-0 since coach Bob Hartley was shown the door. The important thing, from the Thrashers' perspective, is that they're scoring goals again, putting up four on the road in Ottawa in a 6-4 loss, and six more in a 6-4 win in Tampa Bay on the weekend.

Atlanta has the personnel to be one of the East's higher scoring teams, especially with rookie Tobias Enstrom now on the back end, but they're not going to accomplish anything without huge campaigns from Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk's back-to-back hat tricks vaulted him into the league goal-scoring lead, which is pretty impressive given his team's still sitting in last in the conference, 14 games in.

Speaking of Kovalchuk, one of the best pieces I read all day was from Mark Bradley at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the relationship between the star and Don Waddell, his GM-turned-coach:
“That’s the reason why I’m here,” said Kovalchuk, speaking of Waddell. “He brought me to this country and drafted me No. 1. When he’s behind the bench, it’s a little bit special for me.”

“It goes back to the first time he was in town [for an interview before the 2001 draft],” Waddell said. “I basically kidnapped him. He had his agent with him and I had one of our PR guys, and they went to the bathroom and I said, ‘You take the agent; I’ll take Kovy.’ I’ve watched him grow up, not just as a player but as a person.”
Waddell knows he's on thin ice here, and it's interesting that he's taken the reins in trying to put things back together.

So far, it's been working — although getting the team's starting netminder back remains a priority. I don't think it's far out of line to suggest Waddell the GM has his finger in the mix when it comes to the available goaltenders out there given the way his crew has played this season and the fact that this season could be his last hurrah in Atlanta.

Hossa's contract is up this summer, and it's been strongly suggested he's ready to move on unless the Thrashers can prove their competitiveness — which speaks to how doubly important Waddell's turn behind the bench is.



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