The 2009-10 season has come to a close for the Atlanta Thrashers, as the team fell 4 points shy of the 8th and final Eastern Conference playoff berth. The Thrashers finished 10th overall in the Eastern Conference and 23rd overall in the league. They will hold the 8th draft selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
What went right? What went wrong?
The Thrashers started off the year on fire. Despite a 5 game road trip to open the season, the Thrashers opened up the season with a 4-1-1 start. By the end of November, the team held a 14-7-3 record, which was good enough for 5th place in the eastern conference. Throughout the first third of the year, the Thrashers were near the top of the league in goals-scored. The Penalty Kill was also near the top of the league. Ilya Kovalchuk was in the top-5 goal scorers in the league, and all signs pointed toward a Kovy extension and Playoff hockey.
However. December brought many challenges to the team. The Thrashers played 15 games that month, 10 of which were on the road. With young guys like Bogosian and Kane, travel is tough. Meanwhile, the Ilya Kovalchuk contract negotiations dragged on, and as time went by without a deal, leadership began to suffer, and the team hit a devastating skid. December ended with a 4-10-1 and record, almost totally negating the success found in the first two months of the campaign. At this point, the Thrashers had dropped from their 5th place spot and found themselves in the heat of the race for 7 and 8.
During January, the team stabilized a bit, but was not improving. They posted a 6-7-2 record for the month, good enough for a .500 points percentage. At this point, rumors swirled that the Kovalchuk contract negotiations had reached an impasse. In fact, January was the last full month Ilya Kovalchuk would play with the Atlanta Thrashers.
On Februrary 4th, Atlanta Thrashers general manager Don Waddell released a statement regarding the contract negotiations. Waddell said that he offered Ilya a 12-year, 101 million dollar contract, as well as a 7-year 70 million dollar contract. Kovalchuk had apparently rejected both, and that same night Ilya was traded to the New Jersey Devils along with Anssi Salmela for Niclas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya, Patrice Cormier, and a 1st round draft choice. During his last 60 seconds in an Atlanta Thrashers jersey, Kovalchuk said goodbye by smashing his stick into two pieces over the crossbar after a 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay.
Now for the “Post-Kovy” era in Atlanta…
The Thrashers finished the brief February schedule with a respectable 3-2-1 record. After the Kovy trade, many people expected to see a zero in the win column. However, thanks to help from newly acquired Niclas Bergfors and an inspired Nik Antropov, the Thrashers earned points in tough contests against tough teams like Chicago and Colorado.
After the olympics, the Thrashers sat just outside of the 8th playoff spot. They started off the post-olympic season with two strong victories over Florida and New York (Long Island), after which they briefly sat in the 8th playoff spot. However, things hit the wall after that, as the Thrashers went on a devastating 0-4-1 losing streak, which quickly put them yet again on the outside of the playoff picture.
Of course, in typical Thrashers fashion, they couldn’t help but make it interesting. After the 5-game skid, the team won three straight and finished the month with a 8-7-2 record. Thanks to a remarkable stretch by Nik Antropov, the Thrashers were still hanging in there. However, at this point, the Thrashers were going to need a miracle to make up for the costly losing streaks they suffered throughout the season.
Entering April, the Thrashers pretty much needed to run the table if they wanted to get into the 8th playoff spot. However, the schedule put them up against Washington twice, Pittsburgh twice, and The New Jersey Devils once. All three of those teams are headed to the playoffs with home-ice advantage. Instead of getting the victories they needed, the Thrashers posted a 1-2-2 April record. They were officially eliminated in the 3rd-to-last game of the season, a 3-0 loss to Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils.
So, unfortunately, it is the 9th of 10 seasons that the Thrashers have failed to reach the playoffs. However, the Thrashers made a 7 point improvement in the standings over the previous year, and additions like Niclas Bergfors and Patrice Cormier to a young core of Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and Bryan Little have this team moving in a decent direction.
I will post Thrashers news as it becomes available, and check back for an “Offseason Guide to the Atlanta Thrashers” sometime before the draft. Thanks for reading!
About the Author
Written by Kevin Thurston