Monday, February 26, 2007

Atlanta Desperate For A Run

With the trade deadline only a couple of days away, the Atlanta Thrashers have shown that they are willing to mortgage their future to make a run now. In the last couple days they have made two trades with this theme. First they traded Braydon Coburn to Philadelphia for Alexei Zhitnik. Then they traded a first and 3rd round pick in 2007, a 2nd round pick in 2008 and Glen Metropolit to St Louis for Keith Tkachuk (they give up a further first round pick in 2008 should they resign Tkachuk).

Coburn was an early draft pick in 2003 (8th overall), who has thus far failed to make any impact at the NHL level. Likely he will develop into a solid depth defenceman, but he has some possibility of either exceeding or failing to meet that level. Zhitnik is a solid NHL defenceman. His 24 points so far make him the top scoring defenceman this season currently on the Atlanta blueline. He does not create a strength as a puckmoving defenceman. He is merely slightly better than the previous weakness Atlanta had at this position. Zhitnik is signed through to the end of 2008 so this is not a rental. I see this as a trade that Atlanta can win, if Coburn fails. And given the liberalized free agency in the new CBA, even if Coburn succeeds, it likely will be around the time he is ready to leave as a fee agent. This move is not nearly as bad as the second move.

Keith Tkachuk is a rental. He is a good winger who can play center. He is starting to show signs of decline. His 43 points in 61 games so far is his worst points per game since his sophomore season in 1992/93. He is a useful piece that will go well in their offence, but his cost is a large part of the future. Several draft picks are sent to St Louis - and these picks will not be as late in the draft as so of the other teams making rentals (like Nashville). Glen Metropolit is a useful player, but hardly going to create any strength in St Louis or Atlanta. Atlanta is giving up an awful lot of draft picks to obtain Keith Tkachuk for the rest of the season.

Sometimes, rentals can make sense if the team is on the verge of winning the cup and wants to acquire that something extra to give them a better shot. The Atlanta Thrashers do not appear to be such a team. They have never made the playoffs in the history of the franchise. They do have some pieces in place to build a future around Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa. As they add some depth to the franchise, a better defence and let goalie Kari Lehtonen mature, this team could be dangerous, but they are not there yet. Currently they hold the 6th seed in the east - but are only 2 points ahead of ninth place and missing the playoffs. This doesn't look like a team on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup. It looks like a team on the verge of their first ever trip to the playoffs (which would most likely only last one round).

Don Waddell their GM feels pressure to make the playoffs. Last season he "guaranteed" a playoff berth and then saw his Thrasher team miss the playoffs. If the Thrashers do not have some playoff success this year it may cost him his job. Thus, he feels he can mortgage the future, since he likely won't be around in that future without doing so.

Sometimes, a team that looks to be one of the weaker playoff teams can win with some luck and a few trades. It happened to Edmonton last year but hasn't contributed to any longterm success for the Oilers. In a best case for Waddell it might happen in Atlanta this year, but that is unlikely. Most likely, Atlanta made some poor moves that will stall their rise in the NHL standings in the future. This will likely be a problem for the next Thrasher GM.

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