With around seventeen players getting ready to test the unrestricted free agency market tomorrow, the Atlanta Thrashers are going to have some space to fill. First off, who is probably going to leave?
Most disappointing to a good many Thrashers fans is the fact that journeyman back-up goaltender Johan Hedberg might test the market tomorrow. He's reportedly less than thrilled at the contract that's been offered him by the team. Do keep in mind that he shares an agent with Ilya Kovalchuk -- Jay Grossman -- and Grossman's been known for driving a hard deal.
The difference here though is that it is Hedberg himself who admitted that there is an issue with the contract, though what that issue is remains to be seen. Moose has been called upon to play unofficial goaltending coach during his tenure here. He also was relied upon last season to take the reigns when Pavelec faltered, and he did an outstanding job. He would not be unjustified in asking for a raise. If the team's unwilling to give him that, they're going to have to look to the UFA market for a goalie of the same reliability.
The issue with that is, do they get another backup, or do they get a 1-A kind of type? What happens if Pavelec is not ready next season? What if there's another mid-season shaky streak going on? Hedberg could step it up. The Thrashers will need someone who can do the same thing and someone who has experience as a number one. Tops of the team's list should be pending UFA Chris Mason, late of the St. Louis Blues. Mason had a save percentage of .913 and a goals against average of 2.53. Little high on the GAA, but he's still a workhorse. Once fans adjust to the fact that he tends to allow a soft goal a game, they'd be happy with him.
Maxim Afinogenov is reportedly going to test the free-agency waters, possibly even the frozen waters of the KHL. Eric Boulton also might not be back, though he has been offered a contract. Evgeny Artyukhin will probably head the same route as Afinogenov. Colby Armstrong is as good as gone, but he's already been replaced by Dustin Byfuglien. This leaves a big hole at the wing. Dudley wants a 15-20 goal scorer, though it is iffy whether that will come from a trade or free agency.
If it comes from free agency, Alexei Ponikarovsky is an option. He floundered (or some would say flopped) in Pittsburgh, but he played minutes with Nik Antropov when the two of them were in Toronto. A chance of scenery could do him some good.
Pavel Kubina's future with the team is a question mark. He seems to want to come back, and even over at Puck Daddy they expect to see him back in Atlanta. He and Tobias Enstrom were an outstanding first defensive pairing last season, and even though some seem to feel that the Thrashers have a replacement in Sopel, it remains to be seen if he and Enstrom would have that same kind of chemistry. Kubina was one of the team leaders with 32 assists for the season, seems to like the Ramsay hiring, and might take a hometown discount. There's no need to directly replace him with another defenseman should he walk, so the big question'll be if will he be walking.
I don't fully expect the Thrashers to be gonzo over the first few days of free agency, but any Thrashers signings will be posted here ASAP. Please subscribe to the StoryStream feed for the quickest possible updates. Between SB Nation and the always reliable TSN.ca, you're covered on all the happenings. Have fun keeping your eye on the frenzy.