ATLANTA - APRIL 10: Matt Cooke #24 of the Pittsburgh Penguins is knocked out by this right-handed punch from Evander Kane #9 of the Atlanta Thrashers at Philips Arena on April 10, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Is it a fair assessment to assume that the Thrashers' place in the standings will be lower this season than last?
Fellow SB Nation blogger extraordinaire (well, he is - I'm not, though I do blog here) Travis Hughes, founder of Broad Street Hockey, went on and slogged through the hype of all thirty NHL teams for the upcoming season. I understand the allure of power rankings - every media outlet has theirs for the upcoming NHL season - but I've never been a fan. I very rarely agree with them, because as a fan of a small market team that 95% of the news media ignores, I don't feel like anyone takes the nuances of the Thrashers into consideration. It's easy to write them off as "that team that's only made the playoffs once." It's easy to assume that they've always been terrible (which they haven't) and therefore will always continue to be so. Travis doesn't do that, because he's an actual person and not a media acolyte, but I'm not sure that I agree with his projection that Atlanta'll be finishing the season in 13th place.
An off-season that began with the hype of the Thrashers stealing away a quarter of the Blackhawks has seemingly regressed to the bemoaning of third line players and a lack of scoring, and that is part of the reason the Thrashers are being ranked so low on pre-season rankings. As I looked at this weekend, the scoring lost by the Thrashers has been made up for with the off-season acquisitions that the team has made, and the loss of Kovalchuk last season was a non-factor that makes New Jersey's sacrifices to sign the winger all the more amusing.
The questions around the team - new coaching, lack of "star talent," general bad luck - are legitimate, but considering how much improved the defense is as well as the goaltending, the two largest holes on the team have been fixed. That should be good for a better finish than 13th place. The Thrashers pushed for the playoffs last season and could have made it had they not have melted down at the end of March. With a better coaching staff, improved defense, and reliable goaltending, how can they drop three places in the standings? That would involve the Eastern Conference being competitive, and that's a bit of a stretch. If Atlanta were in the West, 13th'd be not far off. Considering that they'll quite possibly be playing a Western Conference style game in the East, that might just give the Thrash a chance to finish higher than 13th place.