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Previously, I mentioned that I felt that the Thrashers would be best served by fixing their penalty kill, perhaps by grabbing a player or two from the Florida Panthers, who have the league's second best PK unit. I had suggested one of defenseman Mike Weaver, or as a good replacement for Jim Slater I suggested the Thrashers re-acquire center Marty Reasoner.
Rick Dudley apparently only read half of my take, because he did go to the Florida Panthers to tweak the PK unit, but not with whom I suggested. He traded the (by his words) "streaky" Niclas Bergfors - "who [they] needed to be streaky at the right time" - and AHL depth guy Patrick Rissmiller to the Panthers for Radek Dvorak, who was their second highest forward in terms of ice time on the PK. Dudley believes him to be one of the best penalty killers in the league. He's obviously darn good, because before the trade deadline the Panthers' penalty kill was humming along at an 86% success rate, second to only the Pittsburgh Penguins in effectiveness. Bergfors wasn't utilized on the PK, and his ice time was slipping as his line stature dropped. He should be able to add more to the third line than traded forward Fredrik Modin did, as Modin did not play on the PK.
Rob Schremp, in theory, replaces Bergfors' talent with a player that the Thrashers hope to be as offensively gifted. The biggest upside to Schremp is that he can play all three positions as needed, though chances are good that with the Thrashers calling up Ben Maxwell for tomorrow's game and sending Tim Stapleton and Spencer Machacek down, Schremp will be plugged in on the third line center position. He has the ability to score; the defensive ability remains to be seen and his face-off draws tend to be average. I'm sure that Dudley is hoping to work some magic via Craig Ramsay here.
Between Dvorak, Mark Stuart, and Blake Wheeler, the Thrashers have solidified a very shaky penalty kill that has been steadily worse for the past few months - Sunday afternoon they were a perfect four for four. Schremp is a gamble, but defensively Dudley might have fixed the season - if the team can score enough goals to win a few games down the stretch.
Brett Festerling was an undrafted signee by the Anaheim Ducks in 2005 after performing well in their rookie camp as an invitee. He’s 6’1", and at 208 lbs. is another in the Dudley mold of big, tough defensemen. If Freddy Meyer is out for the remainder of the season and the Thrashers need to cycle through one more back-up defenseman, in Festerling they at least have one with over 80 games experience in the NHL.
Hockey’s Future.com rates him at a 6.0 B in their prospect ratings. They don’t have him pegged as a scorer, but rather as a competent passer who will make the right play.
Festerling is a 24-year-old former Duck with 83 games of NHL experience. He’s been in the AHL for all but one game of this season and adds some nice size on the back end at 6-1, 210 lbs. He has eight assists and 33 PIMs in his 83 NHL games and has four assists in 16 games with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs this season.
…The Festerling acquisition gives the Wolves (presumably) another defensemen. They’ve only had six available lately so this gives them some depth and flexibility, and he has NHL experience if a callup is needed. With six pro goalies in the organization there was room to move one and the end result will be more quality ice time for Chris Carrozzi and Ed Pasquale.
To finish flushing out players whose signings displeased me this summer, the Thrashers have traded Fredrik Modin to the Calgary Flames for a 7th round draft pick. Modin has seven goals and three assists for the season, but is also a defensive liability at a -11.
Ben Wright hypothesized that Modin’s role will be taken over by Radek Dvorak on the third line, and it stands to reason that Schremp is an upgrade for both Tim Stapleton and potentially over Niclas Bergfors, depending on his scoring. Dudley possibly has improved the team and made them slightly bigger and more solid for the PK, while not doing drastically much, as of yet, to improve scoring or to replace the missing faceoffs won by Jim Slater.
Per hour five of Puck Daddy’s trade deadline madness, the Thrashers have claimed center Rob Schremp off waivers. Schremp has 10 goals and 12 assists this season for the Isles, and has taken 379 faceoffs, winning 47.8% of them.
Schremp would be a good upgrade from Tim Stapleton centering the third line, though he is by no means a replacement for Jim Slater on the penalty kill. Schremp has taken only one shorthanded faceoff all season. His overall faceoff success rate pales in comparison to Slater’s 61.5% draw rate.
If Slater has no chance of coming back, this is a risk-free stopgap. Also, this allows the Thrashers to maintain Stapleton at center if need be until Alexander Burmistrov comes back, though it could potentially limit Patrice Cormier’s time at center unless Nik Antropov moves back to the wing.
The gritty new addition to the Thrashers’ defensive corps, who has already shown a penchant for sticking up for his teammakes as well as making smart defensive plays, was re-signed by the club today. The three-year contract extension will bring him around $1.7 million a season, per CapGeek.com.
In an interview with Hockey Night in Canada, Stuart said this regarding working with Craig Ramsay:
“I think the biggest thing [Ramsay has] taught me is to just enjoy the game and have fun with it. I’m kind of a guy who takes stuff a little too seriously sometimes, and he’s just helped me settle down and that’s definitely helped my game a lot.”
Stuart has no points and is a -2 in four games with the Thrashers this year.
In a move that might upset fans who are clamoring for more scoring, the Thrashers have traded former 1st round pick Niclas Bergfors, acquired in the Ilya Kovalchuk deal of last year, to Florida for their top forward Radek Dvorak. Bergfors has been in and out of the doghouse multiple times this season for lack of defensive responsibility. He is a -11 on the year, and had been playing wing on the third line as of late. Bergfors has 11 goals and 18 assists for just 29 points on the year.
Dvorak has seven goals and 14 assists on the year for 21 points, but he is also a +2. He’s a bigger body than Bergfors (6’2" vs. 5’11") and would be useful in situations such as the lagging penalty kill. Getting him slows the Thrashers down a bit as well as beefs them up in shorthanded situations.
He is not the player (or players) I would have preferred to get from the Panthers. I have long opined for a decent face off guy on the PK to temporarily replace Jim Slater, as well as a defensively responsible defenseman for the PK – such as Marty Reasoner and Mike Weaver. This move will help the Thrashers where they hurt, but expect to see another move to acquire someone to replace Bergfors’ scoring potential.
[EDIT, 11:09 A.M.] In a quote from the Blueland Blog's Trade Day Tracker, Ben Wright reminds us of this quote from Rick Dudley:
- The Thrashers are four points out of a playoff spot with 19 games left in the season.
- Rick Dudley says he’s committed to building a championship team over the long term and he doesn’t want to sacrifice youth for “a 35-year-old player” as he put it.
- Dudley has said he is looking for top-6 scoring help.
- At times there have been questions about whether the Thrashers have enough veteran leadership. If a veteran forward can be added for a pick and not a top prospect a deal could be made.
Dvorak is a 33-year-old unrestricted free agent. Either Dvorak is going to re-sign here long term and has expressed interest in doing so, or Dudley has just traded with friend Dale Tallon and one of his old clubs a young upcoming scoring forward for someone who, while defensively responsible, is not an elite scorer.
It seems like the Atlanta Thrashers have already made at least one large move, and a move to get tradable assets for Monday's trade deadline. The pick-up of Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart from Boston allowed GM Rick Dudley to move pending-UFA Brent Sopel to Montreal for a prospect and a pick. The team added size up the middle, and got assets for someone who apparently did not wish to re-sign in Atlanta. Unfortunately, it also lost its top shot blocker. The team's porous enough, especially on the penalty kill, so this leaves even more obvious the area that Atlanta needs to fix come Monday if they hope to be buyers instead of sellers at the deadline.
The Thrashers need to fix their penalty kill. They've needed to do so for about the past two months or so, since the injury to Jim Slater took out one of the team's best PKers. It's fallen to 29th in the league, and so many goals that have cost the team games have been allowed on the kill it's unreasonable to expect Dudley to not do something to remedy the situation. Unfortunately, it should have been done two months ago before it was allowed to contribute to the team's steady decline in the standings.
It's usually unreasonable to trade within the division, but the team underneath the Thrashers, the Florida Panthers, have exactly what Atlanta needs. Florida's penalty kill is the second best in the league at 86.3%, and a good bit of that has to do with center Marty Reasoner, a former Thrasher, and defeseman Mike Weaver. Weaver was on the St. Louis Blues when they had the league's best penalty kill, and it's no coincidence that it's dropped off since he was allowed to walk at the end of last season.
Regardless of where they acquire players from - Florida just happens to have the best assets - the penalty kill needs to be fixed ASAP if the team wants to work back into 8th place. Scoring by committee can be done - it was done very well the first thirty or so games of the season - but the team lacks the confidence to do so thanks to all of the power play goals allowed. It'd be nice to pick up a scorer to add some oomph, of course, but I don't see that being the number one priority to get fixed come Monday afternoon.
As a reward for his outstanding play this season, General Manager Rick Dudley announced today that the Thrashers have locked up Chris Thorburn for three years. Per the AJC’s Chris Vivlamore, the terms of the contract have Thorburn being paid an average salary of $867,000 a season.
The gritty forward has been seeing some time on the third line, occasionally at center. Normally he is on the wing on the line known to fans as the Greek God line, with Eric Boulton and Jim Slater centering, but Slater has been out since suffering a concussion on New Year’s Eve against the New Jersey Devils. Thorburn has seven goals and nine assists this season, and has an even +/-. Where Thorburn is most important is on the penalty kill, often sacrificing his body to make the block. Most notably he suffered a bruised knee during a game earlier this season while blocking a shot, and he remained on the ice to complete the shift, blocking several more shots.
In a year marred by inconsistencies, both with play and with personnel, Thorburn has had a consistently excellent season, and it’s good to see him rewarded with such a lengthy contract extension. Next up? Hopefully Boulton and Slater. The fourth line is the heart of the team, and deserves to remain together for a few more seasons.
With the NHL trade deadline looming on Monday, and with the Thrashers falling steadily out of playoff contention in yet another disappointing February, general manager Rick Dudley figured he might as well get what he could for Brent Sopel and Nigel Dawes.
Dawes was signed this summer coming off of a fairly successful season with the Calgary Flames. Dawes had 14 goals and 18 assists in 66 games with Calgary last season, but thus far in just nine games played for the Thrashers, he has managed an assist and is a -6. Where Dawes has been contributing is the AHL, getting 44 points (27 goals, 17 assists) in 47 games for the Chicago Wolves.
Brent Sopel came over in the deal with Chicago this past summer that brought teammates Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Eager to Atlanta along with Sopel. Byfuglien is the last one remaining from that deal, as Eager was traded to the San Jose Sharks shortly after his four-game suspension for sucker-punching Colby Armstrong was over. Thankfully Buff signed a five year extension, because as it stands the Thrashers gave up Marty Reasoner, Jeremy Morin, and some draft picks for Buff and Akim Aliu, who can’t seem to stay in the AHL.
Sopel, in 59 games played this season, had two goals and seven assists for the Thrashers. Where he was an asset is in shot-blocking, which is a statistic he led the team in. The past few games, however, he’s looked gassed and hasn’t been helped any by Johnny Oduya’s exasperating play. Sopel was a +7 for the team, though, despite playing with Oduya… or because he was paired with Ron Hainsey.
The trade with Boston for Mark Stuart made one of our defensemen expendable, and considering that Sopel is a UFA at the end of this season, and the Thrashers ran the risk of losing him for nothing, getting an AHL player like Ben Maxwell back in return isn’t bad – and a fourth rounder for Nigel Dawes is okay as well.
Sopel didn’t seem too crushed, tweeting shortly after the trade was announced:
And then this a few hours later:
Best of luck to Sopes, but I don’t see that challenge getting as far as it did last season. But then again, with the playoffs, who knows? Fans’ll get a chance to say hi to Sopel on Tuesday when the Habs come to town to play the Thrashers.
Ben Maxwell will serve as AHL depth (or a NHL call-up, if the need arises). The 6-1, 195 lb. center is second on the Hamilton Bulldogs with 40 points in 47 games (11 goals, 29 assists).
Stick-tap to Stanley Cup of Chowder on this find. Peverley doesn’t sound overwhelmed but he does sound positive to be traded to a team solidly in playoff contention, which makes sense. He was notified of the trade while he was at the rink, getting ready for practice. Apparently he was completely unaware that anything was going down, and was taken by surprise.
Nothing negative to be said about Atlanta, which for some reason is the first things fan listen for when a player is traded away. He was a popular player for two years and owes the Thrashers his fresh start in the NHL, but will have more than enough opportunities in Boston to succeed.
From Thrashers’ defenseman Brent Sopel:
It’s a tuff time of the year for us. It’s a game of wait and see what happens. We lost a great guy and teammate. Wish Rich the best of luck.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhoneBrent Sopel
From forward Evander Kane:
As do I, and the best part about this swap for the Bruins is that they get another year of Peverley at a $1.4 million base salary next season while Wheeler does RFA this summer and will get a raise on $2.2 million. And he’s better offensively than Wheeler.
Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik were acquired by the Boston Bruins today in exchange for forward Blake Wheeler and defenseman Mark Stuart. In some pre-trade deadline salary cap maneuvering, the Bruins had to clear space for Tomas Kaberle to arrive from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kaberle is due the remainder of $4,500,000 worth of salary, and the Bruins were already pushing the league's salary limit. Peverley's contract of $1,250,000 is less than Blake Wheeler's $2,200,000, and with the addition of this and Sutart's the Thrashers are no longer at the league's floor - the New York Islanders return to being the lowest payroll in the league.
Peverley was claimed off of waivers from the Nashville Predators in January of 2009, and was credited with helping the 2008-2009 Thrashers finish with a run of respectability. In 39 games with the Thrashers that season, he had thirteen goals and twenty-two assists, which is outstanding compared with his two goals and seven assists in 27 games played with the Predators that year. Last season Peverley had 22 goals and 33 assists, and so far this season he has fourteen goals and twenty assists. He has been spending a decent amount of time on the fourth line recently, as Coach Craig Ramsay has been preaching defensive responsibility to his forwards. Peverley had a three point night last night, but still sits at a -16.
Boris Valabik was the Thrashers' tenth overall draft pick in the 2004 entry draft. He ranks fellow Slovak Zdeno Chara as his idol, and the 6'7" defenseman has even squared off against Big Z in a game last season. Valabik has spent this season with the Chicago Wolves after a poor showing pre-season. He was injured several times last year, hindering his skating development. He does, at times, have issues controlling his massive size and it makes it difficult for him to skate well.
Blake Wheeler is an offensive player of the same ilk as Peverley, just more expensive. This season he has eleven goals and sixteen assists, but is a +8 on the season. His career +/- is a +40, thanks to an outstanding +36 year in 2008-2009. Coach Ramsay worked with Wheeler, as well as new defenseman Mark Stuart, when they were together in Boston.
Mark Stuart is the older brother of former Thrasher Colin Stuart. So far this season he has a +8 overall rating with one goal and four assists.
According to Ben Wright, Wheeler will be wearing #26 and Stuart will sport Valabik's old #5 for the Thrashers. They will be joining the team in Edmonton for tomorrow's game.
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