Tonight's a match-up that practically the whole hockey world has been waiting for, and oddly enough, it involves the Atlanta Thrashers. The Chicago Blackhawks come to Philips Arena tonight at 7 to see four members of their Stanley Cup winning team, plus a coach, in different colors. June 23rd marked the beginning of Chicago South, when the Thrashers acquired Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, and Ben Eager (along with Akim Alou) for Jeremy Morin, Marty Reasoner, and the 24th and 54th overall draft picks in the 2010 draft. Only a few days later, on July 1st, Atlanta acquired Andrew Ladd from Chicago for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a second round pick. Finally, the Thrashers hired Blackhawks assistant coach John Torchetti as associate coach. The sell-off of the cap-troubled Cup champions had begun, with their most important role players leaving to come to Atlanta. The pundits declared Thrashers general manager Rick Dudley to have pulled off the best trades of the off-season, and went out on a limb to say that the Thrashers were one of the most improved teams in the Southeast.
While not at the Tampa Bay Lightning's level of success quite yet, the Thrashers are sitting on a 6-5-2 record, good enough for 6th place in the Eastern Conference. Chicago, after completing their fire sale and signing free agent goaltender Marty Turco (late of the Dallas Stars), have a 7-7-1 record, which puts them at fourth in the Central Division and dangerously close to being the only team in that division with a losing record. The Stanley Cup hangover has not been kind to the Blackhawks.
Interestingly enough, Jeremy Morin has been called up from the AHL, and was skating with Patrick Sharp and Troy Brouwer. Second City Hockey seems less than enamored with him, but right now they have lots of reasons to be a bit cynical.
According to Dan Kamal on Twitter, Ondrej Pavelec will be in goal tonight for the Thrashers. Mason might seem the natural guess to face his former divisional foes, but Pavelec has been playing outstanding hockey recently and needs a little more time to get into the groove. Consider this trial by fire. Also from Kamal, the lines are this:
Defensive pairings are expected to stay the same.
Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com Chicago has a great Q&A with the former Blackhawks turned Thrashers. It's worth a read. I love the reactions of the guys upon learning that they've been traded. Very classy answers, and no post-apocalyptical "gone from the Cup winners!" replies. I also particularly like Byfuglen's response to the attendance problems:
It’s been nice and quiet. Been liking the peace. It’s the way it is around here. We’ll get the ship back in here."
Consider tonight to be the end of that peace and quiet, Buff. Welcome to Chicago South.