As free agency continues onward with no further large signings by the Thrashers, now would be a good time to take a look at what we've lost since the end of last season, and what we've added. Are the Thrashers better off now than they were just a few months ago?
For ease of analysis' sake, I'm leaving out the prospects.
- Marty Reasoner (traded to Chicago Blackhawks): 4G-13A-17P
- Colby Armstrong (Free Agency - signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs): 15G-14A-29P
- Maxim Afinogenov (Unrestricted Free Agent): 24G-37A-61P
- Slava Kozlov (Unrestricted Free Agent): 8G-18A-26P
- Evgeny Artyukhin (Unrestricted Free Agent): 5G-2A-7P for the Ducks & Thrashers
- Eric Boulton (Unrestricted Free Agent): 2G-6A-8P
- Pavel Kubina (Unrestricted Free Agent - signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning): 6G-32A-40P
- Johan Hedberg (Unrestricted Free Agent - signed with the New Jersey Devils): 2.62 GAA, .915 SV%
Seems like a fairly decent body of individuals have departed the Thrashers this summer. Eight of the guys that we watched suit up last year have left, taking with them 64 goals and 122 assists. That is not an insubstantial number of points right there. But, when you really look at it (or heck, just glance), the players who took the most points with them were Colby Armstrong, Maxim Afinogenov, and Pavel Kubina. Army benefited from playing on a line with Evander Kane and Rich Peverley for a decent part of the year, raising his production on a line that many fans felt was a third scoring line. Afinogenov had a rebirth in Atlanta, and his production will certainly be missed. Kubina's loss is a blow to the team, though hopefully not to his defensive partner of last season, Tobias Enstrom. Johan Hedberg, well, his season was a career year, no doubt.
How have the Thrashers worked on replacing these lost players?
- Dustin Byfuglien: 17G-17A-34P
- Brent Sopel: 1G-7A-8P
- Ben Eager: 7G-9A-16P
- Andrew Ladd: 17G-21A-38P
- Chris Mason: 2.53 GAA, .913SV%
Well, obviously Ladd and Byfuglien are an upgrade to every forward that we lost save for Afinogenov. They're bigger, more rough around the edges, and can both play the area in front of the net -- things that the Thrashers lacked last season, and have been lacking for quite some time. Eager should replace Boulton, though his fighting technique leaves a little to be desired. The kids who people are looking at as far as coming up through the ranks - Patrice Cormier, for instance, can easily replace players like Reasoner and Arthyukin as far as ice time goes. Reasoner (as well as Kozlov) will be hard to replace intangibles-wise.
Goaltending got an upgrade, considering Mason played more games than Moose and wound up with similar stats. Actually, the two of them share a lot of similarities, especially as far as being workhorses and good team guys, but Mason's more reliable than Hedberg. The Thrashers upgraded in goal.
The Thrashers most need to replace Kubina and Afinogenov. Sopel is a competent defenseman but does not have the offensive touch that Kubina has. Kubina, though, benefited from being paired with Enstrom most of last season, so that does factor into his assist numbers.
Rick Dudley has said again and again that the Thrashers need a scoring winger, either through free agency or through a trade. Nothing has happened on that front yet, and the frenzy has died down (save for one scoring winger, of course). Dudley's replaced departing players well, and will have a chance to fill some holes on the third and fourth lines after prospect camp ends next week. The remaining questions at defense and forward will probably have to wait. Don't forget, we waited until the end of training camp to sign Afinogenov.
Who remains on the free agent defenseman market? According to CapGeek.com, the top scoring defenseman left is Marc-Andre Bergeron. The Habs did not offer him a contract deal, and he has not been picked up yet. The difficult thing is this - we have Enstrom, Sopel, Hainsey, Oduya, Valabik, Bogosian, and probably Kulda. Can the Thrashers pick up someone? What about Bogosian - he was hindered last season by a wrist injury. Is it feasible to just wait and see how he works out?
Scoring wingers are easier to figure out. Aside from the fact that the two top scorers remaining are former Thrashers, the team would have a lot to choose from if they decide to add via that route. Frolov and Ponikarovski are the top names, and either of them would come close to replacing Afinogenov. Unfortunately, both of them have the sigma of being occasionally unreliable. Lee Stempinak is also available, and while he lost his scoring touch in Toronto, he seems to have gotten it back in Phoenix. The former St. Louis first rounder would fit well, especially age wise, into the offensive corps.
Or heck, if all else fails, Paul Kariya's available. Hey, if the Hawks can go for Shaq, why can't the Thrashers try for a player whose best season was in 1996?