The Atlanta Thrashers at the Quarter Pole and a Look Ahead

What me?  Write about the Atlanta Thrashers?  I am just as surprised as you.  As a typical Canadian hockey fan, I tend to only discuss the Thrashers in terms of which Canadian city they might end up in.  They went to Calgary last time, so that is out.  Perhaps Winnipeg or Quebec City?  As a second team in Toronto?  Time will tell. 

The Thrashers have seemingly been one of the pleasant surprises this season, currently on a six game winning streak.  Folks have started taking notice, including the Sports Juice.  I am in a fantasy hockey league for the first time in about 10 years and I drafted a few Thrashers (Byfuglien, Bogosian and Kane).  Byfuglien in particular has been amazing. 

What I thought I would do is quickly put together the same charts as I did the other day for the Oilers.  The question I aim to answer is what to expect the rest of the season. 

The first chart is year to date versus the league.  As always, click on the chart to make it bigger and easily to read.

The biggest thing I will note about this year’s team is the power play efficiency.  Their performance is somewhat surprising given the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk*.  The team is also drawing more penalties and taking fewer trips to the sin bin.  This reeks of a strong aggressive forecheck coupled with discipline.  In other words, good coaching by Craig Ramsey.   

* I could suggest that it is no surprise the power play has improved without Kovalchuk.  The Devils have gone from an 18.75% efficiency to 9.86% this season.   

The team’s performance also speaks well of GM Rick Dudley, especially his decision to move Byfuglien back to defense following his acquisition of four Chicago Blackhawks from last year’s Stanley Cup winning team.  The team has some players who have won, a strong and young defense corps, a young goalie backed up by veteran free agent pickup Chris Mason and some young exciting talent in Evander Kane and Alex Burmistrov.  

The second chart is a simple prediction of year end points based on their year to date.

At 95 points, the Thrashers would easily qualify for the playoffs.  The reality is that their power play will come back toward the league average as will their goal scoring.  The Thrashers are still a relatively young team and will have some bumps along the way. 

The final chart is my estimate based on the Player Contribution Model.  Performance adjustments upward were made for Kane and Pavelec based on age, for Ladd based on year to date performance and for Byfuglien based on his transformation into one of the league’s most potent offensive defenseman.  Byfuglien’s PC of 59 would rank him around 30th in NHL defenseman.  He could easily get up to 79 or 89 which would translate to 2 or 3 extra points in the standings.

The unadjusted prediction is 81 points.  After performance adjustments, I peg them at 88 points which would be right on the number for the playoffs based on last year.  88 points would represent a 5 point improvement over the 2009-2010 season. 

Based on my numbers, I am not quite ready to recommend a jump on the Thrasher’s bandwagon as the next version of the Penguins, Capitals or Blackhawks.  They are an exciting team on the rise, but may find themselves in a position where they are just good enough to prevent themselves from getting significantly better.   

The leap to the top of the league would require another two or three young stars to emerge on the offensive side of the puck.  GM Dudley will be in tough to find that talent while drafting outside of the top 10.  Even so, ‘Thrashers Nation’ * has a reason to smile. 

* Stewart Cink, PGA Tour golfer and Thrashers fan, tweeted something about Thrashers Nation uniting.  While I was ok with the concept of Red Sox Nation, I am not a big fan of every team seemingly having an alleged Nation of fans.  I would go with Thrashers Village or Thrashers Midsized Town for now Stewart. 

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