It was a fine return to the top ten of pool scoring for Ilya Kovalchuk, but you really have to begin to wonder how much more of these losing seasons he'll endure in Atlanta. Kovalchuk finished with 43 goals and 48 assists, while only missing 3 games this season and a lot of his offense is created by his own skill. This was his third in the last five seasons that he has finished in the top ten of pool scoring, which does make him a bonafide pick in the first round.
After Kovalchuk, the pool points does drop down a fair bit and you can also throw in a pinch of reasonable doubt about the team's depth. Slava Kozlov had a good year (76 points in 82 GP), which ranked him 35th in the league, which was his highest rank in my records, that go back to 2001/'02. He does consistently rank in the top 100, but it really depends on his health. I would look at him to be more of a bargain pick later on, if he's still available.
Todd White (73 points in 82 GP), Brian Little (51 points in 79 GP), Rich Peverley (44 points in 66 GP) and Colby Armstrong (40 points in 82 GP) all had reasonable season as Thrasher forwards, but they all come with that reasonable doubt I mentioned earlier. A lot of that doubt comes from a mixture of reasons, be it health, inconsistency, linemates and experience. White had his best season on record, but his health in previous years kept him hovering around the low 100's for the past few seasons. Little and Peverley are starting to establish themselves, but they will likely be guys to help garnish your team, instead of carry it. Armstrong came with some higher expectations (than 40 points) coming from Pittsburgh, but even in a contract year, couldn't find the net more often.
On defense, the Thrashers have tons of potential, some of it being realized right away. Ron Hainsey (39 points in 81 GP), Tobias Enstrom (32 points in 82 GP) and Zach Bogosian (19 points in 47 games) are all reasonable picks to compliment your fantasy blueline. I usually have the first two pretty high on my defensemen lists and will likely have Bogosian fairly high as well.
In goal in 2009, it wasn't a very easy year for the Thrashers. Kari Lehtonen had 19 wins, Johan Hedberg had 13 wins and Ondrej Pavelec had 3 wins. That's something that the Thrashers will likely have to address, as no one in my Draft this year really sat on a Thrashers goalie for very long. Depending on how deep your pool is, you may want to avoid Atlanta until the last possible moment... for now. This will be a point of interest in the summer, for sure.
2010 Season Outlook
The Thrashers have plenty of play in the off-season to make their team better at most positions. Down below, you'll see the team that is already signed on for next season, which currently stands at 12 players, not counting some of the minor league players that could make the jump. Six forwards, 4 defense and 2 goalies are already signed on.
|Ilya Kovalchuk||Ron Hainsey||Johan Hedberg|
|Slava Kozlov||Tobias Enstrom||Ondrej Pavelec|
|Todd White||Zach Bogosian|
|Bryan Little||Garnet Exelby|
The current line-up above only carries a cap value of approximately $29.3 million, which is very impressive. Of course, we will likely have to wait until the end of June, like last season, before we know what the final salary cap number will be for 2010, but rumblings suggest it will be about the same or relatively close. The cap floor last season was $40.7 million, which the Thrashers would likely have to get to with their final 11 signings, which does seem managable, especially with some of the free agent talent out there.
The restricted free agent class of the Thrashers has a couple of question marks. Kari Lehtonen and Colby Armstrong lead the pack, but I am curious to see if they re-sign with the club, as they may have considered themselves a little too expensive for their value to the club. If your pool has a salary cap that is dependent on the actual cap values of players, this is definitely something to look carefully at. Lehtonen has only had one good season in Atlanta, while Armstrong is a depth player at best. Atlanta would be best to tread carefully with these two, unless they really need to make up cap space to make it to the floor.
The team will also have some decisions to make with their top two unrestricted free agents, Marty Reasoner and Eric Perrin. They have been reasonable depth players for Atlanta over the past couple seasons, but their point production may lack a bit for the $1 million cap hit that they hover around. I would be most curious to see how they play out.
If there are going to be players to suggest on the radar for 2010, I would take an easy one by suggesting Angelo Esposito, who should get a pretty good look in Thrashers camp this Fall. He did make a good jump in the junior ranks, but there could be a year of seasoning yet for him in the AHL. Already having his seasoning and likely poised for a promotion, Ondrej Pavelec could be the number one guy going into the regular season. The Thrashers may be finished with Lehtonen and will want to try some new young blood as the starter and Pavelec is the guy. The team is high on Pavelec and feel he can step in and do the job. I'll have my eye on him through camp in September.
I really like the team's potential to do some good stuff, barrng that management doesn't muck it up somehow. Kovalchuk, Hainsey, Enstrom and Bogosian are all good picks for next season's hockey pool and they do have a couple of other names waiting in the wings. If the team can get some more scoring depth, numbers can improve. The Thrashers will be a sleeper spot for pool picks, but you better be sure that they wake up in time to get you points before you place all your hopes on them next season.