Winnipeg welcomes franchise still looking for first ever playoff win

The Canadian Press
By: The Canadian Press
May 31, 2011
The Hockey News

Winnipeg welcomes franchise still looking for first ever playoff win

The Canadian Press
By: The Canadian Press
May 31, 2011

Lots of youthful potential, but not much history of winning is what Winnipeg will get when the defunct Atlanta Thrashers move in next season.

Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Ondrej Pavelec are the top names on the Atlanta club that finished 12th in the NHL Eastern Conference at 34-36-12 last season.

"Last year we had a young team," Pavelec told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. "We had a great start but we slowed down a little bit. Our second half of the season was really bad."

They ranked 29th in the 30-team league in goaltending, conceding a conference-high 269 goals, and had a mediocre attack that ranked 11th in the conference with 223 goals in 82 games.

The Thrashers made the playoffs only once in their 11 years in Atlanta. That was in 2006-07 when they were swept by the New York Rangers and outscored 17-6 in the four games.

High draft picks in recent years have brought talent like Kane, Zach Bogosian and Alexander Burmistrov, while Ladd has blossomed into a scorer and Enstrom into a top rushing defenceman. Some feel the Thrashers were on the way to becoming a consistent contender.

General manager Rick Dudley, if he is kept, has cap room for free agent signings and says he wants to add a scorer and a defenceman.

Here's a look at the new Manitoba/Winnipeg team:


The 23-year-old Pavelec had a scary moment early in the season when he fainted during a game and was taken to hospital for tests, but he came back to play 58 games with a 2.73 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. He is considered among the league's most promising young goalies. His backup, 35-year-old Chris Mason, had a weak 3.39 average and .892 save percentage in 33 appearances.


They can move the puck and shoot with Enstrom, Byfuglien and Bogosian, and have decent defensive players in Johnny Oduya, Ron Hainsey and deadline acquisition Mark Stuart.

Big Byfuglien tore up the league in the first half after he was acquired from the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks but went silent in the second. The defenceman who plays like a forward was second on the team in ice time with a 23:18 average (behind Enstrom's 23:41) and was second in team scoring with 20 goals and 53 points.

Enstrom, at his best moving the puck up the ice to start the attack, had 10 goals and 41 assists in 72 games, but the six-foot-three Bogosian had career-lows of five goals and 17 points and was a team-worst minus-27 in his third season.


The days of an attack built on scoring stars like Dany Heatley, Marian Hossa or Ilya Kovalchuk are over.

The top line that would be a second line in many other cities had Bryan Little at centre between Ladd and Blake Wheeler, who was acquired along with Stuart from Boston in the Rich Peverley deadline deal.

Ladd led the team with 29 goals and 59 points, while Little and big right-winger Wheeler each had 18 goals for the season. Wheeler has good hands and can skate, but the Bruins felt he lacked grit.

The second line is about potential as Burmistrov, who had only six goals as a rookie, centres the speedy Kane and veteran Nik Antropov.

The third and fourth lines include shootout specialist Rob Schremp, Anthony Stewart, Eric Boulton, Chris Thorburn, Ben Maxwell and others.


Bad luck and some big moves have marked the Thrashers history.

Heatley's car accident that killed teammate Dan Snyder led to the big winger being traded in 2005 to Ottawa for Hossa, who was then sent to Pittsburgh in 2008 for Colby Armstrong (now with Toronto), Erik Christensen (now a New York Ranger) and prospect Angelo Esposito.

Kovalchuk, the first overall pick of 2001, turned down a huge contract offer and was dealt to New Jersey in February 2010 for Oduya, Niclas Bergfors (since traded to Florida), Patrice Cormier and a first-round pick.

The team's first overall pick in its first draft, Patrick Stefan, never worked out, and its second overall pick in 2002, goalie Kari Lehtonen, battled a string of injuries before he was traded to Dallas last year. In between, they drafted Kovalchuk and Heatley.


With files from Canadian Press sportswriter Chris Johnston.

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Winnipeg welcomes franchise still looking for first ever playoff win