To go along with our '30 in 30' off-season feature, we'll be asking a blogger from each team some of the burning questions surrounding their club this summer.
RLD: 1. Is the team better off without Kovalchuk, or will they suffer both on and off the ice? Matthew Gunning: The Thrashers winning percentage was essentially unchanged after his trade. The ice time was distributed more evenly and the team was able to roll four lines at even strength. Before it was Ilya's team, but with his departure other players stepped up as team leaders (Hainsey, Kubina) and their seemed to be more collective responsibility. The Thrashers need to become a responsible defensive team and moving Kovalchuk makes it much easier for the next coach to emphasize backchecking.
RLD: 2. Without spending $10 million on Kovalchuk, do you expect the front office to be in buyer's mode this summer? MG: I expect the Thrashers to spend about $8-9 million on UFAs this summer, but that money might go towards re-signing pending UFAs. If Kubina doesn't re-sign I could see them make a bid for Volchenkov or Z. Michalek perhaps.
RLD: 3. Out of many UFA's Atlanta has, who would you bring back for next year? MG: Kubina, Afinogenov, Slater or Artyuhkin have all expressed interest in returning and the Thrashers would like to have them all back. Hedberg is another possibility after his career year.
RLD: 4. What would you like see from the new bench boss (style, demeanor, etc)? MG: GM Rick Dudley has noted that the team is young and they need someone who can teach and develop players. From my own perspective, I think that the Thrashers have the best collection of defensemen in the history of the franchise; they just need a team commitment to responsible hockey. If that happens they could significantly reduce their Goals Against next year.
RLD: 5. Which prospects on the horizon should make an impact in 2010/11? MG: GM Dudley has clearly stated his intention to play rookies. He specifically mentioned Arturs Kulda, Carl Klingberg, Patrice Cormier and Spencer Machacek. Defenseman Paul Postma will play as soon as he is strong enough to handle the NHL. The Thrashers have also not shied away from playing 18 year old first round picks (Zach Bogosian, Evander Kane), so whomever they pick 8th overall could have a legitimate shot at making the roster out of camp.
We thank Matthew for taking time out to answer these burning questions in Atlanta! You can catch his work over at SB Nation's Bird Watchers Anonymous, and I recommend following him on Twitter as well.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.