It's the best time of year!
With today’s much-anticipated announcement, it’s official. The Atlanta Thrashers are moving to Winnipeg as True North Sports and Entertainment has successfully purchased the team. The Thrashers – or whatever name they’ll be – will play in Winnipeg next season. Most people are wondering what the new team name will be, whether the NHL will even work in Winnipeg after the city lost the Jets in 1996, and calling out the league for allowing the move.
But what kind of team is the city getting? One with a bright future and an array of young talent, unlike what an expansion club would look like.
The 2010-11 Thrashers were one of the youngest teams in the league this season – and it showed. In the first half, they were the feel-good story of the NHL. At one point, they even led the Southeast Division. However, a huge letdown came after the New Year. The Thrashers plummeted in the second half and finished 13 points out of a playoff spot.
Despite the horrid second half, this is a team that is exciting to watch and is only going to get better.
They are anchored on the blue-line by Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom. Byfuglien’s unbelievable first half earned him a trip to the All-Star Game, while Enstrom has quietly been a consistent offensive defenseman in his three years. The forgotten man, 2008 third overall pick Zach Bogosian, also has not reached his ceiling.
In goal, the Thrashers possess a solid one-two punch in Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason. Pavelec was a big part of their first half success, but still has better days ahead. While Mason struggled in his first year in Atlanta, the Alberta native has been steady his whole career.
Up front is where most of the question marks lie. Nik Antropov is the highest-paid forward, yet finished sixth on the team with 41 points in 76 games. Captain Andrew Ladd led the team in points, but wouldn’t be a first-line winger on most NHL teams. Then there’s youngsters like Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov and Bryan Little that have yet to show their potential on a consistent basis.
Head Coach Craig Ramsay is known for his skills in teaching young talent, and this team has a lot of it. Prospects Patrice Cormier (21 NHL games in 2010-11) and Carl Klingberg (1 game) have potential. You can also include the 7th overall pick in this summer's draft in that conversation.
A big positive for Winnipeg is that, according to CapGeek.com, there is only $35.9 million tied in to 15 players. TNSE and wealthy owner David Thomson will assuredly spend closer to the salary cap than Atlanta did, which means there will be flexibility and some money to throw around to only a few players. With saying that, Winnipeg isn’t going to be at the top of many free agents’ lists of desired destinations; so the trade route could be easier.
General Manager Rick Dudley will have some work to do before he can start adding pieces to this roster, though. There are some uncertainties about whether Ladd, a restricted free agent, will re-sign to play in Manitoba. Other RFA’s include Bogosian, Blake Wheeler and Anthony Stewart.
A month or two ago it looked like the Phoenix Coyotes would be the team moving to Winnipeg. Just from a fan’s point of view, I’m sure hockey fans in Winnipeg they are getting the Thrashers instead. The Coyotes have a lot of veterans and don’t exactly play the most exciting brand of hockey.
Meanwhile, the Thrashers have a lot of talented youngsters that the Winnipeg fan base can get behind and grow to know in the next handful of years. They may not be a playoff team just yet, but may be one or two pieces away from being one, despite the eventual move to the rugged Western Conference.
Will they be called the Winnipeg Jets? Manitoba Moose? Winnipeg Falcons? Whatever their name will be, the team Winnipeg is getting has a solid foundation to start from and will only get better in the coming years.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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