ATLANTA, GA -- The Atlanta Thrashers will start the 2010-11 season without a young superstar or real marketable name on their team for the first time since 2001.
It used to be so easy to market the team; slap a picture of your superstar on tickets, programs and billboards. They had a face. Someone that people could go to a game just to see play.
Of course, this didnít always translate into fan interest, but people knew the names of the star players.
For the first time in 10 years, the Thrashers don't have a Kari Lethonen, Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk or Marian Hossa to help fill seats. In a few months, from top to bottom, the organization has transformed. Don Waddell, the only GM the team has ever known, has bequeathed those responsibilities to Rick Dudley. A new head coach in Craig Ramsay, new associate coach John Torchetti, and an entirely new attitude is going to hit the ice this year.
So, then what do they have?
They have a team. They have depth and size up front. Atlanta has never had more than five 20-goal scorers in one season, but the upcoming campaign may see that change.
Overall, the forwards are young. There's a good possibility that Patrick Rissmiller will be the oldest starter at 31 years of age. Whatís interesting is that, despite their young age, they have a fair amount of playoff and Stanley Cup winning experience thanks to the trade with the Blackhawks which saw Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien come to town.
Byfuglien may the most well-known name on the roster. Heís a converted defenseman that has enough talent to play on the second line, as well as the second powerplay unit. Anyone who watched Chicagoís run to the cup last year realizes that he can play with power, grit and touch. It seems like he has the potential to be a perennial 20-goal scorer. He plays hard and with attitude, not afraid to mix it up in the corners or park his 6í4Ē, 257 pound frame in front of an opposing teamís goalie. The biggest question regarding Byfuglien is how will he produce without players like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews setting him up.
The Thrashers have young promise on defense. Budding star Zach Bogosian who, at 20-years old, looks like the cornerstone of the corps for years to come, and Toby Enstrom, a top-10 defenseman in terms of scoring last year, will make up the top pairing. Ron Hainsey has 40-point potential and Johnny Oduya, who came to Atlanta as part of the Kovalchuk trade, is sound defensively with offensive upside. The bottom three defensive pairing will likely be decided during training camp with Brent Sopel, Artrus Kulda, and the towering Boris Valabik.
In goal, itís debatable, but some people feel they have the best goalie that has ever donned a sweater for Atlanta in Chris Mason.
Even though his name doesnít roll of the tongue of the casual hockey fan, Mason will be the steady veteran who can keep them in games. He should also be an excellent veteran influence on 22-year old Ondrej Pavelec, who is likely to see action in about 20 games.
So then what does it all mean?
Itís hard to say right now. On paper, itís not out of line to say that, despite losing their superstar player and the face of the franchise for the past three years, the Thrashers improved more than any team in the NHL. How that translates to the ice is a different story.
But thereís hope in Atlanta. For a team that has never celebrated a playoff game victory, much less a series, the Thrashers may wind up turning some heads come April.