With the trade deadline behind us and the roster frozen (except for waivers and free agency signings) through the end of the 09-10 season, let's take a quick look at DW and Dudley's summer job. No, they won't be shagging balls at Lake Lanier Islands, they will be trying to ensure that the Atlanta Thrashers continue to improve for years to come.
Loyal readers know I like to look at things as a depth chart, so let's do that now. Here's what our current roster looks like for forwards:
With Kozlov, Boulton, and White in the press box.
Kozlov, Armstrong, Slater, Afinogenov, Artyukhin, and Boulton will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the year. Little, MacArthur, and Bergfors will be restricted free agents. For those who don't know, UFA's can sign with anyone for any price. RFA's, after being offered a minimum "qualifying offer" from the Thrashers, can only sign with another team if Atlanta declines to match the other team's offer. In that case, the other team has to compensate Atlanta with draft picks for poaching the player. That very rarely happens.
So with eight roster spots filled with players currently under contract or RFA's, Waddell and Dudley have to fill four more spots. They may do so by re-signing some or all of those UFA's, bringing in new UFA's, trading for players, bringing up prospects, or drafting NHL ready players.
We all know that NHL ready players are very rare in the draft. Especially once you get past the first five or six picks. The Thrashers don't project to have a top six pick this year, so even a draft like this one that is supposed to be "deep" won't likely produce someone you can plug right into your lineup for 2010-11.
I would expect Waddell to make strong pitches to Armstrong (who is rumored to want out, but his wife is a native, so don't discount him yet) and Fins. With the way Jimmy Slater has played in the latter half of the season, I would also expect him to be offered a deal, and can't imagine him leaving. If you could Jimmy as staying with the fold, then you need to fill 3 forward spots with some combination of pending UFA's Fins, R2, Boulton, or Armstrong, an outside RFA, trade, or prospect.
Teams don't like to keep their youth down in the minors without trying them out on the big squad, and Atlanta is looking stacked as far as forward prospects go. HockeysFuture.com ranks Atlanta's stable the 6th strongest in the NHL. Between Cormier, Macachek, Leville, Morin, Klinberg, Crabb, and Postma, somebody is going to get a shot next year to fill one of those slots. Those are all guys who are expected to light the lamp in the NHL, so they won't be brought up just to occupy a spot on the 4th line, but 3rd liners get significant playing time in John Anderson's system.
With the in house UFA's and that crop of prospects, I wouldn't expect Thrashers' management to dive too deep into the free agent market for forwards this summer.
On to defense, here is the hand we're currently holding:
Kubina is a pending UFA, as are Schubert, Popovic and Chelios. Kulda looked good before the Olympic break and I would expect him to have a home in Atlanta in October. Kubina will receive a lucrative offer, but I have no way to gauge whether or not he'll be receptive to it. If he leaves, you can move Oduya up to his spot in that depth chart, put Kulda on the third pairing and look outside to fill the last spot and add some depth.
Vishnevskiy will also get a close look at training camp and might fit into that last roster spot, but we will still need an insurance defenseman for the inevitable injuries, suspensions, and the flu.
Trading away the obsolete Todd White, perhaps packaged with either a forward prospect or draft pick could bring in someone useful to bolster the defense as well.
Assuming Moose re-signs with Atlanta, which I absolutely expect he would, he and Ondrej will continue to tend the crease with MacIntyre coming up in emergencies.
It's not a daunting task for DW and Dudley this summer. Draft well and develop the young'uns, and this team's future looks bright.
For the Chronicle, I'm Razor Catch Prey.