As I was waiting for the Coyotes/Wings game to start today, I let my mind wander to the Thrashers' needs for the upcoming season. What does Rick Dudley have to work with in his first season as GM? What weapons will the new coach have at his disposal? What does Dudley need to go get in order to put this franchise on the right track?
I will get back to my four part series as the playoffs continue, but for now let's take a look at what's in the cabinet.
As C-Viv has informed us, both Maxim Afinogenov and Pavel Kubina want to come back. Hopefully Dudley can find the right price for both of them; it sounds like Kubina is very happy to see Dudley in the GM seat. I would be surprised to see Colby Armstrong re-signed after a 15 goal season. He was pretty invisible over the last 20 games or so and his on-ice contributions would be easily replaced for cheaper. If he comes back it will be for his locker room presence, but his salary could be better spent keeping Kubina and Fins.
Do we even need to discuss Slava Kozlov?
The top line of Bergfors, Antropov, and Little performed well over the final stretch and I would expect Bergie and Lits to get their RFA contracts worked out and see them line up together in training camp. Continued progress from Bergfors and a rebound from Little would go a long way to extending the Thrashers 10-11 season.
Evander Kane really stepped up in the last stretch of play. Hopefully he will work hard over the summer, put on a little bulk, and come back stronger and smarter. Put his grit and skill on a line with Rich Peverly and a re-signed Maxim Afinogenov and you've got a very potent second line.
If Todd White isn't traded for a draft pick in late June, he will probably be penciled in on the third line to play wit Jimmy Slater, who was the hardest working Thrasher this year and fully deserved the Dan Snyder Award. If Jimmy isn't re-signed, I will personally throw a fit on this here blog and call Rick Dudley all sorts of unfriendly names. I don't foresee a rebound year for Todd White, but then again I didn't expect to see 20 goals from him in 08-09 either.
Personally, I would re-sign Jimmy and trade Todd White for a draft pick. This would allow Jimmy and Marty Reasoner to battle it out for a spot on the third line and would make room for two youngsters to play there as well. Fighting for those places would be Tim Stapleton (impressive work in his short tryout at the end of the year), Joey Crabb (great year in Chicago and he proved he can hold his own last year), Spencer Machacek (20 goals and 68 pim in Chicago this year), Jeremy Morin, and Patrice Cormier.
The checking line was just as good if not better than last season, and I see no reason to change it. In fact, I have no idea why Artuykin was brought in at all. Let the big guy go sign somewhere else. Bring back Eric Boulton who knows when and when not to drop the gloves, and has worked very hard on becoming a better all around player this year. Chris Thorburn already has a contract and can play with Boults and the loser of Jimmy and Marty's battle for third line ice time.
The defense is looking pretty solid with Bogo (due to rebound after a sophomore slump), Enstrom, Oduya, and Hainsey (really stepped up after the Kovalchuk trade). Re-signing Kubina would make this corps very impressive and would leave one final roster spot to be won by either Boris Valabik, Arturs Kulda, or Ivan Vishnevskiy.
The Thrashers need a very good goalie coach who can shape Ondrej Pavelec into the goaltender he could be. Either re-signing Moose (my preference) or bringing in another reliable backup would ensure a good foundation between the pipes.
Re-signing Afinogenov, Kubina, and Hedberg, then bringing up a couple of young guys itching for a shot in the NHL would ice a solid team for 2010-2011. Is it a playoff team? I doubt it. For the team I have described above to make the playoffs, we would have to see drastic steps forward from Kane, Bergfors, Little, the two third-line rookies, and Pavelec.
A lot can happen between now and the beginning of October. But take a look at that team described above, then think about how those younger players would look for the 2011-2012 season. Who do we want to give up in order to squeek into the playoffs next year?