The Puck Daddy blog over at Yahoo has published their staff predictions for the Eastern Conference. Not surprisingly, none of them picked the Thrashers to make the playoffs. Predictions for how Atlanta would fare within the Southeast Division bounced back and forth between third and forth place finishing behind unanimous first place Washington, and some combination of Carolina and/or Tampa.
While I am optimistic about Craig Ramsay, our goaltending, and our blueline, I don't think this Thrashers squad has enough firepower to get higher than 10th place in the East. I look at our team and see a lot of similarities to other mediocre teams such as the Rangers, Leafs, and Predators.
Has hockey had a paradigm shift in recent years? Does the old wisdom of building from the goal outward still work? Look at successful teams from last year.
Washington- great forwards, thin defense, weak and streaky goaltending (killed them in the playoffs).
Philly- great forwards, pretty good defense, chaos in net.
Chicago- great forwards, great defense, adequate but not great in net.
Montreal- pretty good forwards, decent defense, shaky goaltending that got hot in the playoffs.
Vancouver- great forwards, decent defense, hit or miss great or mediocre goaltending depending on Luongo's mood.
In the cap era, you need to have balance. A superstar goalie eating up a big chunk of your cap space will take away from either the defense in front of him, leading to more shots on goal, or from the forward corps meaning that your team doesn't put up enough points even though your goalie is keeping you in the game. Likewise, spending too much of your cap up front means that you'll be in barn burners every night with your bargain basement defense and goalie behind you letting in goal after goal.
So far Atlanta is set up nicely with a solid D and average to above average goaltending (depending on Pavelec's development). That has left enough cap space to ice some goal scorers, but Dudley hasn't found them yet.
As such, this team will lose a lot of 1-0 and 2-1 games, and will likely be in the 10-12th place range along with their peers in Toronto, Ottawa, and New York.