Thrashers hope ex-Hawks bring winning attitude

Dustin Byfuglien looks to his left and sees Ben Eager. Just

across the room, there’s Brent Sopel and Andrew Ladd.

At the end of last season, all four were hoisting the Stanley

Cup for the Chicago Blackhawks.

They’re still teammates. Only now, it’s with a franchise that

has never won a playoff game.

The Atlanta Thrashers hope their four newcomers – call them

Blackhawks South – will bring along a winning attitude that has

been in desperately short supply since the franchise entered the

league in 1999.

”When we face adversity, when we face tough situations, they’ve

been there, done that,” said Craig Ramsay, the Thrashers’ new

coach. ”They’ve gone through the grind of actually winning a

Stanley Cup. They know what it’s like to fight to be a top team in

the league.”

Byfuglien is the most prominent of the ex-Blackhawks, a behemoth

of a player who scored 11 playoff goals and ruled the crease during

Chicago’s run to the championship. Despite his dominance as a power

forward, the Thrashers decided to shift him back to defense, his

original position.

That’s just fine with Byfuglien, who figures he’ll still get

plenty of scoring chances with Ramsay urging everyone to get

involved in the offense.

Byfuglien sees a plenty of similarities between the state of the

Atlanta team – years of losing, a dwindling fan base – and what was

going on just a few years ago with the Blackhawks.

Chicago began stockpiling talented young players, making the

occasional trade to fill in the gaps, and built up a championship

team that is now the toast of sellout crowds in the Windy City.

”When I first got there, it was just like this,” Byfuglien

said. ”In fact, I think we might be a little ahead of the game

here. It’s just a matter of time before everything clicks

together.”

Excuse the city of Atlanta if it’s a little skeptical of that

rosy assessment.

The Thrashers are nothing more than an afterthought in a city

that, even in the best of times, is going to devote more attention

to football, baseball and basketball. More troubling is having the

loyal base of hockey fans turn their backs on the franchise, but

they can’t be blamed given a track record that includes one playoff

appearance in 10 seasons (and a quick four-game sweep).

There’s been plenty of griping about a penny-pinching ownership

that has allowed stars such as Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk to

slip away, and persistent rumors that the franchise if being

shopped around and could wind up in another city.

But for now, there’s a glimmer of hope as the Thrashers prepare

to open the season Friday night against the Washington

Capitals.

Rick Dudley has taken over as general manager. Ramsay has gotten

his long-awaited chance as an NHL coach. And there’s a new group of

promising players to build around, led by 20-year-old Zach Bogosian

and teenage forwards Evander Kane and Alexander Burmistrov.

With Chicago forced to dump players to stay within the salary

cap, Dudley swooped in to land Byfuglien, Eager and Sopel in one

deal, then pulled off another to bring in Ladd.

”It’s a business,” Sopel said. ”With the salary cap issues,

it’s pretty tough. That’s what we all fell victim to. It’s part of

the job. But I’m excited to be in Atlanta. It reminds me of the

Chicago team three years ago when I got there. Some young kids,

great talent, great kids looking to learn, looking to get better,

looking to win.”

The Thrashers do look better on defense with Byfuglien and Sopel

joining Bogosian, Ron Hainsey, Tobias Enstrom and Johnny Oduya.

Chris Mason was signed as a free agent but the team hopes

23-year-old Ondrej Pavelec will become the sort of dominant No. 1

goaltender they’ve never had in Atlanta.

The biggest question is up front.

Atlanta has only three players – Nik Antropov (24), Rich

Peverley (22) and Niclas Bergfors (21) – who scored as many as 20

goals in the NHL last season. An 0-5-1 preseason in which the

Thrashers managed just 10 goals did little to raise hopes.

Maybe the Ex-Hawks will help turn things around.

”It’s great to have added players who have won the Stanley Cup

before,” Kane said. ”They bring a winning attitude that we can

build on. With so many new faces, it takes a while to come

together. But everyone is excited about what this team can

do.”