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