With the signing of Eric Boulton on Tuesday, the Thrashers likely added the final piece to their puzzle of forwards — perhaps with the tinkering here or there of a minor move.
They now have 10 forwards under contract and three others who are restricted free agents who have filed for arbitration, which virtually guarantees they will be members of the team. That total of 13 is pretty much the number a team carries during the regular season.
Article continues below ...
So with the trade of Ilya Kovalchuk last February and by not re-signing 24-goal scorer Max Afinogenov, some might wonder: Do the Thrashers have enough scoring?
The answer is resounding yes.
With the loss of Kovalchuk, Afinogenov, Colby Armstrong, Slava Kozlov, Marty Reasoner and Evgeny Artyukhin, the Thrashers lost 87 goals. That’s obviously a lot — more than 1/3 of their total.
But with the acquisition of Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Ben Eager, they added 41. Then take into account the 13 goals that Clarke MacArthur scored with Buffalo before he was acquired and the 13 Niclas Bergfors scored with New Jersey last season before he was acquired and you’re up to 67 goals — 20 off the number the Thrashers forwards would need to make up from last year’s pace to equal the 230 they scored in 2009-10.
You might be wondering how many goals a team needs to score to be successful. Last season the Thrashers tied for 11th overall, but they were only three away from being tied for seventh.
And, really, how many goals does a team need to score? After all, anyone who has ever followed the Thrashers knows that with the exception of their first few years as an expansion franchise, scoring goals has never been the problem. It’s stopping them that has bedeviled the organization.
Let’s see where some teams that had more success last season finished in scoring. Nashville finished 18th with 13 fewer goals than Atlanta and totaled 100 points (10th overall in the NHL) in the more competitive Western Conference. St. Louis scored 12 fewer and finished 15th overall in the standings, despite missing the playoffs in the West. (Boston, where Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay served as an assistant last season, was the NHL’s lowest scoring team, but still almost advanced to the conference finals — although that’s hardly an ideal model to follow.)
So, the Thrashers forwards — based on last season’s production — essentially need to score 10 or 15 more goals collectively than they did last season. Can they do it?
The question isn’t even whether they can do it, it’s how much they might shatter that mark by. Bryan Little regressed big-time in Year 2 from Year 1, reducing his goal total from 31 to 13. Who thinks he won’t be closer to 20 than 13? Evander Kane had 14 in 66 games, missing a large number because of a broken foot late in the season. Who thinks he’ll be closer to 20 than 14? Dustin Byfuglien ranked fourth among Blackhawks forwards in power-play time last season and had six power-play goals. Who thinks he’ll get more power play time (someone has to pick up the giant swaths of time vacated by Kovalchuk and Afinogenov) and score more goals? Jim Slater seemed to finally start to hit his potential last season, scoring 11 goals in only 61 games, as he was a healthy scratch for 21 early on. Who thinks he’ll score a few more?
Andrew Ladd, who ranked 10th among Blackhawks forwards in time-on-ice per game, figures to have a much more prominent role in Atlanta, as does Ben Eager, who scored a respectable seven goals in 60 games despite averaging only 8:19 per game — 16th among Chicago forwards.
In total, the Thrashers should have excellent scoring depth, something they have lacked in their history, relying on the likes of Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa. And having enough scoring ought to ease any pressures that potential rookies Alexander Burmistrov and/or Patrice Cormier might have as they attempt to break into the league.
“I remember it was Kovalchuk and Hossa and playing against those guys the whole time,” Ladd said on Saturday in his first conference call with Atlanta reporters of his memories of playing against the Thrashers while he was with Southeast Division rival Carolina. “Now it’s a little bit of a different make-up. We’re pretty deep all the way through, which is something I don