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Atlanta Thrashers History

Founded: During the NHL’s latest wave of expansion in 1999, as the second of four teams to be founded that brought the league from 26 teams to 30.
Home Arena: Philips Arena
Jersey Colors: Blue, Red, Yellow
Logo Design: Stylized orange thrasher (Georgia’s state bird) on a blue background gripping a stick with its body.
Seasons: 5
Division titles: 0
Conference titles: 0
Playoff appearances: 0
Stanley Cup Final appearances: 0
Stanley Cups: 0
All Time Record: 410 games, 120 wins, 225 losses, 45 ties, 20 overtime losses

The Thrashers were the second to be founded of four expansion teams that raised the number of squads in the NHL from 26 to 30, after Nashville in 1998, and before Minnesota and Columbus in 2000. Founded by Ted Turner, Atlanta’s wealthiest son, the Thrashers fell under the umbrella of the AOL-Time Warner corporation, who also owned the Braves and Hawks.

With former minor-league journeyman Don Waddell at the helm as general manager, who was snatched from an assistant GM position with the Detroit Red Wings and who had experience running two teams in the International Hockey League, Waddell’s team in 1999-2000 was littered with veteran cast-offs. Waddell hired Curt Fraser, a former NHL winger and a coach for Waddell’s former IHL team in Orlando, to lead them; however, Atlanta’s first NHL season was underwhelming at best, as the team finished a dismal 14-57-7-4. Only winger Andrew Brunette finished with more than twenty goals, the franchise’s first draft selection, the highly touted center Patrik Stefan, had a mediocre rookie season with just five goals and twenty-five points, the team’s goaltending was awful, and at times some positions seemed like a revolving door as veterans were shipped in and out.

Some consolation came when the Thrashers were able to take winger Dany Heatley with the second overall pick in the 2000 entry draft. However, Heatley would not arrive for another season, and the 2000-01 version of the Thrashers had made few improvements in terms of personnel over the previous season. The team did improve, however, after veterans Ray Ferraro, Brunette, and Donald Audette found some chemistry together on the team’s first line; even though Audette was traded late in the season, the threesome still accounted for 76 of the team’s 211 goals scored that season. The team finished with a slightly better record at 23-45-12-2, but still finished well out of the playoffs, due mostly to continued problems in goal and on defence.

Still, for the second straight season allowed the Thrashers to select high in the entry draft, and after winning the draft lottery for the number one overall pick, the Thrashers selected young Ilya Kovalchuk, the consensus choice for the league’s next Russian star. With Kovalchuk and Heatley both in the lineup as rookies, the Thrashers had a different look on offence, but even though Heatley won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, Kovalchuk scored 29 goals, and little-known goaltender Milan Hnlicka put up the best numbers of any Thrasher goalie to date, the lack of offensive support coupled with a defence still lacking in quality caused the Thrashers to finish with just 19 wins.

The acquisition of veteran forwards Shawn McEachern and Vyacheslav Kozlov during the off-season and centre Marc Savard early in 2002-03 gave some optimism to the franchise. The team got off to a slow start, however, and Fraser was given his walking papers, replaced on an interim basis by GM Waddell and eventually by former Colorado Avalanche coach Bob Hartley. Even though Hartley led the team to a renaissance of sorts, with a 20-14-5-1 record in his 40 games behind the bench, Heatley finished the season amongst the league leaders with 41 goals and 89 points, and Kovalchuk improved to 38 goals and 67 points, the team still finished well out of the playoffs.

Optimism that under Hartley the team would finally reach the playoffs was derailed in the off-season of 2003, when Heatley crashed his car mere days before training camp, an accident that, sadly, took the life of teammate Dan Snyder. Despite the tragedy, the Thrashers got off to a hot start despite the death of the popular Snyder and Heatley’s injuries and legal charges stemming from the crash, with Ilya Kovalchuk seemingly running the team’s entire offence single-handedly. After being the early-season favourite for league MVP, however, Kovalchuk eventually cooled off, and not even Heatley’s return to the lineup could get the team into the playoffs, despite an improved defence and a new system under Hartley. With a prospect stable including highly-touted goaltender Kari Lehtonen and defenseman Braydon Coburn and new local ownership after the team was sold by AOL Time-Warner, the Thrashers seem poised to finally make a run at the playoffs, but with Heatley’s day in court still looming large over the team’s fortunes, little is certain in Philips Arena these days.

Greatest Players

Goaltenders: Milan Hnlicka (2000-03), Pasi Nurminen (2001-present)
Yannick Tremblay (1999-present), Frantisek Kaberle (1999-2004), Chris Tamer (1999-present), Daniel Tjarnqvist (2001-present)
Dany Heatley (2001-present), Ilya Kovalchuk (2001-present), Ray Ferraro (1999-2002), Patrik Stefan (1999-present), Vyacheslav Kozlov (2002-present), Andrew Brunette (1999-2001)

Major Award Winners

Ilya Kovalchuk (“Rocket” Richard Trophy, co-winner 2004)
Dany Heatley (Calder Memorial Trophy, 2002)

(All information compiled by Brian Pike, MOP Squad Sports Hockey Editor)