Odd as it seems to discuss the Thrashers' prospects in the wake
of the Sept. 29 car crash that mortally injured center Dan Snyder
and seriously hurt right wing Dany Heatley (page 20), the fact is
that Heatley, 22, is by far Atlanta's best player. Two years ago
he was the NHL's Rookie of the Year, and last season he had 41
goals and 89 points. However, because of Heatley's injuries
(broken jaw, torn ligaments in his right knee) and his uncertain
legal status (he will appear in court on Friday to enter pleas on
a felony charge of first-degree vehicular homicide plus four
misdemeanor charges), he will be unavailable for the foreseeable
Filling Heatley's spot on the first line at week's end was
veteran wing and captain Shawn McEachern, who scored only 10
goals in 46 games last season before undergoing back surgery.
However, general manager Don Waddell created the option for
future lineup changes by trading a fourth-round pick to Carolina
for goaltender Jani Hurme, a steady backup in Florida, whom the
Hurricanes had claimed in last week's waiver draft. With three
goalies--starter Pasi Nurminen and Byron Dafoe are the
others--the Thrashers can offer one of them in a trade for a
scoring forward. "We're not going to panic," says Waddell. "It
would be easy to say we need a first-line winger, but we don't
get caught up with names. We get caught up with how a hockey
player's going to help our team this year."
Before the accident the fifth-year Thrashers were expected to
take another step toward their first playoff appearance. After
the team stumbled to an 8-20-1-4 start last year, Waddell fired
coach Curt Fraser and replaced him with Bob Hartley, the former
Avalanche bench boss. Hartley's disciplined, defensive approach
worked, and Atlanta went 19-14-5-1 to finish the season strongly.
On offense the club was led by Heatley and 20-year-old left wing
Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored 38 goals.
Now the franchise will probably have to wait at least one more
year for a shot at the postseason. --M.B.
( 1 Best - 30 Worst )
POWER PLAY 17
PENALTY KILLING 27
G.M. AND COACH 19
Opponents will aggressively forecheck the Thrashers--none of
their blueliners move the puck well, which makes it difficult for
Atlanta to transition from defense to offense.... It's imperative
that talented F's Marc Savard and Patrik Stefan become consistent
offensive threats to keep the pressure off third-year scoring
star Ilya Kovalchuk.... Expect G's Pasi Nurminen and Byron Dafoe
to hold the fort until highly regarded 2002 first-round pick Kari
Lehtonen is ready next season.