The Atlanta Thrashers

Graeme
By
Posted: October 25, 2014


The Atlanta Thrashers were a professional ice hockey team that played in the Southeast Division of the NHL’s Eastern conference. They were active between 1999 and 2011, winning one division title. The Thrashers were based at the Phillips Arena in Atlanta.

How Did the Thrashers Start Up?

Atlanta had been left without a professional ice hockey team after the 1996 relocation of IHL franchise Atlanta Knights. With the NHL looking to expand, Atlanta was granted a franchise on June 25, 1997 alongside Columbus, St. Paul and Nashville. The new franchise was owned by media mogul Ted Turner. The nickname “Thrashers” was picked following a fan poll in that pursuit. The Phillips Arena was built to host the new team. They played their first game on October 2, 1999 against the New Jersey Devils and lost 4-1.

The Thrashers in Competition

The first season for the Thrashers, 1999/2000 was disappointing. They found points hard to come by and ended the season in last place in the division with 39 points and a record of 14-61-7-4, the worst in the entire league. The next season the finished second last despite solid play from Ray Ferraro who scored 76 points. Rooky duo Danny Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk both had a great season scoring 26 goals and 29 goals respectively in the 2001/2002 season. However, the Thrashers again came up with a league worst 19-54-11 record. The duo continued to impress during 2002/2003, and the team finished third in the division under new coach Bob Hartley. They had a record of 31-39-7-5.

2003/2004 started in catastrophic fashion as Dan Snyder died in a car accident in which Heatley also injured his knee. They placed second in the division with a 33-37-8-4 record with Kovalchuk contributing 41 goals and 46 assists. The post-lockout season of 2005/2006 saw Heatley and veterans Bobby Holik and Peter Bronda leave. However, they managed a winning record of 41-33-8 and missed the playoffs by just two points. Kovalchuk shined again scoring 52 goals.

2006/2007 was the best season for the franchise as they finished first in the division with 97 points and a 43-28-11 record. However, they were swept for four games by the New York Rangers in the playoffs. They finished fourth in 2008/2009 and second in 2009/2010 missing the playoffs narrowly thanks to a 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils who had acquired Kovalchuk. Amid ownership wrangles, the Thrashers blew hot and cold during the 2010/2011 season winning six straight games in December then losing nine of ten later in the season. They finished with a 34-36-12 record, missing out on the playoffs again. They lost their final game 5-2 to Pittsburg Penguins at the Phillips Arena and this was to be their last outing as the Atlanta Thrashers.

The Thrashers’ Most Notable Moments

At the start of the 2003/2004 season, Atlanta had hoped to carry on the good form from the conclusion of the previous season. However, tragedy struck in preseason when Danny Heatley and Dan Snyder were involved in a motor accident. Snyder succumbed five days later while Heatley was sidelined for most of the season with a knee injury. Heatley, who had been driving the Ferrari was deemed responsible but did not face criminal charges. The team finished a relatively impressive second in the division, and it could only be left to speculation what would have been if Heatley had been available to continue their devastating partnership with Ilya Kovalchuk.

Atlanta Thrashers’ Most Notable Players

Ilya Kovalchuk joined the Thrashers as a rookie in 2001 and contributed a strong goal tally to the offense from the start. He became the first Thrasher to score 50 goals in a season and scored more than 40 goals for five consecutive seasons between 2003 and 2009. He is the Thrasher’s all time goal scorer with 328.

Dan Heatley was drafted by the Thrashers as a rookie along with Kovalchul and hit the ground running, with 26 goals in his first year. He finished the 2002/2003 season with 41 goals and 48 assists earning him an All-Star call-up. He was named All-Star Game MVP after scoring four goals. However, after sustaining injuries in a car crash that also killed Dan Snyder, he never truly recovered for the Thrashers and was traded to Ottawa Senators in 2005.

Marian Hossa joined Atlanta in 2005 and scored 92 points, which he then surpassed in 2007 in the process becoming the first Thrasher to score 100 points in one season. He was named to the All-Star squad and he recorded four assists in the All-Star game.

What Happened to the Atlanta Thrashers?

Apart from one division title, the Thrashers were unable to register any significant success. The franchise had retreated into loss making with the owners group Atlanta Spirit which had acquired the franchise in 2003, announcing a 6-year $130 million loss. Reports of possible relocation were rife and the owners were courted by suitors from various cities. Having failed to find interested local buyers, the team was eventually sold to Canadian consortium true North Sports & Entertainment. On June 21, 2011, the relocation to Winnipeg, Canada was approved by the NHL board. The team was renamed “Winnipeg Jets”, replacing the original Jets who had left the city for Phoenix.

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