Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hartley Gone, Problems Still Abound

The web is buzzing today with the news that Bob Hartley, our very bestest friend, has become the first casualty of Atlanta's dubious 0-6-0 start. Caps fans in particular seem both overjoyed and unsurprised by the move and I'd count myself among them as we bid adieu to Smilin' Bob.

Being winless and in fact pointless to start the season isn't good. To score only 9 goals and be shutout twice with the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Slava Kozlov and Marian Hossa on your team is even worse. Throw in a painful four-game sweep at the hand of the Rangers back in April and it's no wonder that Hartley got the axe.

What's happening in Atlanta, though, is not as great a fall as people seem to think and that is because, and I mean this with all due respect, they weren't that great a team last year. They were average, maybe even good. They started out hot and at times seemed poised to run away with the division. But this was a division that frankly was a pretty easy division to win - and they barely did that, holding off Tampa with a whip and a chair as the season drew to a close.

Oh, and save the talk about two of the last three Cup champs being from the Southeast. Our division has, in the past, done plenty to remove the moniker of "SouthLeast" and the Carolina and Tampa teams that won were great teams; the ones we saw last year were not.

Atlanta finished with 97 points last year. 43 of those came from division play. That's almost 45% of their point total for the year. Compare that with the seven other postseason teams in the East:

Buffalo - 113 points, 39 from division rivals (34.5%)
New Jersey - 107 points, 47 from division rivals (43%)
Ottawa - 105 points, 41 from division (39%)
Pittsburgh - 105 points, 43 from division (41%)
NY Rangers - 94 points, 35 from division (37%)
Tampa Bay - 93 points, 40 from division (43%)
NY Islanders - 92 points, 38 from division (41%)

Look who comes the closest - NJ and Pittsburgh, who had the Flyers to kick around but also managed 100+ point seasons (while also playing each other 8x), and Tampa...another Southeast Division alum.

But let's not stop there; look at the most telling total from the Thrashers "glorious" season - overtime and shootout losses. Atlanta picked up 7 points (5 OT, 2 SO) from losses in the extra frame against division foes, more than any other postseason team. Even the Islanders, who squeaked into the playoffs by way of a shootout win, earned only four points by essentially losing to their Atlantic rivals.

I'm not going to rally against the point system right now because I have neither the will nor the energy - but take away those 7 loser points and the Thrashers were on the outside looking in.

That's not to say that Atlanta didn't have a decent team last year. When I say they weren't that good I don't mean they were worthy of a last place finish. They've got considerable talent and youth (neither of which is found in their current captain, but again, another discussion for another day) and they did a fair job of taking out the Caps on more than one occasion last year.

But they were for large stretches of the season inconsistent - and I don't mean that mildly. I mean blatantly, glaringly inconsistent, winning 5 or 6 in a row and then losing 5 or 6 in a row. Even when the season started and they picked up points in 11 of their first 12 games, four of their wins came in the extra frame, three of those were OT or shootout losses - and 9 of those games were against the Southeast.

So here's where they stand right now. Going into this season they've lost their big free agent rental Tkachuk, Caps-killer Jon Sim, Andy Sutton, JP Vigier, Greg De Vries, Vitali Vishnevsky, Niko Kapanen and Shane Hnidy, all of whom were part of getting them to the postseason for the first time in franchise history.

They picked up Ken Klee.

And they're placing their hopes on a 23 year old goaltender who will probably be a great goalie someday, you know, when he grows up.

...and they're 0-6 why now? Puzzler.


Jennifer said...

Vish and Kapanen were both ditched mid-season last year. Kapenen stunk and we just released him outright. Vish went in the trade to Nashville that landed us Belenger.

CapsChick said...

Yup, I know :) I think you guys were a lot better in the first half of the season so they got the I like mentioning Vish just because Brashear decided to use his head as a punching bag for no apparent reason.