1999 - 2011
|Home Arena||Philips Arena|
|Colors||Ice Blue, Bronze, Gold, Copper, Midnight Blue, and White|
|Minor League Affiliates||-|
The Atlanta Thrashers were a professional ice hockey team based in Atlanta, Georgia, United States. Atlanta was granted a franchise in the National Hockey League (NHL) on June 25, 1997, and became the league's 28th franchise when it began play in the 1999–2000 NHL season. They were members of the Southeast Division of the NHL's Eastern Conference, and played their home games at Philips Arena in downtown Atlanta. The Thrashers qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs only once, during the 2006–07 season when they won the Southeast Division, but never won a game in the postseason as they were swept in the first round by the New York Rangers.
In May 2011, the Thrashers were sold to a Canadian ownership group, True North Sports & Entertainment. The group moved the franchise to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and became the second incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets. The sale and relocation were approved by the National Hockey League on June 21, 2011. With the sale and relocation of the team, Atlanta became the first city in the NHL's modern era to lose two hockey teams. In both cases, the team moved from Atlanta to Canada; the city's previous NHL team, the Atlanta Flames, moved to Calgary, Alberta in 1980 to become the Calgary Flames.
2000-2003: The early years
The newly-formed Thrashers selected Patrik Stefan with the first overall selection and Luke Sellars with their thirtieth overall pick (second pick of the second round) in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. However, the entire 1999 NHL Entry Draft was a major disappointment for the Thrashers, as all of their eleven draft picks were out of the NHL by the team's last season of existence; Stefan played the most games for the Thrashers from that draft (414 games). Their first two picks (Stefan and Sellars) were called two of the biggest disappointments in draft history; NHL.com listed Stefan as the worst first overall pick of all-time and Sellars (who played only one NHL game) as the worst thirtieth overall pick in NHL history. This turn of events was a major surprise, as not only did the media hype Stefan as a franchise player, but hockey experts also considered Thrashers general manager Don Waddell to be a man with excellent scouting ability.
The Thrashers played their first game on October 2, 1999, losing 4–1 to the eventual Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils. Captain Kelly Buchberger scored the franchise's first goal in the loss. The team went on to finish their first season in last place in the Southeast Division, with a record of 14 wins, 61 losses and 7 ties for a total of 39 points.
Atlanta had the second overall pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft; this draft brought better results, as the player chosen with that pick, Dany Heatley, went on to become one of the team's best players. The team also had a fine choice in the 2001 Draft, with first overall pick Ilya Kovalchuk. Both Heatley and Kovalchuk played their first season in the NHL in 2001-02; both players were named to the NHL All-Rookie Team and Heatley was awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league's Rookie of the Year.
2003-2005: The Atlanta Spirit years and the NHL Lockout
On September 21, 2003, Time Warner, the owners of both the Thrashers and the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, sold both teams to Atlanta Spirit, LLC, a group consisting of businessmen based both in Atlanta and elsewhere.
Tragedy struck the team just eight days after the sale, as star forward Dany Heatley crashed his Ferrari in a one-car accident that seriously injured him and Thrashers center Dan Snyder. Heatley suffered a broken jaw and arm, a sprained wrist, and torn ACL and MCL knee ligaments, but Snyder died five days later due to septic shock from his injuries. The Thrashers dedicated their entire 2003-04 season to Snyder's memory, and Thrashers players wore black patches with Snyder's number, 37, on their jerseys for the season. Heatley's blood alcohol content was below the legal limit, but his combination of speeding (he was driving an estimated 80 miles per hour) and recklessness led to criminal charges, which were later dropped. He eventually received three years' probation and community service.
Led by captain Shawn McEachern, the Thrashers jumped quickly out of the gate with some notable highlights. Ilya Kovalchuk scored eight goals in the first seven games, including two hat tricks, one in a 7–2 rout of the Chicago Blackhawks and another in a come-from-behind victory against the Nashville Predators. Those comeback victories became a recurring sight throughout the season, as Atlanta pulled off stunning upsets over the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, and Ottawa Senators, as well as wins against the Los Angeles Kings and New York Islanders.
Eleven games into the season, the Thrashers were alone in first place atop both the Southeast Division and the NHL. Although they continued to play well, they could not keep up with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the eventual Stanley Cup champions, or other teams in the league. Boxing Day 2003 marked both a bright and dark day for the Thrashers. On that day, Heatley skated for the first time since his car accident with Snyder, but it also marked the last win for the Thrashers before an extended losing streak. From December 28 to February 11, the team went a dismal 1–17–3. However, fans were entertained regardless of the team's struggles. Kovalchuk became only the second Thrashers' player to score in the NHL All-Star Game (after Heatley).
While the Thrashers' playoff hopes were done for the year, they finished second in the Southeast Division to Tampa Bay and tenth in the Eastern Conference, only a handful of wins away from the playoffs. Kovalchuk tied for the league lead in goals (41) with Calgary's Jarome Iginla and Columbus' Rick Nash. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen began his NHL career with four wins in four starts, including one shutout.
2005-2006: Post Lockout
Before the start of the 2005–06 season, the Thrashers signed many veteran players in the hopes of making the playoffs, including forwards Peter Bondra, Bobby Holik, and Scott Mellanby, defenseman Jaroslav Modry, and goaltender Mike Dunham. At the same time, however, they lost one of their brightest stars, as Heatley requested a trade in an attempt to leave behind memories of his tragic 2003 car accident. He was eventually swapped to the Senators in exchange for Marian Hossa (a four-time 30-goal scorer at the time of the trade) and Greg de Vries.
The 2005–06 season saw the Thrashers win a club-record 41 games, even with numerous goaltending injuries. Only a few minutes into the first game of the season, Lehtonen pulled his groin, an injury that would keep him out for a good portion of the season. Veteran backup Dunham, an experienced number-one netminder, stepped in, but also promptly injured himself only a few games later; this left only prospects Michael Garnett and Adam Berkhoel to tend goal. Journeyman goalie Steve Shields was signed, but he too was injured within ten games. On April 6, Lehtonen was run into by Tampa Bay's Chris Dingman, injuring him yet again. The remainder of the season was left to Dunham. Garnett was injured in a game against the Washington Capitals. Dunham, who had started the game but was relieved by the young rookie after poor play, was forced back into action in the third period.
2006-2007: The First and Only Taste of Success
The Thrashers' 2006–07 season began with the highest expectations in franchise history, even after the team's second-leading scorer, Marc Savard, departed as a free agent for Boston. Veteran center Steve Rucchin, Niko Kapanen and Jon Sim were acquired in an effort to make up for the Savard loss. With NHL superstars Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk and a healthy goaltender, Kari Lehtonen, the Thrashers clinched their first playoff berth, winning the Southeast Division title and claiming the #3 seed and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. However, they were eliminated from the playoffs on April 18, being swept by the New York Rangers in four straight games in the Conference Quarterfinals, in what would be their first and only playoff appearance.
Just months after reaching the playoffs for the first time, the Thrashers started the 2007-08 season off 0–6. Consequently, they fired head coach Bob Hartley on October 17, 2007, with general manager Don Waddell taking over behind the bench on an interim basis. The Thrashers ended the season with only 76 points, finishing 14th in the Eastern Conference.
On January 27, 2008, the Thrashers hosted the NHL All-Star Game at Philips Arena, matching the Eastern Conference All-Stars vs. the Western Conference All-Stars. The game had originally been scheduled for the 2004-05 season, but the NHL lockout of that year, followed by the 2006 Winter Olympics the following season and the Dallas Stars' hosting of the 2007 NHL All-Star Game, made 2008 the earliest available date. The Eastern Conference won the game 8–7, with former Thrasher Marc Savard scoring the game winner late in the third period. Although he was a member of the Bruins, the Atlanta crowd cheered Savard the entire night.
On June 20, 2008, John Anderson was named as the fourth head coach in Thrashers history. In his first season, the Thrashers matched their previous season with 76 points, while finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference. Simultaneously, Atlanta Spirit, LLC, the team's ownership group, was coming apart at the seams. A dispute between Steve Belkin and his seven fellow owners dated back to 2005; Belkin claimed the other owners breached their contract, giving him the right to buy them out at cost, while his partners said they should be able to buy out Belkin's 30% stake. On November 3, court proceedings began in Maryland to decide the group's fate.
In the final year of his contract, Ilya Kovalchuk and the Thrashers could not come to an agreement on an extension. Thrashers general manager Don Waddell reportedly offered 12-year, $101 million and seven-year, $70 million contracts, both of which Kovalchuk turned down. Rather than potentially losing him to free agency in the off-season, the team traded Kovalchuk on February 4, 2010 to the New Jersey Devils. Atlanta received defenseman Johnny Oduya, rookie forward Niclas Bergfors, junior prospect Patrice Cormier and a first round selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in exchange for Kovalchuk and defenseman Anssi Salmela; the teams also traded second round selections in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. The Thrashers finished 10th in the Eastern Conference, with 83 points.
2010–2011: The final season in Atlanta
On April 14, 2010, three days after the finish of the 2009–10 season and after two unsuccessful attempts at making the playoffs, the contracts of head coach Anderson and his coaching staff were not renewed. General manager Waddell was promoted to President of Hockey Operations, while former assistant general manager Rick Dudley took Waddell's place as general manager. This was the first general manager change in Thrashers history.
Dudley made his first trade on June 23, 2010, involving nine players and draft picks, with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Thrashers received Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel and Akim Aliu for Marty Reasoner, Joseph Crabb, Jeremy Morin, the Thrashers' 1st-round pick (#24 overall) in 2010 and the Thrashers 2nd-round pick (#54 overall) in 2010. Later, the Thrashers also traded for Blackhawk Andrew Ladd while sending prospect Ivan Vishnevskiy and a draft pick to Chicago. The Blackhawks, the 2010 Stanley Cup champions, found it necessary to trade players for prospects and picks as they were in difficulty with the salary cap.
The next day, the team named Craig Ramsay as the new head coach. Ramsay, who had been an assistant coach for the Boston Bruins for the previous three seasons, was a former NHL player who had been a teammate of Dudley's on the Buffalo Sabres. In the following weeks, the Thrashers hired an associate coach, John Torchetti, and an assistant coach, Mike Stothers. The team also hired Clint Malarchuk as a goaltending consultant.
The Thrashers made NHL history on Opening Night of the 2010-11 season by having five black players on the roster at once. Dustin Byfuglien, Nigel Dawes, Evander Kane, Johnny Oduya and Anthony Stewart all made the team, making it the first time a NHL team[clarification needed] employed five black players.
The Thrashers' last win came against the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden on April 7, 2011. On April 10, 2011, the Thrashers played their last game in franchise history against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Tim Stapleton scored the last goal in franchise history in a 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh. The final NHL goal scored in Philips Arena was tallied by the Penguins' Mike Comrie, an empty net goal and his first of the season.
Sale and relocation
Due to financial losses and ownership struggles, the team was frequently a target of relocation rumors. In later years, reports saw the team courted by suitors intending to relocate to Kansas City, Missouri; Quebec City, Quebec; Hamilton, Ontario or Winnipeg, Manitoba. On January 22, 2011, the team's ownership group claimed it had lost US$130 million in the last six years, partially as a result of an ongoing lawsuit with former partner Steve Belkin. In February 2011, majority owner Michael Gearon stated that the team would be seeking new investors. Various local groups announced their intent to purchase the franchise and keep it in Atlanta, but ultimately the team was sold to the Canadian group True North Sports & Entertainment.
On May 16, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that talks for a sale to True North Sports and Entertainment were underway. According to the Globe and Mail, a deal was finalized on May 20, 2011 to relocate the team to Winnipeg. The league later denied the report, but acknowledged that advanced negotiations between the two teams were underway and that commissioner Gary Bettman supported the move. Draft schedules were prepared that accommodated for the team's move to Winnipeg, as True North sought to move the AHL team that played in Manitoba, eventually moving that team to St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador in Atlantic Canada.
On May 31, 2011, True North Sports and Entertainment and the NHL held a press conference in Winnipeg to announce the completion of a deal to purchase the Thrashers. True North intended to relocate the team to the MTS Centre in Winnipeg and on June 21, 2011, both the sale and relocation of the team were formally approved by the NHL's Board of Governors. The Atlanta Spirit Group, however, retains the rights and logos for the Thrashers. The Thrashers' website was shut down soon after.
|1999 - Pres|
|1999 - Pres|
|1999 - Pres|
|1999 - Pres|
2006 - Present
1999 - 2006
2006 - Present
1999 - 2006
2008 - Present
Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, OTL = Overtime Losses, Pts = Points, GF = Goals for, GA = Goals against, PIM = Penalties in minutes
|1999–2000||1999–2000||82||14||57||7||4||39||170||313||1422||5th, Southeast||Did not qualify|
|2000–01||2000–01||82||23||45||12||2||60||211||289||1500||4th, Southeast||Did not qualify|
|2001–02||2001–02||82||19||47||11||5||54||187||288||1290||5th, Southeast||Did not qualify|
|2002–03||2002–03||82||31||39||7||5||74||226||284||1253||3rd, Southeast||Did not qualify|
|2003–04||2003–04||82||33||37||8||4||78||214||243||1505||2nd, Southeast||Did not qualify|
|2005–06||2005–06||82||41||33||—||8||90||281||275||1318||3rd, Southeast||Did not qualify|
|2006–07||2006–07||82||43||28||—||11||97||246||245||1st, Southeast||Lost in Conference Quarterfinals, 0–4 (Rangers)|
|2007–08||2007–08||82||34||40||—||8||76||216||272||4th, Southeast||Did not qualify|
Note: Pos = Position; GP = Games Played; G = Goals; A = Assists; Pts = Points; P/G = Points per game;
Most Goals in a season: Ilya Kovalchuk, 52 (2005-06)
Most Assists in a season: Marc Savard, 69 (2005-06)
Most Points in a season: Marian Hossa, 100 (2006-07)
Most Penalty Minutes in a season: Jeff Odgers, 226 (2000-01)
Most Points in a season, defenseman: Jaroslav Modry, 38 (2005-06) & Alexei Zhitnik,38 (2006-2007)
Most Points in a season, rookie: Dany Heatley, 67 (2001-02)
Most Wins in a season: Kari Lehtonen, 34 (2006-07)
Most Shutouts in a season: Kari Lehtonen, 4 (2006-07)
Calder Memorial Trophy
Dany Heatley: 2001-02
Rocket Richard Trophy
Ilya Kovalchuk: 2003-04 (shared with Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames and Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets)