One can safely assume that during and perhaps after Wednesday night's debacle in Chicago, Bruce Boudreau did for the Caps via tearing what German doctors mistakenly did for this woman via surgery. That disaster behind us (no pun intended), the Caps head to Atlanta desperate - which is when Bruce Boudreau's Caps have often been at their best.
In Atlanta, they'll find the League's worst team. Maybe not by record (though theirs is certainly nothing of which to be proud, and they do have a League-low 16 wins in regulation and haven't won an intra-Conference game of any type since the night after Valentine's Day), but just look at the mess this franchise is. They can't score. They can't keep opponents from scoring. They have the worst goals for/goals against differential in hockey. They have two defensemen whose plus/minus ratings are in the minus-twenties and eight forwards who are double-digit minus players. Their top line is
Pretty sweet, ain't it?
Make no mistake about it, either - this is not the Caps or Pens of the past few years or the Kings or Hawks of this year. There isn't much help on the way in Atlanta. Thrashers GM (and current head coach) Don Waddell could write a book on how not to build a franchise, and three-quarters of it could focus on the blueline. For example, back in 2003, Donny Wads probably knew that he wanted to draft a top rearguard, having taken three forwards and a goalie with the franchise's previous four first round picks.
By the time Atlanta's pick (eighth overall) was up, Ryan Suter was gone, basically leaving Waddell with a choice between a pair of blueliners out of the WHL - Braydon Coburn and Dion Phaneuf. The Thrashers took the former - a decision that, at the time, didn't seem horrendous, given that Coburn was Central Scouting's top-rated defenseman overall, a couple of spots ahead of Phaneuf.
Anyway, Coburn played in all of 29 games for the Thrashers before Waddell shipped him to Philly for Alexei Zhitnik last February, and just over a year later, well, here's what everyone's got:
- Philadelphia: Coburn, who is getting 20-plus minutes per night and has a team-leading plus-eighteeen rating for the Flyers at a cap hit of $785,000.
- Calgary: Phaneuf, a franchise defenseman who hits everything that moves and already has a 20-goal season under his belt and for whom most NHL general managers would gladly sacrifice a testical (or at least a pinky toe).
- Atlanta: Zhitnik, a 35-year-old with three goals, five assists and a minus-eight rating in 65 games at a cap hit of more than $3.5 million this year and next season. In fairness, Zhitnik did help the Thrashers make the playoffs last year... where they won as many games as the Caps did.
The following year, 2004, Waddell went D-drafting again, this time taking Boris Valabik (a fairly by-the-book pick)... 13 spots before Andrej Meszaros, 17 before Jeff Schultz and 19 before Mike Green. Valabik made his NHL debut Wednesday night and was on the ice for all five goals the Thrash surrendered.
Bottom line: if you're looking for a reason that Atlanta's defense is so awful, look at the guy putting the team together and his inability to evaluate talent at the position. In nine drafts, I count exactly three NHL defensemen (not counting Valabik) - Garnet Exelby, Coburn (a no-brainer) and the gem that is Tobi Enstrom, taken with the 239th pick in that 2003 draft - and little in the system about which to get excited.
By contrast, over the same nine drafts, George McPhee has drafted six blueliners who have seen NHL minutes this season and other prospects with promise aplenty (let's just not revist that 2003 Draft in too much more detail, okay?).
So here's to Don Waddell - may he keep his job as GM in Atlanta for many years to come.
And while it's certainly enjoyable to revel in the Thrashers' suck, it has been costly to the Caps when you consider how generous Atlanta has been this season to the teams with whom the Caps are fighting for playoff spots. They've given Carolina 11 points in seven games on the campaign, nine in six to Florida, eight in four to Philly, six in four to Boston, five in four to Buffalo... and eight in seven to the Caps.
If the Caps can't turn that last stat into ten in eight tonight, they're going to be in a very difficult spot indeed.
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
Happy 42nd Birthday to Al "
- Hart: Alexei Kovalav (2G, including the game-winner, A, +3, 6 SOG)
- Ross: Alexei Kovalev, Shane Doan, Peter Mueller (3 points each)
- Norris: Tom Preissing (2G, 3 SOG, 2 hits)
- Vezina: Cam Ward (36 saves on 37 shots against in shootout win)
- Richard: Alexei Kovalev, Tom Preissing, Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Radulov (2G each)
- Calder: Peter Mueller (3A)
- Aiken: Nick Boynton (0 points, -3)