When expectations aren't met you can expect change, and when the Thrashers came up short in 2009-10 by missing the playoffs by five points the team underwent a drastic but calculated overhaul- Rick Dudley took over as general manager in April, head coach Craig Ramsay was hired in June, and 10 new players were acquired via trade, free agency, and the draft over the course of the summer.
Just how much roster turnover has there been? Only seven players remain from opening night in 2008-09 when the Thrashers faced the Washington Capitals on opening night as they will to start 2010-11 and 11 remaining from opening night last season. Gone are Ilya Kovalchuk, Slava Kozlov, Pavel Kubina, Mark Popovic, Marty Reasoner, Todd White, Anssi Salmela, Maxim Afinogenov and Johan Hedberg. New to the team are first-round pick Alex Burmistrov, former Blackhawks Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd and Brent Sopel and free agents Nigel Dawes, Fredrik Modin, Freddy Meyer, and Chris Mason, as well as former Chicago Wolves player Anthony Stewart.
While the changes to the roster and staff are obvious, the jury is out on what the results of those changes will be. When asked to explain what makes the 2010-11 Thrashers different from last year's incarnation the players themselves offered a range of opinions.
"With the new coaching strategies I think we're better defensively," offered third-year defenseman Zach Bogosian. "One thing we'll need to work on is burying our chances and putting the puck in the net. We've shown that we have good defense with the forwards coming back and helping the dmen out on odd-man rushes. I think the main thing we're going to have to do is keep buying into the system. It's a good system and I think we'll be okay."
Bryan Little sees another big difference.
"It's the attitude," according to the former Barrie Colt who has been moved back to his natural position of center after two seasons as a right wing. "There are a lot of new faces and guys that have won the Cup and have had that experience. The whole attitude is different. Even in practice you can feel that there's a lot more intensity than there was last year."
Rich Peverley, who is entering the first season of a two-year extension that he signed last October thinks the winning pedigree of the newcomers will have a huge impact on this year's team.
"Obviously the makeup of the team is a huge difference," said the hard-working pivot. "There's some more depth on defense and there are winning caliber players who have won Stanley Cups. We have coaches who have been in the league for a while who have winning experience and playoff experience. Winning rubs off on the players and becomes a culture. You want this organization to have that winning culture and to know it's going to be a winning team. Those are all intangibles that are good to have."
For his part Chris Thorburn, who ranks third on the team in games played as a Thrasher behind Jim Slater and Eric Boulton, likes what he sees around the locker room, and he's not letting a disappointing 0-5-1 preseason bother him.
"I think this year there are a lot of changes and that makes it exciting. We have a range of guys with a lot of experience. We're a younger team and I think a lot of guys are hungry to get after it. Obviously preseason didn't go the way we want, but every game we felt we made strides and it wasn't like we got blown out or anything Once we get our systems down pat we're going to be exciting. We need to carry that excitement from the locker room onto the ice."
And it's not just the returning players who are excited about the upcoming season. The new acquisitions see a lot of reasons to be enthused about Thrashers hockey in 2010-11.
I think we'll be able to come at teams in waves. We've got four lines that can play and skate and we've got six defensemen that can move the puck and help out on offense. - Andrew Ladd
"I think if you look through the whole lineup we're pretty solid, from our forwards, back through the defense to or goalies," suggests Andrew Ladd, who at 24-years-old is the youngest player in the NHL with two Stanley Cup rings (one earned last season with Chicago and the other in 2006 while a member of the Carolina Hurricanes). "We're just going to need some guys to step up and really take it to another level in the regular season."
Ladd, who will be one of three alternate captains on opening night along with Nik Antropov and Johnny Oduya, sees the team's depth as its biggest strength.
"I think we'll be able to come at teams in waves. We've got four lines that can play and skate and we've got six defensemen that can move the puck and help out on offense. Our goalies will make the simple saves and they don't give up much. Our strength is going to be our depth and how we can come at teams in waves."
It's the depth Ladd refers to that has given Craig Ramsay the luxury of moving Dustin Byfuglien back to his natural position of defense instead of keeping him at forward where he made a name for himself in the 2010 NHL Playoffs. Defense has been a historical weakness of the Thrashers, but it also happens to be a strength of Ramsay who was a Selke Trophy winner as a top defensive forward in his NHL career and who was the defensive mastermind behind the Boston Bruins' airtight defense in 2009-10 which allowed the second-fewest goals in the NHL.
Byfulgien is looking forward to being a part of the solution on the blueline, solidifying a top-six that already included youngsters Zach Bogosian and Toby Enstrom and veterans Ron Hainsey, Johnny Oduya, and Brent Sopel.
"It all starts from the back end and it will work it's way up. It starts with good defense and that leads to good offense. I think the group of guys is a lot of fun. There's good chemistry and everyone enjoys being at the rink and practicing."
Thrashers fans are hoping all of the changes help that fun at the rink to turn into fun in the stands as the team battles its way into being a legitimate playoff threat in 2010-11.
To hear from more players watch the following video: