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 1999-00 NHL season.
In May of 2011, the team 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 NHL 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.
After the departure of the IHL's Atlanta Knights (1992 to 1996) to become the Quebec Rafales, the city was awarded an NHL franchise on June 25, 1997 as part of a four-team tiered expansion.
This also included teams in Nashville, Columbus and St. Paul in which each new franchise would begin play as its respective new arena was completed.
The birth of the new franchise marked NHL hockey's return to Georgia, as the Atlanta Flames (which was established in 1972) departed for Canada in 1980 to become the Calgary Flames.
The Flames had been the league's first foray into the southern U.S. and their failure discouraged further efforts to bring NHL hockey to the region for another decade.
The nickname "Thrashers" (after Georgia's state bird the brown thrasher) was selected from a fan poll. "Thrashers" had actually been runner-up to "Flames" in the poll (as a homage to the old Atlanta Flames) and Philips Arena (the Thrashers' new home) was built on the site of the former Omni, which had been home to the Flames.
By coincidence, the first encampment (circa 1839) which would later become Atlanta was called Thrasherville, and a historical marker of this is located just down from the arena in front of the State Bar of Georgia (the former home of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta).
Early Years (2000-2003)Edit
The newly formed Atlanta 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.
Patrik played the most games for the Thrashers from that draft (414 games).
Their first two picks (Patrik and Luke) were called two of the biggest disappointments in draft history. NHL.com listed Patrik as the worst first overall pick of all-time and Luke (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 the 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 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.
The team also had a fine choice in the 2001 Draft, with first overall pick Ilya Kovalchuk.
Both Dany and Ilya played their first season in the NHL in 2001–02; both players were named to the NHL All-Rookie Team and Dany was awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league's Rookie of the Year.
The Atlanta Spirits Years\NHL Lockout (2003-2005)Edit
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 both himself and Thrashers center Dan Snyder.
Dany suffered from a broken jaw, broken arm, a sprained wrist and torn ACL & MCL knee ligaments, but Dan died five days later due to septic shock from his injuries. The Thrashers dedicated their entire 2003–04 season to Dan's memory and the players wore black patches with Dan's number 37 on their jerseys for the season.
Dany'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 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 the Ottawa Senators as well as wins against the Los Angeles Kings and the 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, Dany skated for the first time since his car accident with Dan 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, the fans were entertained regardless of the team's struggles. Ilya became only the second Thrashers' player to score in the NHL All-Star Game (after Dany).
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.
Goaltender Kari Lehtonen began his NHL career with four wins in four starts, including one shutout.
Post-Lockout Years (2005-2006)Edit
Before the start of the 2005–06 season, the Atlanta Thrashers signed many veteran players in the hopes of making the playoffs including forwards Bobby Holik & Scott Mellanby, defenseman Jaroslav Modry and goaltender Mike Dunham.
At the same time, however, they lost one of their brightest stars as Dany requested a trade in an attempt to leave behind memories of his tragic 2003 car accident. He was eventually swapped to the Ottawa 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, Kari pulled his groin which kept him out of commission for a good portion of the season.
Veteran backup Mike (an experienced number-one netminder) stepped in, but also promptly injured himself only a few games later which left only prospects Michael Garnett and Adam Berkhoel to tend goal.
Journeyman goalie Steve Shields was signed to the team, but he too was injured within ten games.
On April 6, 2006, Lehtonen was run into by Tampa Bay's Chris Dingman, injuring him yet again. The remainder of the season was left to Mike due to Michael Garnett was injured in a game against the Washington Capitals.
Mike (who had started the game, but was relieved by the young rookie after poor play) was forced back into action in the third period.
First (and only) Taste of Success (2006-2007)Edit
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 with 43 wins 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, 2007 after 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.
Team Struggles (2007-2010)Edit
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 him 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, 2008, the 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.
The Thrashers general manager Don Waddell reportedly offered 12-year, $101 million and seven-year, $70 million contracts (both of which Ilya turned down). Rather than potentially losing him to free agency in the off-season, the team traded Ilya 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 Ilya 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, which would be the most points they had earned in a regular season from the time they won the division title in 06-07 to the team's relocation in the summer of 2011.
Atlanta Thrashers' Final Season (2010-2011)Edit
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.
On June 23, 2010, Rick made his first trade, 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.
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. He 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.
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 Atlanta against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Tim Stapleton scored the last goal in Thrashers 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.
Team Sale & RelocationEdit
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, Canada.
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 of 2011, the 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, 2011, 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, but 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.
However, the Atlanta Spirit Group retains the rights and logos for the Thrashers. The team's website was shut down soon after.
The team colors were ice blue, navy blue, red and gold.
In 2003, the NHL decided to switch home and road jerseys. In 2007, Reebok came out with the new jerseys as part of the rollout of the Reebok Edge Uniform System.
Only the piping changed for the Thrashers' jerseys. Atlanta unveiled its new third jersey, red and midnight blue with white and gold trim on October 10, 2008.
The team's mascot was Thrash, a Brown Thrasher (which also is the official state bird of Georgia).
The Atlanta Thrashers were broadcast on cable television on SportSouth and Fox Sports South.
Radio coverage included play-by-play of all games on 680 The Fan in Atlanta, Georgia.
The station was the flagship of a network that included 18 stations.
Most were in Georgia, but there were two affiliates in South Carolina and one in Scottsboro, Alabama.
Players & PersonnelEdit
- Kelly Buchberger, 1999–2000
- Steve Staios, 2000–01
- Ray Ferraro, 2001–02
- Shawn McEachern, 2002–04
- Scott Mellanby, 2005–07
- Bobby Holik, 2007–08
- Ilya Kovalchuk, 2009–10
- Andrew Ladd, 2010–11
- Chris Chelios (D) (2010) (inducted in 2013)
- Wayne Gretzky (C) (retired on February 6, 2000)
- Most goals in a season: Ilya Kovalchuk, 52 (2005–06, 2007–08)
- 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 goals in a season, defenseman: Dustin Byfuglien, 20 (2010–11)
- Most points in a season, defenseman: Dustin Byfuglien, 53 (2010–11)
- Most goals in a season, rookie: Ilya Kovalchuk, 29 (2001–02)
- Most assists in a season, rookie: Dany Heatley, 41 (2001–02)
- Most points in a season, rookie: Dany Heatley, 67 (2001–02)
- Most wins in a season: Kari Lehtonen, 34 (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)
Georgia's Own Credit Union 3 Stars of the Year Award
The Georgia’s Own Credit Union 3 Stars of the Year Award was awarded annually to the Thrashers player amassing the most number of points throughout the season by being named as one of the three stars of each game.
The award was created in the Thrashers' inaugural season of 1999.
- 2010–11 Ondrej Pavelec, goaltender
- 2009–10 Johan Hedberg, goaltender
- 2008–09 Ilya Kovalchuk, forward
- 2007–08 Ilya Kovalchuk, forward
- 2006–07 Marian Hossa, forward
- 2005–06 Marian Hossa, forward
- 2004–05 Not awarded due to NHL lockout
- 2003–04 Ilya Kovalchuk, forward
- 2002–03 Dany Heatley, forward
- 2001–02 Dany Heatley, forward and Milan Hnilicka goaltender
- 2000–01 Ray Ferraro, forward
- 1999–2000 Ray Ferraro, forward