The "Atlanta Five Must Die"... but not really

Marianne Helm

No more talk about Atlanta! More talk about how crappy the Jets bottom six forwards are. It didn't have to be this way.

More than a week after the article first went to print, discussion of the Atlanta Association continues. Names are named and guns are pointed directly at Winnipeg Jets' captain Andrew Ladd, as well as key players Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom. Their relationship and leadership is cited as the problem.

Some may think it absurd to blame a team's best players as a cause of all their problems, but to each their own I suppose. Complacency and a lack of accountability are discussed as issues within this group and the issues are being tracked back to the time they spent in Atlanta. The odd thing about this narrative is that most of the Atlanta Association spent very little time in Atlanta.

The New Guys

Perhaps the members of the supposed Atlanta Association are friends and perhaps they do have issues getting on each other when one slips up, but this has nothing to do with Atlanta. Captain Andrew Ladd played a grand total of 81 games in Atlanta, Dustin Byfuglien's tenure was identical in length - both players cut their teeth elsewhere and both players were 81 games removed from winning the Stanley Cup when they arrived in Winnipeg.

Note: Ladd and Byfuglien finished that season ranked 1st and 2nd in Thrashers scoring ahead of Enstrom (3rd) and Little (4th).

Meanwhile, Blake Wheeler was acquired in a trade deadline deal towards the end of the Thrashers' last season in Atlanta. He played in a total of 23 games for the Thrashers and scored 17 points in that stretch. If he was already picking up bad habits and spreading malaise, he hid it well with the best production of his career to date.

This trio doesn't look like a heartless group of coach killers. In fact, they had exactly one coach through their tenure in Atlanta - Craig Ramsey - and Winnipeg Jets' General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff fired him.

The Old Guard

Then, of course, we have Bryan Little and Tobias Enstrom, who have no such excuse - they were long time Thrashers. Are they the driving forces behind the "don't give a f***" that drives the Jets?

Well, they eye test says "no" and the stat sheet says "don't be so silly".

There is a case to be made that Bryan Little and Tobias Enstrom are the Winnipeg Jets' two most consistent players. Neither is known for flashy play, but they are two of the Jets' most sound positional players and they play relatively mistake-free hockey. This has been the case since year one. They are the constants.

Tobias Enstrom and Bryan Little, along with Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien, were largely responsible for carrying that last Atlanta team and they have done the same in Winnipeg.

Carry Them Where? That Team Missed The Playoffs.

Yes, they did miss the playoffs, but that isn't the complete story of that season. The 2010-11 Atlanta Thrashers were in a battle for the division through December and remained in a playoff spot through the end of January. The Thrashers were doing this on the backs of players in their mid 20's. They were considered to be a young team on the upswing.

Then came the collapse.

The Thrashers won 11 of their remaining 31 games (collecting 25 of a remaining 62 points) and missed the playoffs. What happened? Some threw the blame on Byfuglien (he was always a lightning rod) as he hit a cold stretch scoring-wise to end the season, but the numbers suggest another potential culprit.

Stats:

Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec posted a .927 sv%,  good for a 2.44 GAA through the end of January.

From February on he posted a .883 sv% for a 3.33 GAA . Hmm... One could argue that goaltending sunk the team.

/stats

...or of course it could be a new-found complacency that followed Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart over from Boston - who knows. I suppose a miraculous team-defense bed crapping could have contributed too, but for what it's worth, backup goaltender Chris Mason's numbers actually improved late in the season - although both of his segments were well below league average.

What Does It All Mean?

What it means is that complacency and accountability amongst this group - if they are factors - don't appear to be Atlanta problems. If they were Atlanta problems they were developed over a very short period of time and should have been relatively easy to correct. These players are Chevy's now. It is time to move beyond blaming Atlanta, especially in the case supposed of the Atlanta Association.

Rotating Blame

We have been down this road before anyways. Getting rid of Ron Hainsey, Nik Antropov and Alexander Burmistrov was supposed to be an ousting of Atlanta problems. Last year they were the problem.  They were just here for a paycheque. Kyle Wellwood too. No heart. Addition by subtraction. Are we simply going to pick a new "blame this guy for team effort" target each year until they are all gone? It should be apparent at this point that the problem is talent - not will and not the carry-over of bad habits from Atlanta. This talk needs to go away.

*Snark Mode Activated* Reader Be Warned

Since we as a city seemingly love to play the blame game, let's throw some blame and a few players who seemingly get a free pass. We have already discussed issues with the bottom six, but let's dig deeper. Let's take a look at the glue - cause really, what is the Winnipeg Jets' glue gluing together? For three years the Winnipeg Jets bottom six has featured a stack of turds - relatively speaking. Does that require glue?

For the record, this isn't a personal attack on any of the players I am about to mention. I like a number of these guys and they seem like good guys, but there are some serious questions that should be asked about how the bottom end of this roster has been assembled. The Winnipeg Jets have an abundance of hard-working grinders with a couple supposed glue guys intermixed. There is nothing wrong with glue guys, but you need talent before you can fill in the cracks an solidify the unit.

At the bottom end, the Winnipeg Jets are home to a boat load of PIMs in Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart.

The numbers suggest that these guys should not be dressing for ANY NHL team.

Chris Thorburn

Individually, the numbers have pointed to Chris Thorburn being arguably the worst player on the team for three years running. Worse than Antti Miettinen, worse than Tanner Glass, and worse than Tim Stapleton (love him). Why on Earth is he on the team, let alone playing in a top 9 role? This is insanity! I mean he can't even play special teams. Chris Thorburn is an actual example of Atlanta still hurting this team. Can't put it all on Atlanta though, since it's Winnipeg's coach that chooses to dress him.

Mark Stuart

The pylon that wears an 'A', the true leader that should have a bigger say in the locker room - Mark Stuart. Stu!!! is special! He has shown the amazing ability to drag down Adam Pardy's numbers, but Pardy isn't alone. Everyone that plays with Stu this year enters a horrible black hole of Corsi. His lone bright spot is semi-effective PK player which I suppose gives him a leg up on Thorburn, but he is far from elite in this area and this team will be better when he is gone. Case in point, they were briefly better defensively when he was hurt.

What Do They Bring?

But these guys brings intangibles like leadership! They bring leadership!

Really? Where are they leading this team? Oh that's right, they lead this team right out of the playoffs.

They bring tangibles too! They bring losses. The glue that they supposedly bring isn't strong enough.

The crazy thing is that Mark Stuart and Chris Thorburn aren't the only such do-nothings on the team.

More more more...

Matt Halischuk

Halischuk is a pretty okay 4th liner that can play up the lineup in a pinch. The key part of the sentence is "in a pinch." That said, he is a horrible possession player because I guess hard work only gets you so far, but he does have value. He can score and he is solid on the penalty kill. Sign Matt Halischuk, but don't put him in a situation where he can actually earn a 3rd line gig. That doesn't put him in a position to succeed, and it isn't fair to him or his teammates.

Jimmy Jimmy James Wright

Guy Carbonneau! The lightning rod! James Wright works hard and he checks well. Well, kind of. He isn't an elite shut-down player and he is horrible at puck possession, but he is semi-passable in a 4th line role. By the numbers, he is nearly identical to Matt Halischuk, only with zero offense. Again, an okay player to have on the 4th line, but not somebody that should be moving up and down the lineup - DEFINITELY NOT TO #2 CENTRE. LOOKING AT YOU CLAUDE.

Eric Tangradi

Tanger is a good possession player, but he provides little scoring and no special teams value. Tangradi is another player that works on a 4th line, but the Jets have rotated him through the top 9 repeatedly over the last two seasons. Stop it! Go sign someone better Chevy. This is on you.

Anthony Peluso

The God of all things hockey is fun to watch and brings a number of elements that fans like to see, but he hasn't proven to be effective offensively, defensively, or from a possession standpoint yet. Keep him if you feel the team needs a pugilist, but there is no excuse for dressing him and Chris Thorburn for the same game EVER!

Sniffing Glue

The #1 problem with these Winnipeg Jets 4th liners is simply that their are five of them! And this is without giving mention to Jim Slater or John Albert - one of whom will dress regularly. Short of every single better option that was available as a UFA - there were many that signed for cheap - saying no, there is no good reason to dress this many 4th line forwards. None! I understand the desire to add intangibles and glue together your roster, but what good is glue if you don't have a full set of pieces?

Depth is an issue. The Jets need quality depth, not just a mix of interchangeable 4th line grinders that ooze their way up the roster any time there is an injury. When the Florida Panthers dress a better 3rd line than your team on game day, there is a serious problem. As Jets fans, we can hope that Mark Scheifele continues to develop and call-ups like Eric O`Dell can take a spot so the team can build quality from within, but the fact that Thorburn remains in a top 9 role is kind of embarrassing - or at least it should be for everybody involved on the management side.

Work before skill is a fun tag line, but it can't run your player-personnel department.

That's my take. What is your theory on the abundance of interchangeable grinders?

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