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1999 Atlanta Thrashers Inaugural Season Promo Ticket Vs Devils NHL Hockey
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The Thrashers began their NHL existence in the 1999-2000 season, giving Atlanta fans their first taste of hockey in two decades, after the Atlanta Flames relocated to Canada to become the Calgary Flames. The Thrashers received the first overall pick that year and with the selection they drafted Patrik Stefan. That pick would be symbolic of the Thrashers fortunes. Stefan is routinely mentioned in the same breath as former Ottawa Senator Alexandre Daigle when the topic of the biggest NHL draft busts of all time are mentioned.
Like most expansion teams in NHL history the first season was a brutal one for the Thrashers. They won only 14 games and finished the season with 39, miles out of a playoff spot. Their futility earned them another high draft pick - 2nd overall - and this time they got it right, selecting sniper Dany Heatley. Heatley would reward their confidence in them in his rookie year in 2001-02, scoring 26 goals and compiling 67 points and nabbing himself the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
Unfortunately, Heatley, who had the potential to be a franchise player, was involved in a tragic car accident in which he was injured and fellow teammate and friend Dan Snyder was killed. Heatley would ultimately request a trade for personal reasons, and was shipped to Ottawa in a deal that brought the talented Marian Hossa the other way.
Hossa, and Ilya Kovalchuk, arguably the greatest player ever to wear an Atlanta Thrashers jersey, were one of the most powerful one-two punches in the NHL for several seasons. However, a porous defense and inconsistent goaltending kept the Thrashers from reaching the playoffs. When they finally did make the post-season - following a spectacular year by Hossa which saw him become the first Thrasher to reach the 100 point plateau - the Thrashers were unceremoniously bounced by the New York Rangers, who swept them in four games.
In 2008, with Marian Hossa slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, and determined he wanted to play for a Stanley Cup contender, the Thrashers moved the talented winger along with the speedy Pascal Dupuis to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Colby Armstrong, Eric Christensen, highly touted prospect Angelo Esposito and a pick. Considering that Hossa was essentially a rental the Thrashers made out quite well in the deal.
Unfortunately, Hossa's departure left Kovalchuk essentially all alone when it came to talented forwards on the club. Despite playing against the opposing team's top shutdown men Kovalchuk continued to put up impressive numbers. Thrashers' General Manager Don Waddell reportedly offered Kovalchuk a 12 year, $101 million deal in order to retain his last remaining superstar, but Kovalchuk turned the money down. In early 2010, unable to reach an accord with the talented Russian, and facing the prospect of losing him for nothing when he became an unrestricted free agent at season's end, Waddell sent Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils.
This time Waddell was wheeling and dealing with New Jersey's Lou Lamoriello, one of hockey's craftiest GM's, but still Waddell managed to acquit himself well in the negotiations. With no guarantee of signing Kovalchuk at year's end the Devils gave up coveted prospect Patrice Cormier, talented rookie forward Niclas Bergfors, solid defenseman Johnny Oduya and their first round selection in the 2010 NHL entry draft to acquire him.
With Dany Heatley, Marc Savard, Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk all departed for greener pastures, Thrashers' fans may have to wait a few years before they are treated to seeing a true superstar in an Atlanta Thrashers jersey again. However, with the pieces Waddell has put in place the Thrashers have plenty of young prospects. Players like Evander Kane, Patrice Cormier and Niclas Bergfors all have a shot at stardom in this league, and if Thrashers management can stay the course and groom their abundance of young talent fans might finally get to watch a team that will not only make the playoffs, but will be a contender.