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The Atlanta Thrashers are a professional ice hockey team based in Atlanta, Georgia and they play in the National Hockey League.
In 1997 the NHL awarded Atlanta a franchise to replace the Atlanta Flames, who moved to Calgary in 1980. In the 1999 NHL Entry Draft the newly-formed Thrashers selected Patrik Stefan with their first overall pick. The Thrashers played their first game on October 2, 1999, losing 4-1 to the New Jersey Devils.
In September 2003, the Thrashers were sold to a group of executives by Time Warner, along with the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. That same month brought tragedy as star forward Dany Heatley crashed his Ferrari in a one-car accident that seriously injured him and killed Thrashers center Dan Snyder, who was a passenger in the car. The Thrashers dedicated their 2003-04 NHL season in Snyder's memory. Thrashers players wore black patches with Snyder's number, 37, on their jerseys. It greatly diminished the popularity of Heatley among Atlanta in general, and led to his request of a trade in August 2005.
In the 2003-04 season the Thrashers were led by captain, Shawn McEachern, and with the memory of Dan Snyder on their mind, the Thrashers jumped quickly out of the gates with some major highlights. Ilya Kovalchuk 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 reoccurring pattern throughout the season, including shocking upsets against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston Bruins, the Ottawa Senators, as well as wins from games against the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Islanders.
For the first eleven games in the season, the Thrashers were along at the top of the NHL. The Thrashers continued to play well but they couldn’t keep up with the Tampa Bay Lightning-who went on to become the eventual Stanley Cup champions. The absence of Dany Heatley took a toll but on December 26, 2003 Dany Heatley skated for the first time since his car accident with Dan Snyder. From December 28 to February 11 the Thrashers posted a dismal 1-17-3 record. However, Thrasher fans were entertained regardless of the team's struggles during the season.
Before the start of the 2005-06 season, the Thrashers picked up many veteran players in the hopes of making the playoffs for the first time. The Thrashers traded Dany Heatley on August 23, 2005 in a block-buster deal for sniper Marian Hossa and defenseman Greg de Vries. The Thrashers also signed Mike Dunham, Peter Bondra, Bobby Holik, Jaroslav Modry, and Scott Mellanby.
The 2005-06 season brought a lot of success to the Thrashers. A crucial factor to the Thrashers' success was the strong play of rookie goaltender Kari Lehtonen. Unfortunately, only a few minutes into the first game of the season, Lehtonen pulled his groin, an injury that would keep him out for a good portion of the season. Veteran backup Mike Dunham stepped in, but also promptly injured himself only a few games later; this left only prospects Michael Garnett and Adam Berkhoel to mind the nets. The Thrashers' playoff hopes were fading fast, but rookie Garnett had other plans; over the next few weeks of November, Garnett strung together a series of good performances in net, and the power play clicked. The second half of the season brought a brilliant stretch of wins which nearly earned the Thrashers their first trip to the postseason but the Thrashers fell short of the playoffs by two points. Because of the Thrashers great playing and impressive wins, the fans became much more excited about the team, leading to Philips Arena being known as Blueland.
In the summer of 2006, general manager Don Waddell signed goalies Johan Hedberg and Fred Brathwaite, forwards Glen Metropolit, Darren Haydar, Jon Sim, and Steve Rucchin, and re-signed defensemen Niclas Havelid, Steve McCarthy, and Mark Popovic. Waddell also traded for Niko Kapanen.
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