After starting last season off strong, Atlanta looked poised to return to the post season for the second time in franchise history. As the season progressed they were unable to maintain their position and finished in the twelfth spot in the east. The team has a good core of young players in place and under contract. Byfuglien, Kane, Ladd, Bogosian, Enstrom, Little, and Pavelec constitute a formidable young talent base. The veteran and supporting cast is very strong as well with Antropov, Oduya, and Hainsey. Winnipeg has some quality prospects who will challenge for an NHL roster spot this spring with Burmistrov, Cormier, Postma, and Kulda.
So what is the plan for Winnipeg? The team will need a name and logo of course. As for GM Rick Dudley his plan should not change. He has established a good young core of talented and physical players. A smash mouth physical style of play will be very popular in Winnipeg. Look for the franchise to adopt a Manitoba identity in an attempt to identify with a broader fan base. It may even be a wise move to attempt to leverage Byfuglien as a local boy who hails from Minneapolis, Minn. Winnipeg has some key free agents to sign this summer. Bogosian headlines the list of RFA that also includes, Ladd, Kulda, Wheeler, Stewart and Schremp. What will be the financial reality for Winnipeg? Will they be a budget team, or a cap team? I am sure Dudley will be curious about that distinction. The owner ship group is headed by David Thomson. One of the richest people in the world. The Cap situation for Winnipeg is they have about $23M in space and fifteen signed players.
Winnipeg and Dudley will be picking seventh in this summers draft. The team has several young players and depth as well as prospects. The trade down option is a real possibility. Seventh is a great pick but not good enough to land Larsson, Huberdeau, or Couturier. There are teams looking to trade up of course so what would it take? This teams biggest need is star power or an elite scorer. Moving the seventh overall may be enough to pick up a star forward from a team looking for cap relief and the pick. Winnipeg has the cap room, but do they have the budget. Perhaps if Rangers win the Richards sweepstakes they would move Gaborik.
If Dudley chooses to keep the pick another means to acquire a star scoring forward may come from trade. Bogosian has been mentioned in some trade rumors and is a RFA this summer. Winnipeg has good depth on defense with Byfuglien, Enstrom, Hainsey, Oduya and prospects Kulda, Postma ready for prime time. The UFA market for defense is also deep this summer. Trading Bogosian would bring a rich bounty in return. Franchise type defense are always in high demand and it is not unrealistic to expect player like Paajarvi, Carter, Pavelski, or Semin as part of a return.
There will be dancing in the streets all summer long with the news from today regardless of what the team does. There will be a long honeymoon period between the team and the city, win or loose. Last season the team missed the playoffs so that suggests there will be plenty of loosing. The youth of the team suggests promise and potential. If Dudley is able to add a star player any chance that the team does not have immediate success in season ticket sales and merchandise sales will be put to rest.
Bottom line. This is a team that is not an expansion team. They will be competitive and with the move the franchise has gone from a team with about the lowest level of interest to front and center. Will they be able to do what Colorado did and win the cup in their first season? No, but they will be a winning team and challenge for the playoffs.
Winnipeg's next moves are, name the team and reveal a logo to start selling merchandise and sell tickets. Add a star forward by trading either the seventh pick or Zach Bogosian. Welcome back Winnipeg, and enjoy!