Atlanta was not a stranger to professional hockey, having been home to
the Flames for much of the 1970s. In the summer of 1997, the National Hockey League awarded one of three expansion franchises to Atlanta. The Thrashers name was derived from Georgia's state bird - the Brown Thrasher and the logo was designed to put forth a feeling of speed. The team began to assemble its front office in 1998 by hiring Don Waddel as their first general manager. In the summer of 1999 the Thrashers announced former Orlando Solar Bears coach Curt Fraser as their choice of skipper in the opening season. The Thrashers played their first game on October 2, 1999, losing 4-1 to the New Jersey Devils. They earned their first NHL regular season point later that week, tieing the Buffalo Sabres 5-5. Their first victory came a week later when Damian Rhodes shutout the New York Islanders 2-0 in Long Island.
That first year saw the Atlanta Thrashers play like a typical expansion team. Wins would be few and far between as Andrew Brunette led the team in scoring with a modest 50 points. The Thrashers finished last in the Southeast Division with a NHL worst 14-61-7-4 record for 39 points. Needless to say they missed the playoffs and began work on the next season. But things weren't getting much better as the Thrashers would continue to struggle to win games. They barely avoided finishing in last place with a dismal 23-45-12-2 record. The 2001-02 season began with a brighter outlook as Atlanta brought in two good looking rookies, Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk. Even as the Thrashers finished last in the league with a 19-54-11 record, Heatley and Kovalchuk were battling it out for the Calder trophy as the NHL's top rookie. Heatley would end up taking the hardware with 26 goals and 41 assists for 67 points. Despite missing time due to injuries, Kovalchuk would also have impressive first year with 29 goals and 22 assists for 51 points. The two were set to have a bright future together in Atlanta.
As the Thrashers got off to a slow start in the 2002-03 season, general manager Don Waddel was pushed into action making several changes. The team did not win in its first ten games and the Thrashers signed free agent goaltender Byron Dafoe to add some veteran leadership in net. Later that year coach Curt Fraser would find himself on the way out as the team continued to struggle in last place. The Thrashers signed former Avalance head man Bob Hartley as coach at the beginning of 2003. Hartley's tenure saw the team play over .500 and finished third in the division with a 31-39-7-5 record. Though they missed the playoffs yet again, the Thrashers saw the emergence of Dany Heatley as a potential superstar, winning MVP honours in the All-Star game and collecting 41 goals and 48 assists for a team high 89 points. The duo of Heatley and Kovalchuk was proving to be a potent offensive combination.
With their future looking bright, the Thrashers were hit by tragedy in the 2003-04 pre-season when Dany Heatley and Dan Snyder were involved in a serious car accident. Heatley crashed his Ferrari at high speed and suffered injuries to his knee and shoulder. But the news was much worse for his teammate Dan Snyder who was barely hanging on with massive head trauma. Snyder would remain in a coma for a week and pass away from his serious injuries. Heatley would face the physical injuries, emotional duress of the accident and a long litany of legal charges stemming from the accident.
Atlanta Thrashers Overview:
Arena: Philips Arena
Stanley Cup wins: 0