Yesterday brought big changes for the Atlanta Thrashers organization.
Associate GM Rick Dudley has been formally named the full-time GM of the club, and he will take over all roster, scouting, and hiring decisions from here on out. Dudley has plenty of experience in the front office. He helped former Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon assemble the offensive powerhouse that is now on display in Chicago. He is also credited with assembling the nucleus of players that hoisted the Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. Considered a great hockey mind and a scouting master, Rick Dudley is the right man for the job with this Atlanta Thrashers organization.
Don Waddell, the 11-year GM of the 11-year franchise, has been “promoted” to team president. This move essentially takes Don out of the GM role and places him in a more business-oriented area of operations. Waddell will serve as liaison between ownership and management, taking care of numbers and figures. His main goal is to get people back in seats. This ends a long era for Waddell in which just about every triumph and downfall can be placed on his shoulders. However, I personally am happy that Don is still in the organization. Many hockey writers have it well documented that Waddell is a fine businessman who does the best with what he has, and with an infighting ownership, he often did not have much. (I recall the 2007 offseason, in which, rumor has it, Waddell did not receive his free agency budget until a few hours before July 1.)
Head coach John Anderson, assistant coaches Randy Cunneyworth and Todd Nelson, along with goalie coach Steve Weekes, have all been let-go by the team. All four coaches were up for the option-year on their contracts, but the options were not picked up by the ownership. After some candid comments by two-time Cup winner Slava Kozlov, it seemed clear that Anderson and the staff just did not have control over the locker room or respect from the players in it. The team frequently had trouble playing 60 minutes per game, and there are tales of goofy practice sessions in the midst of devastating losing streaks.
What does it all mean?
It means the Thrashers are turning the page on the last decade, a decade in which the team made the post-season just once and did not win a game in the only series they’ve appeared in.
Kovalchuk is gone. Lehtonen is gone. John Anderson and the coaching staff is gone. Waddell is no longer GM. This organization has made some huge changes in only the past few months, and at this point Thrashers fans can’t exactly complain, considering status quo was simply not getting the job done.
So what’s next?
According to Waddell, Dudley now has 100% control over the coach-hiring process. Before the Thrashers can start to approach free-agents, they need to hire a coach so players know who they are playing for.
There are few coaches that I’m sure are on Dudley’s list:
John Stevens: Stevens was fired this year in Philadelphia in favor of Peter Laviolette. However, when Stevens was fired, he had the Flyers on pace for an 89 point season, which would have put the Flyers in playoff position. Laviolette led the team to an 88 point finish, so Its hard to tell whether or not coaching is really the issue in Philly. Regardless, Stevens is the coach that took the last-place Flyers of 2007 and turned them into a Eastern Conference finalist the following year. With Stevens at the helm, the Flyers experienced a 39 point improvement between those two seasons. In 263 NHL games as a head coach since 2006-07, Stevens has a record of 120-109-34 which averages out to just under 86 points per 82 game season. Taking out his first year record of 21-42-11, Stevens coached his team to a 99-67-23 record in 189 games which equates to an average of nearly 96 points per 82 games. He’s credited with developing Mike Richards and Jeff Carter into the premier players they are today.
John Torchetti: Torchetti is the current assistant coach for the Chicago Blackhawks. Rick Dudley is known as being a guy that likes the “spoils system,” and who can blame him. Dudley wants to work with guys he knows, likes, and trusts to get the job done. Torchetti does not have head coaching experience, but has been eating up the opportunity to work with an original-six organization like the Blackhawks. Though Dudley is no longer with the Blackhawks, both he and Torchetti are important figures in the Kane-Toews-Seabrook draft era in Chicago.
Craig Ramsay: Ramsay is also currently an assistant bench-boss. He’s been working with the Boston Bruins for the past three seasons. Again, the spoils system applies here. Dudley and Ramsay worked closely in Tampa Bay during their cup run. Ramsay DOES have head-coaching experience, but only on an interim basis. Most notably, he took over the Philadelphia Flyers for the final 25 games of the 99-00 season, posting a 16-8-1 record during that time.
When asked about the coach-hiring process, Dudley stated that most of his prime candidates are currently employed with NHL teams. So, I wouldn’t expect a hiring until late in the playoffs, or perhaps until the Stanley Cup finals are over. It may be awhile before a coach is named, but Dudley’s got plenty of time, and he should take how ever much he needs.
About the Author
Written by Kevin Thurston