Atlanta Thrashers should fire Don Waddell

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byebyekovalchuk.jpgGeneral manager Don Waddell expects to remain with the Atlanta Thrashers and so does once-beleaguered forward Maxim Afinogenov, according to a story and Tweet by Austin Journal-Constitution reporter Chris Vivlamore. (Late note as I was compiling this post: Bird Watcher’s Anonymous notes that Waddell might be elevated to the team president level. Doesn’t change my general message that he hasn’t justified keeping his job, let alone a promotion.)

“I think I will be back next year,” Waddell said. “It’s just a matter of we have to figure some things out. We are disappointed we won’t be playing next week. Do I think we made strides this year? One hundred percent.”

Asked whether he could return in a different role, Waddell said: “I don’t know. We have time on our side to figure all that out. I’m sure in the near future, as soon as we figure it all out, we’ll let you know.”

The one person who deserves another shot – coach John Anderson – “will be evaluated” by the team. That sounds more than a bit ominous, but I think the often glass half-empty (at least if you are to believe the musings of Laura Astorian) coach has justified another shot after squeezing a 70-75-19 record out of an exceedingly mediocre roster.

To me, Waddell’s existence can only be justified if the Thrashers really are that frightened to go out on a limb. You certainly have a great variety of choices if you want to judge him by his failures. He failed to keep stars such as Dany Heatley, Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk, showed a consistent inability to regularly draft breakout talent with great picks (see: Lehtonen, Kari with a second overall pick) and simply made some downright shameful moves (trading young blueliner Braydon Coburn for the empty husk of a horrible contract that was Alexei Zhitnik). His mini-Moscow movement (adding Afinogenov and Nikolai Antropov to a Russian/Czech-heavy lineup) failed to satisfy Ilya Kovalchuk, forcing Waddell to move the mercurial superstar. By all accounts, the Waddell era has been an unmitigated disaster (unless you really want to hang your hat on that one playoff run in which they were summarily humiliated by the New York Rangers).

Simply put, this is the ideal time to can Waddell. According to CapGeek.com, the Thrashers have a staggering $31 million in cap space that they can use to give their roster a makeover. Some might ask “who in their right mind would go to Atlanta?” Let me offer this rebuttal: anyone who likes money. The one great strength of the Thrashers’ depleted roster is that there aren’t any horrible albatross contracts; I’m not crazy about Ron “underwear” Hainsey’s $4.5 million cap hit, but he’s the team’s highest-paid player going into the 2010-11 season. When you consider that the team has some decent young pieces such as Zach Bogosian, Evander Kane and Brian Little, this could be a great situation if, say, Steve Yzerman and/or Ken Hitchcock would be willing to put their stamp on a franchise.

As far as Afinogenov goes, I’d just say this: he can come back if he does so cheaply. Other than that, let him float his way to the KHL.

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.