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.

Ducks send Stoner to AHL on conditioning loan

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Clayton Stoner is going to play some hockey again.

The Anaheim Ducks announced today that the 32-year-old defenseman has been assigned to AHL San Diego on a long-term injury conditioning loan.

Stoner has not played since Nov. 15. He had abdominal surgery in December, at which point the Ducks said he’d miss an additional 4-6 weeks. But a setback in his recovery extended the time frame.

“The setback was kind of just me trying to get back maybe a little bit quicker than I should,” Stoner told the O.C. Register recently. “And I wasn’t ready. Things have been good here for a little while so hopefully I’m just trying to string some days together and earn a spot back and kind of prove that I can be healthy and stay healthy.”

Panthers didn’t want to trade Crouse, but Bolland contract was ‘strangling’ them

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Interesting note here from Florida head coach Tom Rowe who, last night, watched former Panther prospect Lawson Crouse play in Florida for the first time since being traded to Arizona.

Crouse was the price the Panthers had to pay to unload Dave Bolland‘s contract on the Coyotes last summer. Rowe wasn’t involved with the Bolland signing, but was involved in dumping the contract — he was Florida’s assistant GM at the time the deal went down.

His take, from the Miami Herald:

Florida traded Crouse to the Coyotes last summer as part of a salary cap dump; Arizona took on the final three years and $16.5-million of Dave Bolland’s contract in exchange for a top prospect — in this case, Crouse.

“We got criticized for giving up on a great young prospect but we had to,” Rowe said. “That contract was strangling us, cap-wise. …

“When we traded him, our scouts were furious. I’m not going to lie. But we had to do something and that was trade Lawson. I’m sure, to this day, he’s still sour about it.”

Crouse, who Florida took 11th overall at the 2015 draft, has five goals and 11 points through 64 games this year, averaging 11:50 TOI per night. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but they do need to be taken in context — Crouse is only 19 years old, and the 10th-youngest player to play in the NHL this season.

Bolland, meanwhile, hasn’t played since December of 2015, due to a variety of back and ankle injuries. His time in Florida was largely forgettable — after scoring the $27.5 million pact, he played just 78 games in a Panthers uniform, scoring 28 points.  It’s widely regarded as the worst deal GM Dale Tallon has made during his time with the organization.

Shortly after taking on his contract, Coyotes GM John Chayka said Bolland wouldn’t be healthy for the “foreseeable future.” The 30-year-old has two years remaining on his deal, at $5.5 million annually.

 

Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

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Arizona Senate President Steve Yarbrough does not expect a piece of legislation to pass that would give the Coyotes millions of dollars in public financing to build a new arena.

That being said, Yarbrough thinks the Coyotes may be able to gain some “traction” if they offer to put in more of their own money.

Under the current plan, the team has pledged $170 million of the arena’s total cost, which is estimated at almost $400 million. The difference would be made up by new sales taxes, plus $55 million from the still-to-be-determined host city.

“If you are getting no traction the way the bill is designed, you could see if the hockey team paid a greater portion,” Yarbrough told the Arizona Republic yesterday. “I have been around this business long enough to know that if it’s not working in this format, you change the format to make it more attractive.”

For their part, the Coyotes have not said whether they’d be willing to pay a greater portion of the project, only that they’ll continue to “work hard to find a viable arena solution in the greater Phoenix area, a market that both the club and the NHL believe is a strong hockey market capable of supporting a successful NHL franchise.”

Related: Bettman says Coyotes “cannot and will not remain in Glendale”

Into the fire: Halak, recalled yesterday, starts for Isles in Pittsburgh

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A little scene setting for you.

New York heads into tonight’s massive game in Pittsburgh sitting two points back of Boston for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Isles have two games in hand on the B’s — who are idle tonight — so a win could move them into a playoff spot.

As such, the Isles will start a goalie that hasn’t played in the NHL in 85 days.

Against the league’s highest-scoring offense.

The goalie in question is Jaroslav Halak, who’s spent the last three months playing for the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Recalled yesterday, Halak will now face big league competition for the first time since Dec. 29, when he allowed four goals on 24 shots in a loss to Minnesota.

(Afterward, then-head coach Jack Capuano ripped Halak, saying he gave up “some soft goals to start” and “wasn’t sharp at all.”)

But Halak’s been really good in Bridgeport.

He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, the Isles really had no other choice than to recall Halak.

The club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in Wednesday’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles are in Pittsburgh tonight, then host the Bruins on Saturday — another massive game — then host the Preds on Monday. It’s a compact part of the schedule, and Berube’s struggles have rendered him virtually unplayable, given how meaningful the games are (and, to borrow a timeless cliche, how vital points are at this time of the year.)

So it’s Halak tonight, and possibly more down the stretch.