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.

Vegas GM doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to move extra d-men

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The Vegas Golden Knights currently have 10 defensemen under contract — and that is without Nate Schmidt signed.

Schmidt and the Golden Knights have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 3, so there is still plenty of time for them to negotiate a new deal for the restricted free agent blue liner without having a neutral third party decide the matter.

Schmidt’s agent, Matt Keator, told the Las Vegas Review Journal that talks with the Golden Knights have been positive, which lends to optimism that perhaps the club and player will avoid this whole process with a deal.

A new contract between Schmidt — left unprotected by Washington in the expansion draft — and Vegas would put the Golden Knights at 11 d-men less than two months before training camp opens.

Granted, that number is considerably less than what Vegas had following the expansion draft, when they stockpiled 15 defensemen and eventually moved players like David Schlemko, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Marc Methot.

While it seems more moves are likely on the back end for Vegas, general manager George McPhee doesn’t seem to be in any particular hurry right now, per the Vegas Review Journal.

“We’re at a manageable number right now,” said McPhee. “We’re pretty close to where we want to be and we’re comfortable with the roster we have.”

Their blue line also includes five players — Jason Garrison, Luca Sbisa, Clayton Stoner, Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland — that are pending unrestricted free agents at the end of next season. As far as Vegas’ defensive group is concerned, this could mean future trades during the season as other clubs, perhaps playoff bound, look to possibly add a rental late in the year.

One thing McPhee has made clear in the past: He planned on keeping Schmidt and fellow d-man Shea Theodore (only 21 years old). Now, they just have to get Schmidt under contract.

Related: Vegas has more ticket revenue than Boston, Philly and Pittsburgh, says Foley

Predators sign Arvidsson to seven-year, $29.75 million deal

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Viktor Arvidsson has cashed in on his impressive, breakout 2016-17 campaign.

Playing in the final year of his entry-level contract — and making $640,000 in total salary, according to CapFriendly — the 5-foot-9 tall Arvidsson erupted for 31 goals and 61 points playing on the top line last season for a Nashville Predators team that eventually made its way to the Stanley Cup Final.

The two sides had an arbitration hearing scheduled for Saturday.

From The Tennessean:

Viktor Arvidsson received a new contract Saturday befitting a breakout star, with the Predators signing the energetic forward to a seven-year, $29.75 million contract, Arvidsson’s agent told The Tennessean. 

Few unheralded NHL players last season surprised more than Arvidsson. Expected to be a secondary contributor, Arvidsson erupted offensively with 31 goals and 61 points as part of Nashville’s top line, tying for the team lead in each category. 

Update: The Predators have since confirmed the deal, which pays Arvidsson an annual average value of $4.25 million per season, through the 2023-24 season.

Nashville’s general manager David Poile has work remaining this offseason. The Predators still have restricted free agents Ryan Johansen — another member of that vaunted top line in Nashville — and Austin Watson left to get under contract.

Watson and the Predators have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday. Watson is reportedly seeking $1.4 million in arbitration.

Flames re-sign RFA goalies Gillies and Rittich

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The Calgary Flames have re-signed goalies Jon Gillies and David Rittich to one-year, two-way contracts, the club announced Saturday.

Both spent the majority of last season in the American Hockey League, but did get in some game action with the big club in Calgary. The 23-year-old Gillies, the Flames’ third-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, played in 39 games with the Stockton Heat, posting a .910 save percentage.

He then made his first career NHL start on April 6 against the L.A. Kings and stopped 27 of 28 shots faced for the win. He then began the playoffs as Calgary’s back-up because of an injury to Chad Johnson.

Rittich made his debut two days later, allowing one goal on 10 shots in 20 minutes of ice time versus San Jose.

The Flames have already taken care of their goaltending situation at the NHL level for next season, bringing in Mike Smith from Arizona and Eddie Lack from Carolina.

Columnist: Potential new Hurricanes owner concerned with ‘revitalizing Raleigh as a hockey market’

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The Carolina Hurricanes may have a potential new owner in Chuck Greenberg, the former CEO of the MLB Texas Rangers who also had interest in the NHL’s Dallas Stars.

A report Friday goes into further details about Greenberg’s motivation in purchasing the Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos, who has been exploring a sale of the team for quite some time now.

Previous reports indicate the agreement between the Hurricanes and Greenberg would keep the club in Raleigh, amid ages of speculation it may be a candidate for possible relocation to markets like Seattle or Quebec City.

From the Raleigh News and Observer:

Interviews with people close to Greenberg and others who have knowledge of the proposed purchase but requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks paint a picture of a front man who would be deeply concerned with the fan experience and revitalizing Raleigh as a hockey market, but lacking the money to fund the purchase himself and reliant on a group of investors to get the deal done.

If the deal goes through, at a reported price of $500 million that likely includes a large amount of assumed debt while valuing the actual franchise closer to $300 million, Greenberg would move to Raleigh with the intention of making the team work here. That’s what Hurricanes fans long afraid of a move to Quebec City or Seattle during these years of ownership uncertainty as Karmanos has had the team on the market have been hoping to hear.

The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006 but haven’t made the playoffs since 2009. Despite their postseason drought, Carolina is building quite a depth of young talent, most notably on defense. They could take another positive step forward next season, perhaps contending for a playoff spot. In a bid to bolster their goaltending situation, the Hurricanes also acquired and then signed former Chicago No. 2 netminder Scott Darling.