Atlanta Thrashers rebuild in the image of their imposing new GM Rick Dudley

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studlydudley.jpgThere’s something really appealing about sports teams who forge distinct identities. Off the top of my head, the Detroit Red Wings have earned a reputation for being ahead of the back when it comes to European flair since the Russian-packed 90’s. The Washington Capitals and NBA’s Phoenix Suns are often criticized – but also admired – for their breakneck-paced offenses. The Philadelphia Flyers may never shake their Broad Street Bully past while the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers specialize in churning out great linebackers and tough defenses in general.

As I stated earlier this summer, it seems like the Southeast Division is going through a transformation that may someday provide competition for its model franchise in D.C.. The Florida Panthers are going big thanks to new GM Dale Tallon, but the once-flighty Atlanta Thrashers are similarly being re-made into a tough guy team.

In fact, you could say they’re being built in the image of their muscular new team builder Rick Dudley.

By bringing in former Blackhawks brutes such as Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, Dudley isn’t just showing his Chicago front office roots but rather his considerable preference toward physical forces. Kent at Five Hole Fanatics discussed the Byfuglien trade in late June, which also included the potential-over-production prospect Akim Aliu.

(Note: I know it’s a little weird to read an excerpt within an excerpt, but it’s pretty fascinating stuff.)

What follows is an excerpt from Gare Joyce’s book Future Greats and Heartbreaks featuring a brief profile on Rick Dudley, then an executive with the Chicago Blackhawks. Joyce had spent some time profiling draft prospect Akim Aliu for the Blue Jackets, and Dudley has just told Joyce that he likes what he sees in Aliu…

“I could see that he would. Dudley spends more time in the gym than any NHL executive, and probably more than a lot of NHL players. His arms are as big as Lou Ferrigno’s. Dudley was a hard-rock heart-and-soul forward in his day with the Buffalo Sabres, and an even better lacrosse player. He looks for athletes and athleticism – he’d be anti-Moneyball. Some scouts almost hold pure athleticism against a player – reasoning that what they do matters more than what they might become – in fact, to the complete exclusion of their athleticism. It’s the divide between potential and performance. That’s not to say Dudley doesn’t care how Aliu plays, but it’s Aliu’s athleticism that intrigues him.”

[Snip]

I personally don’t like the deal for the Thrashers because I don’t rate any of the players they got all that highly. For Dudley though – a man that values “toughness”, “build” and other uber-macho aspects of hockey – a package featuring Byfuglien, Eager and Akim Aliu must have been like catnip.

Even though the Thrashers are going through some considerable internal changes, it’s not clear how much they will improve from this season to last.

Laura Astorian took an interesting look at three prospects who seem primed to fight for a roster spot in training camp and who might be pushed out if one or more of them make it. She zeroed in on Swedish playmaker Carl “Klingon” Klingberg, this year’s eight pick from Russia Alex Burmistrov and the already-controversial Patrice Cormier.

So, there you have the three players who I feel will challenge for a spot come September. Who to move, though? Klingberg is a left wing. Cormier is a center, as is Burmistrov. The roster seems to be a bit packed. The forward lines could very well look like this at the start of next season, as the roster stands:

Bergfors – Antropov – Little
Kane – Peverley – Byfuglien
MacArthur – White – Ladd
Boulton/Eager – Slater – Thorburn

What to do? The easiest conclusion to jump to is that the team moves Todd White and places Cormier in his position for a bruising checking line (Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien can be switched, though I put Buff on the second line so he’ll have to play up to their level). How do the Thrashers get rid of Todd White? According to capgeek.com, he has a salary hit of $2,375,000 for this season, his last on this contract. No one expects him to have another 73 point season like he did in 2008-2009, and what team would pay that much in this climate for a third line center? Honestly, since the team can’t buy him out for right now (the window closed July 1st and a new one doesn’t open until August) for $866,667 and save the team a chunk of change, we’re a bit stuck with him unless some other team really wants to take a gamble. His salary’s too high for a team that needs to dump cost. Waiving him is probably not feasible, so it looks like White might be, if need be, the 13th guy. There is always the possibility that he is waived the month before camp as a just in case measure if Dudley really sees one of the kids making the cut.

While the trend rarely goes beyond the first five or so players drafted, it’s been stunning to see draft picks jump right into the NHL with such a high rate of success lately. You never know if Burmistrov might be able to make it. If Cormier is as “tank-like” as Astorian and others described him to be, I can imagine that would put him in Dudley’s good graces.

Either way, the organization needs to start generating positive momentum after a tough period in which they bled superstars from Dany Heatley to Marc Savard to Marian Hossa all the way up to Ilya Kovalchuk. It might take a while, but Dudley’s already flexing his muscles in Atlanta. Will this change to a beefier identity mean something substantial for the success-deprived Thrashers? That’s unclear at this point, but it sure will be interesting to find out.

Kraft Hockeyville: For Schneider, road to NHL began in Massachusetts

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New Jersey Devils netminder Cory Schneider’s professional career is littered with highlights.

A first-round pick by Vancouver at the 2004 draft, Schneider has appeared in a Stanley Cup Final, captured the Jennings Award, signed a lucrative seven-year, $42 million contract (with the Devils) and has represented the U.S. on a number of international platforms.

Schneider backstopped Team USA at a pair of World Junior Championships, and was one of three goalies selected to last year’s entry at the World Cup of Hockey. It marked a significant stop on a road that began in his hometown of Marblehead, Massachusetts.

“I owe a lot to the youth hockey program, and where it’s gotten me,” he explained. “It got me started playing goalie, because we would rotate the equipment. So every game, someone new would play goal and every chance I got when someone didn’t show up or didn’t want to do it, I’d say ‘I’ll play goal.'”

After playing for Marblehead High School and Phillips Academy, Schneider spent some time with the U.S. National Team Development Program before embarking on an impressive career at Boston College.

He has since become one of the NHL’s busiest netminders. In ’14-15, he started a career-high 68 games and has continued to rank among the league leaders in appearances.

For more on Kraft Hockeyville, check out the two finalists for this year’s title: The Rostraver Ice Garden in Belle Vernon, PA, and the Bloomington Ice Garden in Bloomington, MN.

 

 

Canucks announce Travis Green as new head coach

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The Vancouver Canucks made it official today, announcing Travis Green as their new head coach.

Green replaces Willie Desjardins, who was fired after three seasons on the job.

The past four years, Green has been the head coach of the Canucks’ AHL affiliate in Utica.

“Travis is a talented head coach who’s played a key role in the development of our young players through four seasons with the Comets,” said GM Jim Benning in a statement. “He has an intense desire to win and build a team identity that is hardworking, responsible on both ends of the ice and competitive. He has an excellent understanding of where we are as an organization and we’re confident in his ability to help build our team and develop a winning culture.”

Green, a former forward who played over 1,000 NHL games including the playoffs, will take over a transitioning Vancouver roster. He was hired in large part to develop the club’s young players.

“You need young players, and you need them to play,” Green said in an interview with the Canucks’ website.

Of course, the need for youth in the lineup doesn’t mean Green will be gifting anything to anyone.

“I expect a lot out of my players,” he said. “I’m demanding. Expectations will be high. But players want that. They want to be held accountable. There’s going to be a lot of communication between myself and the players. I believe in it. I want them to trust me. I want the best for my players.”

It’s going to be a tough job for Green, who’s never coached in the NHL. While the Canucks do have some promising youngsters, they still need to accumulate more as they move on from the Sedin era.

“I want to start to develop a culture that breeds winning,” said Green. “You know, that’s a process. That takes some time. But that starts today.”

No names, but Sabres have ‘put a lot of work’ into GM and coach searches

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There have been plenty of candidates floated for the vacant head coach and general manager gigs in Buffalo. Ownership won’t say who they are, but it definitely sounds like some have already been contacted.

“We’re keeping it under wraps,” Kim Pegula said on Wednesday, per WGR 550 radio. “But we definitely have put a lot of work in this week.”

It’s been six days since the Sabres made sweeping changes by firing head coach Dan Bylsma and GM Tim Murray, capping off a tumultuous period which began with reports of Jack Eichel not wanting to sign a contract extension this summer if Bylsma remained the bench boss.

Since then, a number of replacement names have surfaced. We’ll focus here on the GM position given. By all logic the Sabres will first hire a GM, who will then have a say in hiring the head coach.

By all logic, of course.

Dean Lombardi, who won a pair of Stanley Cups in Los Angeles before being dismissed in an equally massive housecleaning, has been rumored as a candidate. But Lombardi’s replacement in L.A., Rob Blake, said he’s yet to be contacted by any clubs requesting an interview.

Some have suggested Buffalo could dive into its history, and bring back a former player in an executive role. This is why former Sabres captain Chris Drury has come up so often. Drury, 40, has risen up the management ranks quickly in recent years, and currently serves as Rangers GM Jeff Gorton’s assistant (Drury is also putting together the Team USA entry for the upcoming World Hockey Championships).

In that vein, former Buffalo coach and GM Rick Dudley has also been floated, as has Jason Botterill. Botterill, who played three years with the Sabres organization, is the associate GM in Pittsburgh and widely regarded as one of the brightest up-and-coming execs in the league.

If the Sabres opt to take a different tact, and look for “new blood,” Sportsnet’s John Shannon ran down a list of candidates:

Other names worth adding? Bill Zito, the assistant GM in Columbus, and Norm Maciver, the assistant GM in Chicago.

Given the number of candidates listed here, it’s not surprising that the Pegulas have put in a ton of work looking for their new GM.

There’s a ton of work to be done.

Kesler will have his hands full with McDavid, and vice-versa

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“It’s not me against McDavid,” says Ryan Kesler. “It’s the Anaheim Ducks against the Edmonton Oilers.”

OK, fine. But when one team has the NHL’s leading scorer, and the other a five-time Selke Trophy finalist, that’s a matchup that people are going to talk about.

Especially when the Ducks have last change, like they will tonight in Game 1 at Honda Center. Expect to see plenty of Kesler whenever Connor McDavid hits the ice.

“Kes takes it personally when he plays against the top players,” said Ducks teammate Kevin Bieksa, per the O.C. Register. “He’s just very competitive. He has the will. I keep hearing he gets inside people’s heads but I just think you do that by outplaying them.”

Kesler and Bieksa were also teammates in Vancouver, where Kesler became the Canucks’ first-ever Selke winner in 2011.

McDavid, meanwhile, will receive his first Art Ross Trophy in June. He’ll probably get his first Hart, too. Yet he knows it won’t be easy against Kesler, whose combination of speed and tenacity makes him such a great checker.

“He’s been up for the Selke for how many years in a row,” said McDavid. “That obviously speaks for itself. He obviously understands his defensive role.”

In case you’re wondering, McDavid played five games against the Ducks this season. He had two goals and five assists, and the Oilers went 3-2-0.

Kesler played all five of those games, too. He had two goals and no assists, and the Ducks went 2-1-2.