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


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.”


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, 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.

Rinne, Predators’ special teams have nightmare game in blowout loss

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 15:  Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators in goal against the Anaheim Ducks in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Honda Center on April 15, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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As it turns out, the Anaheim Ducks didn’t really need Ryan Getzlaf on Wednesday night.

With their captain and leading scorer sidelined due to an upper body injury, the Ducks were still able to cruise to a convincing 6-1 win over the Nashville Predators thanks in large part to a five-goal second period that saw Pekka Rinne get chased from the game and Nashville’s special teams repeatedly get torched.

It was a night that saw Anaheim’s power play go 3-for-4 thanks to goals from Nick Ritchie, Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler, while the penalty killing unit added a pair of shorthanded goals via Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano.

Giving up three power play goals is bad enough, but when you give up multiple goals when you are on the man-advantage that is probably a pretty good sign that it is not going to be your night.

Keep in mind, the Predators only allowed a league-low two shorthanded goals during the entire 2015-16 season.

They matched that total in one night.

Along with the special teams units, it was also a tough night for Rinne, seeing his first action in a week, as his evening came to an end after giving up four goals on 17 shots in only 27 minutes of action.

He was replaced by backup Marek Mazanec who then proceeded to give up two goals on the nine shots he faced in relief.

Given the makeup of their roster with a top-tier defense and a couple of young cornerstone forwards up front, the Predators are supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender in the Western Conference this season. But the one big question mark coming into the season was whether or not they could get the necessary goaltending to help them get to that level. Rinne, at one time in his career one of the better goaltenders in the league, has seen his production decline in recent years and was not particularly good a year ago. He has now given up eight goals on 59 shots in his past two starts.

The important thing to keep in mind here is that even though it is not the start anybody in Nashville wanted (2-4-0 after the loss to the Ducks) it is still ridiculously early in the season. There is plenty of time to get this turned around, and there is too much talent on this team for it to not get turned around. But Wednesday’s game was certainly eye-opening in how poorly the entire team played against a team missing two of its best players (Getzlaf to injury, Hampus Lindholm to not yet having a contract).


Video: Cam Talbot was very angry with T.J. Oshie

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Cam Talbot had another strong game for the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night by stopping 34 of the 35 Washington Capitals shots he faced in a 4-1 win, improving his season save percentage to a robust .927.

Along with backstopping the Oilers to their sixth win in seven games to open the season, the team’s best start since a guy by the name of Wayne Gretzky played for them, he was also involved in some rough stuff in the second period when he went old school on Capitals forward T.J. Oshie for charging into his crease and cross-checking him.

Talbot’s response (as seen in the video above) was an attempt to feed Oshie his blocker pad.

The end result of that exchange was Oshie getting a two-minute minor for cross-checking and Talbot getting a two-minute minor for roughing. The NHL’s roughing rule gives officials the opportunity to eject a goalkeeper if they feel there was an attempt to injure an opponent by punching them with their glove or blocker pad.

Obviously in this case the officials determined there was no such intent on Talbot’s part, so he remained in the game to help keep the Oilers’ surprising start rolling along.

The Oilers are off to their best start since the Gretzky era

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 12:  Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates a goal against the Calgary Flames on October 12, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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The Edmonton Oilers just keep on winning.

Thanks to their 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night, the Oilers are now 6-1-0 through their first seven games, have the best record in the Western Conference, and the second best record in the NHL behind only the Montreal Canadiens.

To find the last time the Oilers won six of their first seven games, you have to go all the way back to the 1985-86 season when Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, and Paul Coffey still played for them and their dynasty was just starting to take shape.

Their best start since then was a 5-1-1 start during the 2000-01 season.

The recipe on Wednesday was similar to the one we have seen from the Oilers in every game this season. Cam Talbot gave them capable goaltending in net, while Connor McDavid dominated at times and added a couple of more points.

With his two assists in the win, including an incredible display of speed to set up Patrick Maroon‘s goal early in the third period, the second-year superstar is back in sole possession of the NHL’s scoring lead with 11 points, moving one point ahead of Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews.

Benoit Pouliot also scored a pair of goals on Wednesday giving him four on the year, while Milan Lucic added his third goal of the season.

Alex Ovechkin scored the lone Capitals goal, extending his current goal-scoring streak to four.

The big question now is whether or not the Oilers can sustain this and are for real. Their schedule to this point hasn’t been too daunting based on last year’s standings, but of the two playoff teams from a year ago that they have faced (St. Louis and Washington) they have beaten by a combined score of 7-2.

They have some real talent up front, and if Talbot can continue to give them strong goaltending that is going to be a pleasant change from what they have had in recent years.

The biggest issue is whether or not the defense can hold up over the course of the season because they do give up a ton of shots and have been on the wrong end of the shot charts more often than not so far. That is not usually a great sign for future performance. But whether they maintain this early season success or start to regress back toward where they were expected to be, two things are very clear early on: They do look like a much improved hockey team, and they are really fun to watch.

McDavid has a lot to do with both improvements.

Rangers storm back, crush Bruins


For the first half of Wednesday’s game in New York, everything was going pretty great for the Boston Bruins.

They not only had a two-goal lead, but rookie goalie Zane McIntyre was playing extremely well in his first NHL start as he filled in for injured veterans Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin.

And then everything kind of fell apart for him and the Bruins defense.

The Rangers stormed back for five consecutive goals on their way to a 5-2 win, handing the Bruins their fourth loss in seven games to start the season, and their second lopsided loss in a row.

This game was always going to be a struggle for Boston given the injury situation both in goal and up front (David Backes was also sidelined for this game) and the fact it was their second game in as many days.

But even though he gave up five goals on 29 shots, including one on a Kevin Hayes bank-shot from below the goal line, it is tough to put too much of this on the rookie McIntyre.

This loss was a total team effort.

The Bruins got into penalty trouble in the second period and the defense in front of their rookie was simply not good enough, something that is going to continue to be an issue for the rest of the season until the front office addresses the personnel.

That defense turned out to be a brutal matchup against a Rangers team that has some great forward depth and the floodgates finally started to open for them in the second half of the game.

Rick Nash opened the scoring for New York with a power play goal midway through the second period, and then added an assist later in the game to help put it out of reach when he set up rookie forward Jimmy Vesey for his fourth goal of the season.

Brandon Pirri, one of the many bargain free agent additions the Rangers made to their forward group over the summer, also added a pair of goals including the game-winner in the second period to break the 2-2 tie.

The Bruins have now lost three games in a row and have been outscored by a 15-4 margin.