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Thrashers GM Rick Dudley hopes to maintain big picture outlook during trade deadline

If you ask me to name the NHL’s most pleasant surprise of the 2010-11 season, my gut reaction would probably be the rapid increase in competence enjoyed by teams that were once punching bags in the Southeast Division. Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman brings the Detroit Red Wings mindset to his new team while the Chicago Blackhawks have two off-shoot GMs in the division, with Dale Tallon giving the Florida Panthers a makeover while Rick Dudley transforms the Atlanta Thrashers.

It was reasonable to predict some nice immediate improvements from the Lightning and Thrashers, but both teams have made bigger jumps than expected. Yet in the case of Atlanta, that jump launched them into the Eastern Conference’s playoff bubble, presenting Dudley with a bit of a conundrum.

It’s unclear whether the team should be a buyer or seller, even if they only trail the eighth-ranked Carolina Hurricanes by four points. But as people focus solely on the chase to earn a playoff spot, it’s easy to forget that a given team needs to actually have a chance to compete for the run to be worthwhile. After all, the St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets probably weren’t nearly as excited about making the playoffs in 2009 once they were absolutely flattened in embarrassing first round sweeps.

Luckily, Dudley continues his track record of having a clear vision, as he acknowledges the fact that the best course of action is to improve the team’s short-term future only if it doesn’t impair the big picture renovation.

Amusingly enough, the imposing general manager also seems keen on adding more and more muscle to the team, keeping in stride with his noted preference to favor size even though the post-lockout NHL began as a small players’ league*. (After all, his signature move remains the blockbuster Dustin Byfuglien trade.)

Here is what Dudley told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his trade deadline outlook.

“I’d like to win a championship,” Dudley said late last week. “I’d like to do it over a period of time. I can’t say right now that we are a Stanley Cup favorite, so any deal we make the definition of it has to be both present and future. We won’t do anything to take away from our chances to make the playoffs this year. We also won’t trade for a 35-year-old player either. If a deal comes up that meets that criteria we will certainly entertain it.”

Dudley made no secret that he wanted to add two forwards and a defenseman. He got two of those when he acquired forward Blake Wheeler and defenseman Mark Stuart from Boston on Feb. 18. The Thrashers also traded veteran defenseman Brent Sopel to Montreal on Feb. 24 for minor-league forward Ben Maxwell.

(snip)

“We think we put a couple of pieces in place so we are not looking for quite as much as we were,” Dudley said. “If we could make a deal to get another Blake Wheeler-type player, we would do that.”

Dudley also said last week that he is constantly looking for scoring and wants the team to get bigger.

* – This might not be a foolish preference for two reasons: it makes Atlanta fairly distinct and it also readies them for the fact that the neutral zone trap is creeping its way back into the game.

Fore! NHL referee makes the cut at PGA Tour’s Canadian Open

OAKVILLE, ON - JULY 22: Garrett Rank hits his second shot on the 16th hole during the second round of the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club on July 22, 2016 in Oakville, Canada.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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There has always seemed to be a connection between hockey players and the game of golf. Some are better than others when it comes to the links.

Take NHL referee Garrett Rank, for example.

Rank, also an amateur golfer, has made the cut at the 2016 Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club just south of Toronto. He’s currently tied for 36th at even par heading into the weekend. He also sits seven shots behind the leader, Dustin Johnson, the future son-in-law of The Great One, Wayne Gretzky.

Rank, who joined the NHL Officials Association in 2014, has split his time between officiating in the NHL and the American Hockey League. But, according to the PGA Tour website, he was hired as a full-time NHL ref the day before the opening round of this week’s Canadian Open.

“I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t take my clubs with me when I was on the road,” he told the PGA Tour website. “I think it helps me and makes it a little easier for me because I know that this isn’t the end of the world, whether I shot 65 or 75.”

Rank, 28, is also a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011, after initially feeling discomfort while officiating a game.

“When I got the news I tried to maintain a positive attitude,” he told the Toronto Sun. “And you know what, it’s kind of a blessing in disguise. You never want to have cancer wished upon someone but I think it gave me a little better outlook in terms of a bad call on the ice wasn’t as bad. Or hitting a bad shot on the golf course wasn’t the end of the world.

“It has allowed me to stay patient and be grateful for the opportunities and things I have in life.”

Related: PHT Morning Skate: James Wisniewski caddies for PGA Tour golfer Jason Day

Price’s previous injury ‘no longer a concern,’ says Habs goalie coach

Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price stops a shot during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in New York  (AP Photo/Paul Bereswill)
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More good news when it comes to Carey Price.

After Price had said last month he was 100 per cent healthy following an MCL sprain that ultimately ended his season, Montreal Canadiens goalie coach Stephane Waite reaffirmed that earlier this week in an interview with RDS. That should provide Habs fans with at least a little bit of optimism when it comes to the goalie position after a rather tumultuous summer.

“I’m not a doctor, but all I know is that on the ice it was perfect,” Waite told RDS, as per The Hockey News. “It is 100 percent restored. We are happy and our medical staff did a great job with him to bring him to the top. It is no longer a concern, he is ready to go.”

Habs fans have had a difficult few months. With Price injured, the Canadiens quickly fell out of the playoff race. The off-season has ushered in tremendous change, with the additions of Andrew Shaw and Shea Weber, while the departure of P.K. Subban in that deal with Nashville remains probably the most contentious development in the NHL during the summer.

It is still reality right now that the Habs’ success is still dependent on their goalie Price.

The 28-year-old Price last played a game on Nov. 25, so it’s difficult to imagine there wouldn’t be some initial rust when it comes to getting acclimated once again to game action.

He is also among the three goalies named to Team Canada for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, which starts Sept. 17. Braden Holtby and Corey Crawford were also named to the squad.

Price started and starred for Canada in its gold-medal win at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, while Holtby and Crawford are established and accomplished NHL goalies.

“It’s a long-ways off,” said Price earlier in the spring, as per NHL.com. “I know I’ll be prepared for that.”

Recently re-signed forward Callahan in tough to make Red Wings

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Mitch Callahan signed another one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, and will look to once again make the jump to the NHL in the fall.

As per General Fanager, the deal pays $600,000 at the NHL level and $175,000 at the AHL.

A sixth-round pick of the Red Wings in 2009, Callahan, who turns 25 years old next month, has only one appearance in the NHL and that was two seasons ago. He’s spent five seasons with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the minors, where he’s posted decent numbers, offensively, with 19 goals and 32 points last season.

But he’s also dealt with injuries, such as a torn ACL in the 2014-15 season. Or a gory injury — 10 teeth plus a broken jaw — after taking a puck to the face in an AHL game in 2014. This past season, he took another puck to the face during practice, losing another tooth.

He’s made it clear in the past that he doesn’t want to be playing in the AHL, although competition for roster spots — Callahan would have to likely work his way into a bottom-six role — in Detroit will be stiff when the Red Wings open up training camp.

From the Detroit Free Press:

He’s almost certain to be exposed on waivers again, as the Wings have 13 active forwards signed to one-way contracts, plus Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou. And Anthony Mantha is expected to make a push for a spot.

Patrick Eaves bests big hockey names at Smashfest V

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Ping Pong. Beards. Hockey players making funny faces in street clothes. And it’s all to benefit charitable organizations.

Dominic Moore‘s Smashfest V took place on Thursday, with Patrick Eaves and his freakish facial hair taking the top prize for the second year in a row.

Here’s a shot from the happy, bearded winner from the NHLPA:

(His loved ones must be thrilled that this isn’t merely a playoff look for Eaves, by the way.)

This shot of Jeff Skinner and his “most improved” award is just too fitting.

It’s not yet clear exactly how much money was raised for charity, but this is a sign that the event was probably … well, a smash success.

Good stuff. Here’s a random hodgepodge of other photos from the event.

Bonus points to Hall of Famer Eric Lindros for the “beer in other hand” form:

Alex Burrows fell to Eaves in the final round. Seems OK about it:

Antoine Roussel was probably not being a pest on this occasion. We can’t be totally certain, however.

Looks like it was a good time for all.