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.

Alex Burrows fined $5,000 for roughing

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Alex Burrows won’t be on Dylan DeMelo‘s Christmas card list this year.

Not after Burrows swiped DeMelo in the face with the butt-end of his stick on Saturday night.

Burrows got slapped with a $5,000 fine for roughing on Sunday night, the maximum permissible under the CBA. The money is one thing, but Burrows and the Senators have bigger issues at the moment.

It didn’t help the little incident happened in the third period and the game all but over for the Senators. Here’s the slow-mo shot of the infraction:

Burrows’ $5,000 goes to the player’s Emergency Assistance Fund.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Is it a slump or is regression setting in for the Winnipeg Jets?

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Might regression be hitting the Winnipeg Jets at the moment?

It’s a question Jets fans are asking themselves after a three-game road trip that produced just a single point and a goose egg in the win column.

It’s the first time the Jets have lost three straight all season. In year’s past, this wouldn’t have come as much surprise, but the Jets have thrown the status quo out the window this season and have sung a different tune.

The analytics would suggest the Jets were due for a fall back to earth.

For most of the season, they’ve been near the bottom of the league in terms of Corsi, with only recently climbing up that ladder with a help of a very lopsided game against the Ottawa Senators.

Regression in goal is also starting to happen, and a lot of Winnipeg’s early-season success had to do with how well Connor Hellebuyck had been playing.

Hellebuyck has been sensational most of the season and his 15-3-4  record supports that. But his save percentage has been trending in the wrong direction lately. In five of his past six starts, Hellebuyck has only achieved a .900 save percentage or better once, and that came in that 5-0 shutout against the Senators.

Nov. 27 vs MIN: .895
Nov. 29 vs COL: .885
Dec. 1 vs VGK: .871
Dec. 3 vs. OTT: 1.000
Dec. 5 vs DET: .844
Dec. 9 vs TBL: .857

The Jets give up a lot of shots, so the odds that Hellebuyck’s early season numbers would survive throughout the year were low.

The sky is by no means falling in Winnipeg. The Jets showed they can go toe-to-toe with the league’s best on Saturday. Overtime has just been the bane of their existence this season with a 0-5 record in free hockey.

The Jets touched the summit of the Western Conference last week, a pipe dream around these parts in recent times. They also possess two of the league’s top point-producers (Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler) and one of the league’s top goal scorers (Patrik Laine), not to mention having a rookie just outside top 10 in rookie scoring (Kyle Connor).

Prior to the road trip, Winnipeg’s power play had scored eight times in 19 attempts.

The Jets have also been largely healthy. Defenseman Toby Enstrom is the midst of an eight-week spell in the press box — and there’s a pending diagnosis coming for Dustin Byfuglien after he left Saturday’s game in Tampa Bay with a lower-body injury — but the Jets gotten by relatively unscathed thus far and managed well when Mathieu Perreault and Adam Lowry missed several games.

The Jets have made too many strides this season to regress too far away from where they are right now. Asking a team to go from outside the playoff line to tops in the division might be asking a tad too much. But with that said, the Jets are simply a good team these days and stacked with high-level talent.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Calgary Hitmen fans make 24K stuffed animals fly during Teddy Bear Toss (Video)

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Congratulations, Vladislav Yeryomenko, you were this year’s Teddy Bear Toss goal scorer for the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen.

Yeryomenko’s goal at 9:36 of the first period during their game Sunday vs. the Moose Jaw Warriors was the sign for Hitmen fans to launch their teddy bears inside the Saddledome. Boy, it sure did rain plenty of fur.

Here’s what it looked like:

And here’s a fan’s eye view:

After a clean up delay of approximately 40 minutes , the game resumed but the Hitmen would fall to the Warriors 6-3. The counting, as you would imagine, took some time, but when they were finished it was announced that an astounding 24,605 stuffed animals were collected, which will go to 60 local charities.

“It’s an unforgettable moment,” Yeryomenko said via the Hitmen website. “It’s possible it can only happen once in your life and it happened to me. I enjoyed the moment of it all.”

There were 23,924 stuffed animals tossed during last year’s game, and the Hitmen hold the record of 28,815 bears, which was set in 2015.

The Hitmen have been holding this event since 1995 and are their fans are the true leaders in tossing those bears. Including this Sunday’s total, the team has collected 347,948 stuffed animals for local charities. Just last weekend the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears held their Toss event and fans there set a team record with an impressive 25,017 stuffed animals hitting the ice.

This once again proves that the Teddy Bear Toss is the greatest promotion in all of sports.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Brayden Schenn scoring at will as domination continues

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What’s the limit for Brayden Schenn?

Curious and inquiring minds, like PHT’s own James O’Brien, want to know. 

Add Schenn’s opposition to the list of people looking for answers. They surely want the madness to end.

But Schenn appears disinterested in letting cooler heads prevail. He is, of course, red hot at the moment. And he’s quickly turning into a fearsome goal scorer that is increasingly harder to contain.

Schenn buried his 16th of the season on Sunday night against the Buffalo Sabres some 40 seconds into the game. The goal, which can be seen below, was Schenn’s sixth in his past four games and a marker than extended his goal-scoring streak to four games.

Some wondered how Schenn would cope with the loss of Jaden Schwartz, who is out for at least six weeks because of an ankle injury. 

He answered that in under a minute.

Coming into Sunday’s game, Schenn was on pace for 41 goals and 98 points. He’d crush his previous career highs if his torrid play continues.

For the time being, Schenn is the leading candidate for the top off-season acquisition in the NHL.

How bad is Ron Hextall kicking himself at the moment? A few months ago he had Schenn and didn’t have Jori Lehtera.

The cringe faces must be excellent. Surely.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck