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.