NHL notes (cont.)
Coach gets shaft in Atlanta
No surprise that Rick Dudley moves into the vacated general manager's chair now that Don Waddell has been kicked up to the presidency of the Atlanta Thrashers. Dudley, once an associate GM in Chicago, joined Waddell when it became clear that Stan Bowman was going to succeed Dale Tallon as GM of the Blackhawks. He didn't just pick Atlanta by chance. There were strong season-long rumors that Waddell would be replaced if the Thrashers didn't make the postseason. Ownership and even Waddell himself understood the need to have a person who could easily step in.
It's also no surprise that Waddell went upstairs. There's a fractured ownership situation in Atlanta and a widespread agreement that none of its owners know a thing about managing a sports and/or arena business, so Waddell was the most qualified of the candidates for the president's position.
If there is anyone who didn't deserve what he got, it would be head coach John Anderson. He did have a losing record (70-75-19) over two seasons, but no one would accuse Waddell of acquiring too much talent. Over his entire time as GM, the best talent Waddell did acquire usually had one foot out the door as soon as free-agency and the Thrasher's limited resources clashed.
"Absolute disappointment," Anderson said. "From last year, I don't like to use the word rebuilding mode, but that's what we were in. Two years later, I think we left the house in pretty good order. We almost made the playoffs. I wish we had. It might have been the difference in my job and some other guys' jobs."
Anderson got ripped by some players, notably Slava Kozlov, but others defended the coach and his staff. According to people behind the scenes, there was much debate as to what to do regarding the coaching staff, but since the Thrashers are once again in the position of selling hope and not much else, it was determined that not only did Dudley deserve his own coach, but the Thrashers need the change in order to hang on to a fan base that seems to be getting smaller every season.
Lightning clear the air
We told you weeks ago that the Tampa Bay Lightning should fire both GM Brian Lawton and coach Rick Tocchet, and owner Jeff Vinik has done it. Congrats on a successful Step One. Though you could make a case that both men had done enough to escape the ax as individuals, as a collective entry they had done too much damage to each other to uphold an argument for keeping both or either one over the other.
It's an old hockey lesson not well-learned in Tampa: when there is feuding in the ranks, the easiest and often best thing to do is clear out all the opposing forces and bring in people who will work together even if they sometimes clash. Most importantly (and what Lawton and Tocchet apparently failed to understand) is that when you do clash over concepts or player personnel, it needs to be behind closed doors.
We also wrote that the team's new ownership needs to make every effort to get out from under Vincent Lecavalier's contract and even his presence on the ice. There is certainly a chance that the big center can return to form. He's turning 30 and should be in his relative prime, but when a high-paid performer doesn't achieve, well, that lack of production spreads quickly through the ranks. Players on the roster and those coming in will have a hard time believing that the Bolts are serious about returning to the ranks of Stanley Cup contenders if a player is perceived to be just taking the money for going through the motions with impunity. Nothing kills the chemistry in a room faster than knowing poor performance is rewarded.
Lecavalier's contract is hard to move and it will be harder still because of his high cap hit (in excess of $7 million), low goal production, and the fact that a team willing to make a trade can't cut a salary deal (leaving some of the hit on the team looking to move the contract), but it's not impossible. Lecavalier might actually rebound with a change of scene and there are teams with enough cap room to take him on. The big question is whether there's a GM with the courage to take that chance.
I, for one, would put Toronto's Brian Burke in the small group that might. The Leafs have no problems selling tickets, but selling hope in a city where the team hasn't made the playoffs in five consecutive seasons is another matter. Lecavalier could help change that.
Toronto has three smallish centers in its lineup and any one could easily be replaced. Lecavalier has size, the ability to win faceoffs and battles in front of the net, and even if he doesn't rebound to his old 50-goal form, he would be a godsend to the Leafs if he even got to 30 and worked some magic as a playmaker as well.
Coyotes sold short
Not accusing the good people who manage the lease at Jobing.com arena in Glendale, Arizona of being shortsighted, but wouldn't it have been in their own best interests to have approved lease concessions to both Jerry Reinsdorf and Ice Edge Holdings? The two apparent bidders for the Phoenix -- shouldn't we say Glendale? -- Coyotes had different lease bids on the table, but in picking Reinsdorf over Ice Edge, the arena seems to have given away any leverage it might have had with the NHL regarding which bid ends up the winner.
Had the group approved two admittedly dissimilar leases, it would have forced the NHL to select the team's new owner after a mini-bidding war for a sale price because both ownership sides would have gotten all they could out of Glendale. Presumably that could have led to more money for the NHL owners, but most importantly, it would have forced one side or the other to step up with a promise to not move the team out of the area. Isn't that why the league went to court and a to-the-death battle with Jim Balsillie?
There are people in and outside of hockey who think that Reinsdorf was the preferred partner all along and that Ice Edge was little more than a stalking horse used to get him the concessions he wanted. He has them now. Ice Edge is left with nothing and it appears that the good people of Glendale, and the few that are hockey fans, will also come out with nothing but guarantees that they will be the ones who will pay with their team if Reinsdorf doesn't get the revenues he needs.