Dudley Do Right
Hiring Rick Dudley as general manager has already paid off for Tampa Bay
At the June 26 entry draft Rick Dudley, the Lightning's new head of hockey operations, did something no man has done in 16 years: He traded the No. 1 pick That gutsy move, and another deal that quickly followed, reaped such a promising payoff for the franchise that Tampa Bay fans have started believing that the 50-year-old Dudley could do the unthinkable and transform the lowly team into a winner. The Lightning went 19-54-9 last season and has gone 176-306-62 in a seven-year history that has featured corrupt ownership and bumbling management. "Anyone who knows Rick Dudley knows that the day he took over [June 8], the Lightning became a better franchise," says Thrashers general manager Don Waddell.
On draft day Dudley dealt the top pick for the No. 4 selection plus two third-rounders. Dudley then sent that fourth pick to the Rangers for a substantial return: 23-year-old goalie Dan Cloutier, two-way forward Niklas Sundstrom and New York's first-and third-round picks next year. All told, Dudley, who was up wheeling and dealing at 5 a.m., parlayed one pick into a group of players and draft picks who might one day form the backbone of his team.
Dudley, a former NHL player and coach, distinguished himself as a workaholic general manager in the minors, where his teams went to their league finals eight times in 10 years. Last summer he was hired as general manager of the Senators, who went on to finish with the second-best record in the East (44-23-15) only to be swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Sabres.
In the meantime a group led by Detroit Pistons managing partner Bill Davidson had purchased the Lightning. (The sale became official on June 28 but had been imminent since March.) That group, Palace Sports and Entertainment, employed Dudley from 1994-95 through '97-98 as general manager of the International Hockey League's Detroit Vipers. "If Bill Davidson had bought a team in Alaska," says Dudley, "I was going to go to Alaska."
Palace Sports' president, Tom Wilson, compensated Ottawa with draft picks and money to extricate Dudley from his three-year contract. Wilson said he liked Dudley because of the "tireless effort he puts into his job," and that effort was evident when Dudley flew straight from his introductory press conference in Tampa to scout a minor league game in Rochester.
A few days before the draft Dudley had set up a trade for Stars goalie Roman Turek, but outgoing Lightning owner Art Williams scotched the deal. Forced to scramble for another netminder, Dudley landed Cloutier and showed he can thrive in the executive backwaters of the NHL. "I don't believe in crises," Dudley says of the ill-fated Turek deal. "I believe in solutions."
Dudley may be the solution to what's been ailing Tampa Bay for years.
New-Look New York
Rangers general manager Neil Smith was rightfully hailed for his draft day maneuvers that brought youth and skill to what had been an old, slow team. The moves were shrewd; he did not have to spend a penny to make them; and, with team owner Cable-vision's bankroll behind him, Smith knew the players he gave up could be replaced with free agents this summer.