July 05, 2010

Sabre-Rattling In Atlanta

When I was a kid I always wanted to be the general manager more so than the star hockey player (mostly because I couldn't skate very well.) Perhaps that's why I find this time of hockey season so fascinating. We get to watch the different managers go about their business of building teams. To watch their visions come to life and then we can compare their blueprints with other teams. Most fun of all, of course, is comparing their plans to our own.

Of course we can not truly grade these game plans until the puck actually drops. But one team that appears to have done very well are the Atlanta Thrashers. Here's how Bucky Gleason of the Buffalo News assessed their off-season thus far:
The Thrashers are in better shape because they have proven veterans with playoff experience who can contribute right away. They've done more to help themselves than any other team because they were best prepared to strike... So far, the Thrashers are big winners in the offseason.

Gleason is a veteran hockey journalist and his interest in the Thrashers is undoubtedly tied to two former Buffalo Sabres legends taking the helm of the Thrashers: new general manager Rick Dudley and new coach Craig Ramsay.

Atlanta fans should be very excited the new players Dudley has acquired. They are all like him in when he starred for the Sabres back in the 1970s - energetic, aggressive, belligerent but most of all a good, impactful hockey player. By bringing in so many of these types of players Dudley is resetting the culture of hockey in Georgia and it promises to be hard nosed. More likely than not it will mark a badly needed improved era of hockey down south.

Not only is Dudley bringing in players with size and heart, but players with a winning tradition. Look at all the players he's pillaged from Stanley Cup champion Chicago - Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd (who won a Cup earlier in Carolina), Ben Eager and Brent Sopel. Maybe short term they'll sign Dominique Wilkens next and change their name to the Atlanta Hawks in an effort to sell tickets. But long term this culture change is the best thing needed for hockey in Georgia.

Dudley also landed a solid if not spectacular goaltender in Chris Mason, and at an amazing bargain at that. Don't forget Canada had pencilled in Mason as the 4th goalie for their 2010 Olympic team in case of an injury. But I still think he is a second-tier starter at this stage of his career. Or, as Bird Watchers Anonymous said, "an accidental journeyman."

I openly wondered on Twitter about the Thrashers blue line, but Ben from the Blueland Blog assures me they are better than think.

That's where coach Ramsay will make his most immediate impact. Rammer was one of the best defensive forwards in his day, and is one of the best teachers nowadays. I suspect both Mason (and the underrated Ondrej Pavelec) and the blue line corps will appear to be much stronger next year. Much of that improvement will be systematic.

If I were a Thrashers fan I'd still be hoping for an addition on the blue line. One fan on Twitter suggest Kevin Bieksa, and he'd be a good fit in Dudley's vision. UFA Andy Sutton would be another good addition.

Hockey fans in Atlanta have been waiting a long time for their hockey team to succeed. They are on the right path thanks to two former Buffalo Sabres greats: Rick Dudley and Craig Ramsay.

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