The Thrashers named Don Waddell president, promoted Rick Dudley to general manager and dismissed its coaching staff Wednesday, the AJC first reported. They are three significant moves aimed at changing the direction of a franchise that has made the playoffs just once in its 10-season history.
The moves came four days after the end of the Thrashers season and the day the Stanley Cup playoffs were to begin.
Waddell has served as general manager of the Thrashers since its inception, being named to the position in June 1998. Last offseason he was also named executive vice president of the Atlanta Spirit, the parent company of the Thrashers, Hawks and Philips Arena.
Waddell said Sunday, the day after the season ended, he expected to return to the organization next season but would not be specific when asked in what role.
Dudley joined the Thrashers in June of last year and spent his first season with the team as associate general manager. Dudley, with over 40 years of experience in professional hockey as a player, coach and executive, spent the previous five seasons with the Blackhawks. He spent the last three years at assistant general manager.
Head coach John Anderson did not have his contract renewed after two seasons in Atlanta. The Thrashers were 70-75-19 in his two seasons. Assistant coaches Randy Cunneyworth, Todd Nelson and Steve Weeks also did not have their contracts renewed.
“Absolute disappointment,” Anderson told the AJC Wednesday morning. “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.
“I’d really like to thank the fans for all their support,” Anderson said. “They’ve been great. I’d also like to that all the people I’ve worked with. And especially the players. They really gave me everything they had.”
The Thrashers finished 35-34-13 (83 points) this season, five points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“One thing I understand about professional sports, is that ultimately if the team doesn’t do well the coach accepts all the responsibility,” Anderson told the AJC on Monday after completing player exit interviews. “And I do rightfully so, no problem. When the team wins, the coach gives the players [the credit]. That’s how it is. … I understand the reality of it. We didn’t make the playoffs. I accept responsibility for that. Whatever happens, happens.”
Perhaps those five points could have been the difference.
“Unfortunately, when a team does not perform as expected, there are going to be changes, usually to the coaching staff,” goaltender Johan Hedberg said. “As a player you feel bad because you had a part in doing it to them. The team has to do what it feels is right. It is performance based. Five more points and we would have made the playoffs and maybe this doesn’t happen.”
Boris Valabik – “For me, personally, I’ve known Johnny and Nelly a long time. They coached me in [AHL] Chicago. I think they did a great job. They helped me out so much and did a good job. I have nothing bad to say about them. I appreciate everything they’ve done for me. You never know, maybe I’ll see them again. … It’s a new challenge. I’ve never had another coach. It’s going to be a big difference but I’m excited about the new challenge.
Eric Boulton – “Obviously, it’s no fun when you don’t make the playoffs. I have a lot of respect for all four [coaches]. Unfortunately when you don’t make the playoffs, changes are going to be made. Don is very respected and has been here a long time. Everyone has a lot of respect for Rick Dudley. He’s a good hockey mind. He’s going to be great for the city, great for the organization.”
Slava Kozlov: “Unfortunately, it’s too late. If you don’t make the playoffs I can understand ownership’s frustration and they have to do something. I expected after this season there was going to be changes.”
Colby Armstrong: “As far as the coaches, they are really good people, really great guys. It’s definitely a shakeup. Rick Dudley is a really smart hockey guy. He knows what he is doing. It’s a new era coming up for the Thrashers. They are moving in a positive direction.
Ron Hainsey: “I think we are going to see a change in direction. When a team doesn’t get into the playoffs and it’s not seen as a successful season, things change. Those were four quality people that were let go. That’s the toughest part. We were close this year [to making the playoffs], but the next question is what are you going to do when you get in. You have to do something. We are building going forward. Our identity changed some last season and it will change some more. We have some good young players. If they get developed like everyone hopes, we will have a strong group. That’s the challenge, to build a team that makes the playoffs and ultimately competes for the Stanley Cup.”
Bruce Bodreau, Capitals coach: “It’s a sad day for me and John. He’s a very close friend. He phoned me at 9 a.m. this morning. It’s a tough business sometimes because I think he did a great job with what he had to work with all year. He kept them competitive. It’s unfortunate but John is a very good coach and he’ll land on his feet very soon.”
Pavel Kubina: “I know Rick Dudley well. He used to be my GM in Tampa (where Kubina won a Stanley Cup). He’s the best GM out there. He built our team in Tampa. This doesn’t change anything about me wanting to come back.”
Jim Slater: “Players have to ultimately to out there and perform. You see the repercussions of that. Management felt very strongly that we had a good team.”
Letter from ownership to season ticket holders: “As we end the 2009-10 season, we begin the next steps towards achieving our ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup championship. This year ushered in highlights and exhilarating wins, and also delivered a disappointing conclusion when we didn’t achieve a playoff berth. As a result, we have elected to restructure our hockey operations staff to ensure we are maximizing our assets. Today we are promoting Don Waddell to President of the Thrashers and Rick Dudley to the team’s General Manager.
In addition, we, along with Rick and Don, have decided not to retain Head Coach John Anderson and Assistant Coaches Randy Cunneyworth, Todd Nelson and Steve Weeks. We thank each of them for their dedication and contributions to the organization during their tenures.
Rick has been with us for a year, and after his initial tenure of contributing to the hockey operations staff, and assessing the team and organization, we look forward to his guidance over hockey-related activities.
Rick has been pivotal in building highly successful hockey teams, including most recently the Chicago Blackhawks. He has nearly 40 years of experience and is very well-respected in the hockey community for his expertise in evaluating and developing talent. He will immediately begin the search for a new head coach and will oversee all preparations for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. We are extremely confident that he will do an outstanding job of taking us to the next level.
As all of you know, Don has been an important part of this organization since its inception, and in shifting his focus to concentrate primarily on all business aspects of the organization, he will continue to work closely with Rick and play a vital role for our Thrashers franchise. Although we all are disappointed with not participating in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, we are excited about our future and will continue to build on the team’s strong core of young players with the goal of creating a competitive and successful squad that will make our fans proud.
We’d like to thank you for your loyal support as a Season Ticket Holder as we enter a new era of Thrashers hockey.”
Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon