Dudley Q and A: Roster will likely be tweaked

The Thrashers are 8-9-3 after 20 games, the quarter-mark of the season. On Thursday, I sat down with General Manager Rick Dudley for a question and answer period to get his thoughts about the first part of the season and what is ahead.

Here is the complete transcript from that interview:

Q. What have you seen that has gone right so far this season?

A. Obviously our offensive play has been brilliant. It was a big question in most people’s minds whether we would score enough to be successful. It’s a lot easier to get a team to play well defensively. I expect that will improve. Would I like us to be 14-4? Sure but we are not. We are about where I expected to be, to be honest with you. We’ve played good games, we’ve played some not so good games. The only thing with our hockey team right now is we can play at times so well that you want desperately to get that consistency, but it does take time.

Q. What have you seen that has gone wrong so far this season?

A. We started the year, two minutes into the first game, our goaltender went down and [Chris Mason] had to play every minute of every game after that. That was tough. [Ondrej Pavelec] is still getting himself together and Mason is playing quite a bit. That was a tough break.

I would have liked to have been healthy at the forward position all year. Everybody wants to be. Last year, we had almost no injuries. This year we’ve had some.

I’d like to see some of the guys that are capable of contributing more, contribute more. I’m not going to sit here and say everybody has played brilliantly. They haven’t. I think in general we’ve had good contributions from people we wanted to have good contributions from. I watched the game that [Alexander] Burmistrov played the other night and I said this kid is going to be special. You know what, when you pick eighth and you watch that kind of play, it’s pretty encouraging. He will help us go some place. I think the play of [Pavelec] last night was pretty impressive. I think the play of [Dustin Byfuglien] on defense has been nothing short of fantastic. I think Andrew Ladd has been every bit and more than we could have expected. [Rich Peverley] is starting to play. [Niclas Bergfors] is starting to play. [Bryan] Little is healthy again. [Evander] Kane has been scoring. We go on down the list. I think [Tobias] Enstrom has been wonderful. I think [Zach Bogosian] and Ron Hainsey can give us more offensively.  [Nik Antropov] is coming back from an injury that’s been tough on him. He was our best player a year ago. If he can get back anywhere near that level, which he is doing slowly, we could be a fairly impressive offensive group.

I’m disappointed in a few guys, not a lot.

Q. So Antropov’s injury is still affecting him?

A. The problem with Antro’s injury was it affected his training. He didn’t get to train much at all during the summer. He went through all of training camp and wasn’t even able to play the exhibition games. It’s been a slow process. He’s a big man. Everything has to be right for Antro to be the player we know he can be and he’s slowly getting there. We knew it was going to take a little time. We were thrilled he could start the season with us to be honest. It’s not like he had a hangnail. It was a tough one.

Q. Overall, some people have pleased you and some you expect more from?

A. Yes. The record is the record. Would I like the record to be reversed and we were over .500? Yes. I expect this team to continue to get better. There has to be a certain element of desperation because you can’t slip too far down. Then you can’t catch up. I do expect us to get better on a consistent basis. I like the play of Hainsey lately. I like Bogosian’s progress. Enstrom and Byfuglien have been spectacular since day one. If we can get that defense playing at the level they are capable, they are one of the best. I know what Bogo’s capacity is. I know what Ronny’s capacity is. [Brent] Sopel is going to be Sopel. You know what you are getting there. He is a consistent, hard-nosed player who you know what he’s going to give you. Johnny Oduya I thought he struggled a bit early in the season but he’s playing all right now. We’ve got a top-6 defense that’s as good as anyone.

Q. You brought coach Craig Ramsay here, in part, because of his teaching ability. He’s had to teach a lot and there are still things that clearly frustrate him. Did you think it would take this long?

A. Yes, I did. I knew it would take some time with some of the players. To be honest with you, there is a time frame here. Some of the things that Rammer is teaching are the right things but are counter to what some of these guys have done their whole career. Will it take them time? The secret to teaching is that it becomes a habit. Habits sometimes take a while to break and to change into other habits. It’s about repetition. It’s about learning from mistakes. It’s about watching video. All of these things take time. Some of the guys have the visual skills to look at a piece of paper how something is drawn up and go out on the ice and do it. The vast majority it takes time, it takes repetition. That’s what this is all about. We knew it was going to take time.

The first game against Washington, a brilliant team, we played brilliantly. We did all things right and probably played on adrenaline a lot. You knew it wasn’t going to all be like that. You are going to go through periods where what they are doing now is what they need to be doing. They need to get to the point where there is a different mindset. A lot of these guys have played that lock-on or man-on-man defensive policy their whole life. Now we are asking them to do something different. It’s the right thing to do. Are they are going to be times like [the second period Wednesday against Florida] when you go ‘Oh my God?’ Yeah. Eventually it’s going to get there. I’ve seen this man work. I’ve seen several good coaches work. It takes time.

The one advantage this team has is it wasn’t a bad team. [At some of his other stops in management] Tampa was a bad team. Chicago was a bad team. Florida was a bad team. This is an easier job than those jobs. When you got to Tampa and you look at your board and you say ‘I’ve got three players here who can conceivably play in the NHL.’ That’s a task. …

I go to games now and it’s very specific what we are looking for. We will probably make changes as this year goes on. We will probably add things and delete things. I’m a long way of saying we are a perfect team. I’d like to think that all these people here understand that this can be a really good gig here. When we get these fans excited, which we will, it’s going to be fun. That group of athletes is a good, good group of guys. I think they all know that. I hope they all want to be here. To do that, you have to perform at a certain level.

Q. Are there trades, call-ups in the works, and how do you see this roster changing?

A. That’s a tough question to answer. Have a talked to people about trades? Sure. I try to talk to people on a semi-constant basis. Is there anything imminent? No. I don’t look at it and say we are going to make a trade. Do I anticipate that we are going to try to tweak things? Yeah, that’s the way I work. I think I’ve made a lot of trades that have helped the hockey teams I’ve been involved with simply because I don’t care if I help the other team. There are some guys that want to [fleece] you every time they talk to you. If we are toward the deadline and there was a team that we were tied with for seventh or eighth in the conference, would I be hesitant? Yeah. If it’s not that situation, I don’t care. The reality is trying to get better than 29 teams and in the conference better than 14 teams. Do I care about helping another team? Not if it accomplishes what we are tying to do. We’ll keep talking.

Q. You mentioned the play of Ladd and Byfuglien. They are restricted free agents. Have you started the process of trying to lock those guys up with new contracts?

A. I’m here this week and it’s something [President] Don [Waddell] and I have talked a little about. We are going to make a decision but this organization, in general, doesn’t negotiate a lot during the season. Are there players on this team that we would like to have back for sure? Absolutely. You never want to go through [RFA negotiations]. They are a pain. Andrew Ladd is a wonderful guy and it was a pain [last offseason] to be honest with you. Not him, the process. There is no question we were going to get something done. Would we have liked to tie him up for a long, long period of time? It didn’t happen. We’d still like to? Yeah. Obviously he’s played very well.

We would like Buff for a long period of time. We’d like to think these kids like it here and like what we are doing. I’m pretty sure they do. By the same token, they are pretty good players and they are not going to say I’ll give you the home town discount. We are going to talk about that.

With Ladd we went back and forth on a longer-term deal. He is one of the athletes I would say it wouldn’t matter how long the contract was. He’s going to play the same. At the end of the day, for everyone concerned, his representative, ourselves and himself – he’s a confident kid in his own way – everyone decided it was best to go on a one-year deal. That doesn’t mean we had any less respect for him or he had any less respect for us. It wasn’t them. They would have signed a multi-year deal. We just couldn’t get the right agreement. Can we do that in the future? We hope so.

28 comments Add your comment

buzz

November 20th, 2010
10:39 am

They need to trade Antro for someone who can use their big body in the corners. We need MUSCLE.

I’d try to get JVR from Philly. He’s currently in the doghouse and Philly can’t afford their upcoming contracts, so maybe they’d be willing to part with him.

A top line of Kane-Burmistrov-JVR could be EPIC.

R. Stroz

November 20th, 2010
10:49 am

Hopefully, Dudley is aware of the dismal Thrasher history of keeping top talent and will get multi-year deals done with Ladd and Buff ASAP.

This franchise can’t tolerate the continued revolving door of talent in and talent out. The fans want to see some continuity in the team as well as willingness by management/ownership to properly entice players to stay in Atlanta.

One year deals send the WRONG message to the fan base.

Hoof Arted

November 20th, 2010
11:56 am

Yes R. Stroz, we need more long term contract deals like the ones we gave Todd White and Ron Hainsey. Can’t get enough of those.

Actually, I like these 1-2 year contracts. Keeps young players hungry and earning their keep.

Alan R.

November 20th, 2010
12:40 pm

we need more long term contract deals like the ones we gave Todd White and Ron Hainsey

Your sarcasm is noted, but it’s badly misplaced.

We need to lock up Byfuglien, Ladd, and other key players long term. This is what Stroz means. He’s not saying we need to lock up every player we have to lengthy contracts, just the guys who matter to this organization. The guys who are our core group of players.

It would increase the confidence of the local fanbase in the team if we locked up some of our core players to deals in the three to five year range.

R. Stroz

November 20th, 2010
1:15 pm

Hoof Arted – If you consider Todd White (a.k.a Charmin, and yes I’m the one who gave him that nickname), as “talent in”, well, you sir are still looking for your red stapler.

Hoof Arted

November 20th, 2010
1:41 pm

Alan R. Glad you picked up on the comment dripping with sarcams. But I think you and R. Stroz are missing my point. While I too would like to see players like Ladd and Byfuglien locked long term, I like the fact that these players and others are having to continually prove themselves on the ice.

There’s a long line of players in the NHL and other sports who have gotten their multi-year deals then their production dropped off.

I like the 1-2 year deals because it makes the players continue to work hard, knowing they only are guaranteed $$$ for the next year or so. Yes, that leads to the possibilty that they could play elsewhere if they so choose to when the contract runs out, but that’s the responsibility of the front office to create a winning team to help keep those type of players here.

Either way is a gamble, for sure and I see your side of the arguement. But given the choice between the two I would rather have the players working hard for their next payday then being comfy with a long tern deal.

stendek

November 20th, 2010
1:59 pm

Hello all. Still beaming after beatdown of Crapitals! Need to maintain that momentum on Sunday. No time to let up. Hopefully one day bums like Makeuillya Kovalchoke will wish he would have stuck around. Then again it would have been same tired song and dance of IK plus supporting cast. Like that pointless soap opera mess in New Jersey. Devilish! Please do not relapse Thrashers. No team in NHL can defeat you guys when you are on! STENDEK

Alan R.

November 20th, 2010
2:09 pm

I like the 1-2 year deals because it makes the players continue to work hard

You might be one of the only ones who actually likes these sort of deals. Sure, the player works hard and all. However players, like fans, want consistency. If there’s no apparent consistency, it too has a part in driving fans away. That’s why so many were disappointed with Ladd only getting a one year deal.

Our RFAs aren’t going to be restricted forever. These are key pieces to our lineup, and we need to keep them. We need to tell them “hey, I believe in you, and I want you to stay here for 4, 5, 6 years.” At the same time, we also need to tell the fans “hey, we believe in [player], and we want him here for [years].”

Fans have little confidence in this team, in part, because of a lack of consistency. Whether it be in the GM’s office, or on the ice. All of us can agree that last night was a huge effort for our buys, and it paid off. We also want to see that every shift, every period, every night. At the same time, we want our core locked up. This team has no history of really locking up key players.

First and foremost, the front office needs to increase consumer confidence in the team. One way of doing that is extending our core group of players. The core players are the ones who will go out there and hustle, whether they’re making $1.5m per for two years or $4m per for five years.

Ladd. Byfuglien. Enström. Bergfors. Little. These are all players who are part of the core. These are all players who should have good time added to their tenure here, not some rinky dink one or two year deal.

I’ve watched this team since day one, and have watched core players and impact players enter and leave this organization like passengers through the old turnstiles at MARTA stations. It’s time our front office personnel put an end to that. Players have come to Atlanta, by way of draft or trade, to “do their time.” Then they get out. They leave, either by trade (Coburn) or, more often, free agency (Savard, et al). Us long time fans are tired of seeing the revolving door spin.

We implore upon the front office to please put a stop to it. Keep our core players long-term, instead of silly short contracts. Increase fan confidence, increase player confidence, and increase ticket sales. Everyone wins.

stendek

November 20th, 2010
2:10 pm

Point very well taken Hoof Arted. What do players like Ilya Kovalchuck REALLY have to play for? Guy has signed to play until his retirement age. Going nowhere. Money team has tied up in him prevents addition of core of solid talented athletes. So what if he does not produce as expected? No consequences. Coaches and teammates will come and go while player will remain constant. Good luck on that Stanley Cup dream guy! Better to limit contract lengths to keep fire in bellies of players. Really no other way to do it. How can a coach get through to a player locked into a long term contract? Take away his text privileges between periods? Reward an outstanding season with two or, at most, three year contract. Too many players are one or two season wonders. There are exceptions. Not too often however. Thanks again folks. Go Thrashers! STENDEK

stendek

November 20th, 2010
2:16 pm

Hi Alan R. All right. Suppose team extends long term contracts to most Thrashers then team reverts to form like you witnessed the other night against Florida Panthers at Philips Arena? Willing to be locked in with non producers for half a decade? I throw up when I think of yet another five year plan for 10 more years! Owners cry long term contracts were what fans sought so present non producers are here to stay for years to come. Understand your points but security builds complacancy. Friends can disagree. Enjoy weekend. STENDEK

holyHEdoublehockeysticks

November 20th, 2010
2:22 pm

If stendek can post a comment like that we must be on the right track. We must be near a winning team. The Thrashers were brilliant against Washington. Keep up the good work.

Martin Beck

November 20th, 2010
2:28 pm

Bring in Patrice Cormier now that he has finsihed rehab on the broken foot and the team will play better. It’s a no brainer!

Alan R.

November 20th, 2010
2:52 pm

Suppose team extends long term contracts to most Thrashers then team reverts to form like you witnessed the other night against Florida Panthers at Philips Arena? Willing to be locked in with non producers for half a decade?

Well, that all depends. Are you talking about Ladd, who exerts leadership qualities? Byfuglien, who is a big factor on and off the ice? Or Anthony Stewert, who scored a hat trick by sheer luck, but really hasn’t performed well since?

Stewert isn’t a core player. Ladd and Byfuglien are. Core players get longer deals. Todd Whites of the world deserve one year deals, and if things don’t work out, waivers.

The Real Thrash

November 20th, 2010
4:51 pm

Again we see the ideas of “fans” without a clue about what make a consistently winning organization. Instead of being jealous about contracts of pro players Listen to Alan R.
You don’t win with a revolving door of new players trying to learn a new system. You do it
with guys knowledgeable in the system. Players who understand and can teach the system to
drafted players each year.

Look at the Falcons who are two wins away from a thrid winning season. Bring in the right players.
Pay them. Coach them up.Win!.

Ward

November 20th, 2010
4:55 pm

Ditto on the Thrashers being brilliant last night.The group I came with included about fifteen attending their first ever NHL/Thrasher game.After the game they were shocked and surprised at the result…I had predicted a win (as I always try to do) in a close game. The result showed the people on the ice wearing our uniform what can be done with a high workrate,a team effort and plenty of shots. It showed my novice friends they can (and will) come back again and enjoy the sport and team. Go Thrashers!

All Rick Dudley | The Vancouver Canucks

November 20th, 2010
5:01 pm

[...] more [...]

DowntownATL

November 20th, 2010
5:01 pm

If you make the Thrashers relevant, you change the NHL.

East Point Bob

November 20th, 2010
5:34 pm

I shutter knowing Don Waddell, the worst the NHL has to offer, is still in charge… Awful !

Buff-n-stuff

November 20th, 2010
6:25 pm

You mean “Shudder”…….and I do agree with your statement EPB

TrueBlue

November 20th, 2010
6:42 pm

I really wonder who Dudley is “not impressed with”. Slater…? Stewart…?

lordstan57

November 20th, 2010
11:02 pm

Absolutely the best defensive effort in MANY years. That means EVERYBODY playing both ends.
Pavs was stupendous!

Enjoyed the outing immensely!

“Live Hockey, Love Thrashers!”.

Dwayne

November 21st, 2010
9:07 am

NUMBER ONE PRIORITY IS TO LOCK UP THE CAPTAIN FOR AT LEAST 3 YEARS AT GOOD COIN!!!! Hawks locked up some core players this year. Thrashers turn next year. Lets hope the Hawks do well, go deep in the playoffs to keep some money flowing in.

Sara

November 21st, 2010
9:26 am

Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Hossa, Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Pronger, Kane, Towes, Keith, Perry, Getzlaf, E. Staal .. I could go on and on. All key players to an organization, all given long-term deals, all working their tails off every single night. Most players come to play and come to win, not to just get paid. And the reason why certain teams enjoy high levels of success season after season after season is because they lock in all those core players. If you want to compete against the big boys, you have to run your organization like the big boys.

Going back to the Dudley interview … I like that he isn’t blind to the faults that the team has and they are being honest that it’s a process. I like that there is going to be a sense of accountability on the ice, and not just behind the bench. Put up or get out. I do not like the idea they are still not going to negotiate with players once January 1 pops up. While I understand not wanting to have off-ice distractions, many other GMs don’t find it all that difficult to get negotiations done during the season. Already there have been new contract extentions negotiated around the League 20 games in to the season. If Atlanta Spirit weren’t still nickel and diming everybody, maybe they’d find negotiations easier to manage.

If Spirit doesn’t find a way and soon to settle this mess with Belkin and get a new partner(s) with capital in here to fund payroll, they are going to kill whatever progress Dudley and Ramsay are able to effect this season. If they can’t sustain it, any debate about contract lengths will be moot since the best players will continue to not want to be here.

Stewart

November 21st, 2010
10:51 am

Ramsey must move Byfuglien back in ofense. Dustin is good scorer, and he many scores as def too, but in defense he is completely ZERO!

Brendan

November 21st, 2010
3:50 pm

I preach longterm contracts for foundation-type players. But two conditions must be present for that. (1) Committed ownership and (2) player acquiescence. Both have been lacking throughout the Thrashers brief existence in the NHL.

I like proactive contracts. But, sometimes they do backfire. Still, sometimes … I’m so frustrated with this team, that I’d absolve a bad longterm contract, just because it showed some measure of a “commitment” on the part of ownership. Did Atlanta really need to offer Ron Hainsey a 5-year deal? Well, if I recall correctly, he was like a Day 3 signing, just because Waddell didn’t want to away from the UFA frenzy completely empty-handed, while having been in the Brian Campbell sweepstakes. Folks, it’s a whole lot easier to make agents call our GM … when the franchise is (1) winning and (2) spending money towards winning (commitment by ownership). Until those things change, it’ll be an uphill battle, and likely result in shorter term deals for players. The rules of the CBA are set up to keep draft picks with their teams for 8 years, barring the player walking away from the NHL, in favor of Europe. It’s up to the ownership … to hold the GM’s, Coaching staff, scouting staff, medical staff, etc., accountable for results. And it’s also encumbent on them (ownership) to answer for their own failings and short-comings. You can’t fire ownership, as they say. But maybe … you could get them to take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror. I’d settle for that, at this point.

NHL Ready

November 22nd, 2010
4:15 pm

I still think Enstrom is a weak D-man. Yes he is playing better but not Fantastic. I am sorry I do not see it.

Cahos

November 22nd, 2010
10:24 pm

I think Bogosian should be moved up to a winger instead of defence.

FormerIslesFan

November 23rd, 2010
9:01 am

Can someone here please confirm what is in C-Viv’s blog? I undestood that Buff is an RFA after this season, but for some reason I thought Ladd was a UFA (hence the original concern over naming him Captain). Does anyone know the true status of these two important pieces contract-wise following this season?