A breakdown of the Thrashers’ offseason plans

What will be a busy offseason has already begun for the Thrashers.

General manager Rick Dudley has a list of priorities this summer, which includes obtaining a top-6 forward and perhaps a top-5 defenseman. There are also seven unrestricted free agents and 12 unrestricted free agents in the organization.

The following is a breakdown of the team’s plans based on Dudley’s exclusive interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Thursday.

FORWARD

At the very top of the wish list is a scoring forward, Dudley said. The team struggled for goals at times this season, especially during a 7-17-6 stretch that likely cost them a postseason berth. The Thrashers finished with just two players – Andrew Ladd (29) and Dustin Byfuglien (20) with at least 20 goals.

Dudley said the line of Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler established itself as a top-2 line in the NHL and were often the best line, on either team, on the ice on given nights. The team needs a second line to match.

“We have components that fit,” Dudley said. “I don’t know how soon it can happen. If you look at guys like [Alexander] Burmistrov and [Evander] Kane and you see two-thirds of another spectacular line, which will be a fast, fast line with a lot of skill. I’m not the coach, but you would like to think of them at some point in time playing together.”

Dudley said his preference would be to “force the issue” and acquire another top-6 forward. That could come via free agency or a trade. Dudley would also not rule out signing a restricted free agent to an offer sheet should a team be up against the salary cap.

On the NHL roster, forwards Eric Boulton and Radek Dvorak are unrestricted free agents. Dudley said he has spoken to both and they reiterated their public statements that they would like to return. Dudley said he plans to speak to their agents.

Ladd and Wheeler are the top priorities on the restricted free agent front. Both are classified as Group 2 and are expected to return, but the team would like to work out new contracts with both.

“We want them back and they want to come back,” Dudley said. “All that bodes well. It doesn’t seal the deal, but you know if you have two sides that really want to get something done that we will figure it out somehow.”

Ben Maxwell, just finishing his entry-level contract figures to return. The organization will take a hard look at Anthony Stewart and Rob Schremp but Dudley expected to speak to their agents.

DEFENSE

While Dudley said he was comfortable with the current defenseman on the NHL roster and the depth in the minor leagues, he would consider a deal that brings in a top-3 defenseman. Such a move would force the coaching staff into some tough decisions.

“The coaches and management have to make a determination if we have a top four [on defense] now,” Dudley said. “For much of the year I think we would both say we did. At other points we weren’t so sure. We have to take a look at that. If it’s a case we are not comfortable with a top four, then that’s going to be something we look at.”

The inconsistent play of defensemen Zach Bogosian and Johnny Oduya were a concern this season. Bogosian is restricted free agent and Dudley didn’t expect any issues re-signing the former No. 3 overall pick.

The future of unrestricted free agent Freddy Meyer is uncertain. Dudley said he would love to have Meyer on the roster. However, the organization has depth at defense. Such a young player could be involved in a deal to acquire a scoring forward. Arturs Kulda, who played two NHL games this season, is a restricted free agent. He would also be subject to the waiver wire next season. That could mean he makes the team as a sixth or seventh defenseman.

Noah Welch is an unrestricted free agent and the organization will give “some thought” to bring back should he be open.

GOALTENDING

Both Chris Mason and Ondrej Pavelec are under contract next season. Dudley reiterated Thursday the need for Pavelec to come to camp in top condition.

“There are two things I expect to happen,” Dudley said. “Chris Mason was hurt a lot last year and I think he will have a big bounce back year. The character of this person is so high that he wants to make sure.

“Pavs has to buy into the theory that conditioning is an aspect of goaltending. He hasn’t been a brilliantly conditioned athlete. He has to be. If he does, he can be the goaltender that he can be. At his best, he is very good.”

Dudley also said the organization has two minor-league goaltenders that could challenge for a job in the near future in Edward Pasquale and Chris Carrozzi. Pasquale, who played at AHL Chicago, has the tools to be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL, Dudley said.

* Here are some quotes from Dudley on each of the pending free agents:

UNRESTRICTED

Radek Dvorak: “I had a talk with him. He expressed an interest. He liked the guys on the team. He liked the coaching staff. He liked everything about it. He wants to play again, so we are going to talk to him.”

Eric Boulton: “I talked to Bolts and told him we would be getting in touch with him and his agent. Bolts played well for us. People ask about Ben Eager, the pure and simple answer is Bolts outplayed him. It’s a fact. Surprising a little bit? Maybe.”

Freddy Meyer: “You never mind having Freddy on or around your team. It’s something we told Freddy as a staff we have to talk about and we’ll be talking to him. We just have to make some tough decisions as to what we want on our seven-man rotation.”

Noah Welch: “Welch we have to give some thought to.”

Jamie Sifers: “Sifers was probably a guy who should have come up and didn’t. He may or not to come back because of that. In fairness to the kid, he should have come up. We just had a few people at that position. He could have easily been here.”

Jason Krog: “We didn’t call Krog up this year. He knows we have moved people past him in that situation.”

Jared Ross: “In Ross’ case, he was hurt and then we never had a need for his role. He played well in Chicago in the second half. He is a small center and we have [Alexander] Burmistrov and [Bryan] Little and at the time [Rich] Peverley.”

RESTRICTED

Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler: “We want them back and they want to come back. All that bodes well. It doesn’t seal the deal, but you know if you have two sides that really want to get something done that we will figure it out somehow.”

Zach Bogosian: “I don’t think we will have a problem re-signing him.”

Ben Maxwell: “I assume given the opportunity he was given here, he would want to come back. He expressed that in our meeting. The coaches like him quite a bit. He’s smart. Coaches like smart players – a guy that goes to the right places. That was the thing on him. He was always smart.”

Rob Schremp: “He’s an interesting one. We’ve beaten that one up quite a bit because we like the kid. He came in and worked hard. He was a good guy. He seemed to be a guy that fit into what we are trying to do. Schremp has his warts. He also has some very positive things. He’s an offensive weapon. Will we talk to his agent? Absolutely.”

Anthony Stewart: “We’ve got to talk to. Stewy is an interesting guy because he had a productive first half and a non-so productive second half. Both our side and their side has to take a look at that. I think he’s found a home. I think he likes playing for Craig [Ramsay]. I think he’s had some success playing for Craig. We have to arrive at a number.”

Arturs Kulda: When Kulda came up, he didn’t play as well as we would have liked. I don’t think he was in the condition he should have been that you need to play at that tempo. He was a guy we hoped would come in and force us to do something. He wasn’t a major disappointment, but he didn’t play as well as we expected.”

Brett Feasterling: “He’s a guy that can play in the league. I’ve watched the guy play many times. He can play somewhere between a 5 and 7 [defenseman]. I believe he will be one of those guys that will be battling for that [spot].”

Spencer Machacek: Spencer can play in the league. We believe he can play in the league as a fourth-line player. We would like a little more from him. He’s capable of scoring but he has to work on his skating. … We have a plan in place that we think he should do.”

Riley Holzapfel: “He’s had a bit of an up and down career with us so far. He probably hasn’t played at the level of where he was drafted. In training camp and at times this year, he showed that intellect. People like smart players. He has to make a commitment to being more of that. He has to work on his strength. He has to work on his skating. It’s not bad, but he has to make it better. He can play in the NHL if he does a number of things.”

Andew Kozek and Ian McKenzie are also restricted free agents, but we did not discuss them specifically.

I also asked Dudley about Angelo Esposito and the progress he made this season after suffering two torn knee ligaments.

Angelo Esposito: “He played some good games for Chicago. We are encouraged about that. I would like to see him establish himself as a regular American League player. It’s very difficult. He was playing behind some East Coast League players and I’m sure that was tough for him. It was to the point where I was thinking of putting him in the East Coast League so he could play 25 minutes a game. It never quite got to that because he started to play. I think Angelo can become a player. He’s got to stay healthy.”

24 comments Add your comment

Mike

April 14th, 2011
5:15 pm

Chris – Thanks for the updates on the goaltending situation. I’m interested to see how Pavelec responds to the conditioning challenge.

Smoothie

April 14th, 2011
5:41 pm

FESTERLING?? C’mon Duds, you got Kulda & Postma waiting in the wings, and Meyer can provide depth. We have no need for this cat.

T_Plunk

April 14th, 2011
7:18 pm

Cool article, great insight! Internally I’d like to see if the Klingberg kid could be our scorer- seems like our style, physical along the boards and some skills.
Externally I wonder if we’ll pick off some young talent from these playoff teams looking to dump players like chicago last year. We don’t need as many maybe something like acquiring a Versteeg, Callahan, Leino, Oshie, Erhoff…. oh by the way Stamkos is a fa this year! (you never know)

Brad

April 14th, 2011
9:16 pm

Bogo isn’t unrestricted. Under defense section.

East Point Bob

April 14th, 2011
11:18 pm

Zach Bogosian back, NO please. He is trade bait only. do not resign him, let another team waste their money. Plus he is, like Brad mentioned, he is restricted. I am scared to death to hear this GM say he wants players back who we have never won with. This is nuts to even think about this.
Boulton better than Eager, Not. Just another example of the GM showing us he has no clue as to what to do. It is a nuthouse in Thrashers Management.

Brendan

April 14th, 2011
11:48 pm

Chris, nice blog topic. Thanks for keeping the blog going during the offseason. Sounds like Boulton is coming back. Wonder if it’s 1 year or a 2 year deal.

lordstan57

April 15th, 2011
12:13 am

I trust Duds to make sound decisions, and improve our Team.

What I want to see/hear is a resolution to all this Ownership BS. WE NEED STABILITY AT THE TOP!
All is for naught without it.
Is everyone else sick to MF Death of putting our developement on hold year after year like this?

Can we just PLAY HOCKEY?
Love,and enjoy the game???????

“Live Hockey?”……..Oh hell yes!

Yuvno Ballzerdik

April 15th, 2011
5:44 am

I have been a supporter of Dudley since we first stole him from Chicago, it does take time but his track record speaks for itself. His only blatant mistake was giving away Eager, I thought Eager was the exact type of player we severely lacked going down the stretch, I do not for the life of me see how Stapleton and Anthony Stewart were the answer, because I wasn’t opposed to trading Eager..but we obviously got nothing in return, we gave away a roster player because he took some bad penalties in a game we were losing badly. We have zero depth and it showed with each passing injury. Other than that move and no one in this organization giving Kulda a real chance to get NHL experience, I’d say we are on track with Dudley at the helm. I didn’t see the distorted scenario Dudley paints about Kulda, he had minimal ice time and hardly any games to prove himself, if condition was a factor, that seems to be something that really needs to be addressed within this organization, but we don’t have much control over an independently owned minor league team, I have hated that deal since day 1, the Wolves do not develop our players, they want to win an AHL Cup, they are not a good farm team for an organization like ours who relies on young players. Someone somewhere needs to start firing people, because there are rumors about quite a few players not being in the shape they should be in, and some of them are what passes for future stars here also, Bogo being one and Pavelec being another. Cut ties with Chicago, there has to be an AHL club that wold be delighted to have ties with an NHL team with the common goal of having a hand in winning a Cup and developing players, this has been one of the many organizational flaws we have endured since 1999.

We all wanted more from and for Bergfors when he was moved..but his value dropped as it was obvious he was a bit of a cancer on the ice with lack of effort and caring, I don’t think Rammers system is that difficult to play and Bergs didn’t do much for Florida either. If Dvorak walks, we can be critical of that move also, but overall Dudley has at least put some pieces in place. His friendship with Rammer worries me but something tells me next season Rammer won’t be getting the benefit of the doubt so often, Dudley’s comments that “he isn’t the coach” tells me that he had some disagreement with Rammers lines obviously, but that’s typical, Dudley lets his coaches – coach – and rightfully so. I personally could do without another passive coach, I’ve seen enough of those types with John Anderson and Rammer to last a lifetime. The blatant organizational flaws won’t be fixed without new ownership of actual hockey people, each day DW holds a secure position amplifies the fact that our team is run by hamsters turning a wheel. It’s a beaten dead horse but we fans deserve a lot better than what we’ve been given here since 99′.

Boulton deserves a raise, he has taken less money to play here, he is a Thrasher through and through, he bleeds for Blueland and is a perfect team guy who has improved every year, he is one of the best playing enforcers in the league, we gotta get him into the playoffs because he’s the type of player to bang in a couple of goals, he did outplay Eager without question, but Eager was never an Enforcer, just a griding energy player..and we tend to lack those or players like Thor get complacent. Re-sign Boults or go get a nuclear weapon like Steve MacIntyre, because we are notoriously soft and get pushed around more times than not. The Bruins rumble should be case and point, don’t let that happen again or if it does happen, do something about it. We have to protect Kane, teams target him and it’s only a matter of time before he gets another bad concussion, there is a reason the Pens have 9 tough guys and a reason they are tough enough to be in the playoffs every year. I am sick of our brass complaining about commitment and effort when we never opt to obtain those types of players and it’s obvious we lack them every year, how hard is it to get some rugged players with skill. Roster players Duds, get some some roster players with some grit and bite to their game. Get a coach that demands it, remember Dallas? That’s how we should play..and who won that game against us? They did. That coach of theirs is availible, he looks like a hedgehog but the guy makes his players accountable..they even made Kari ‘cream puff’ Lehtonen get into some sort of shape..and we desperately need that here, IMO.

Hotrod

April 15th, 2011
7:47 am

Its Thrasher hockey. After 11 years of it, I am prepared for what ever rollercoaster thrill ride they throw at me.

lanier

April 15th, 2011
8:28 am

Their number 1 plan is to get out of Dodge. Chris must feel like he is selling stock options in a typewriter co.

KLS1

April 15th, 2011
9:37 am

Actually its good to hear someone actually evaluate players….was wondering if they even discussed it sometimes the way they have continued to play ppor performers and prospects with upside stay in the minors.

Relocationist/Thrashered

April 15th, 2011
10:07 am

‘Stock options in a typewriter co.’ Gotta love it. Fits the situation perfectly. On the up side, at least the Thrashers will still be around next year. Next year. Who knows beyond that. I wonder if the NHL will own the Thrashers next year after they send the Coyotes to Winnipeg?

Sam

April 15th, 2011
10:52 am

“Dudley said the line of Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler established itself as a top-2 line in the NHL and were often the best line, on either team, on the ice on given nights. The team needs a second line to match.”

So, Dudley called our top line a “top two line”? Our best guys he sees as a 2nd line? What? So do they need a 2nd line to go with them or a first line? I mean, if he’s going for a top scorer, how does that fit in?

Dwayne

April 15th, 2011
11:32 am

Sam, maybe he is telling the coach whisperer to pair Burmi and Kane together with that “scorer” he wants to sign and have 2 top lines? Our top line would be 1b and our second line would be 2a, because we really don’t have a 1a line…Im confused too

Big Deuce

April 15th, 2011
12:18 pm

Same hawgwash, different gm. we will be here again next year. How are we going to sign a top 6 forward with no money to spend? Dudley said we would offer to a restrited free agent to a strapped team, that could cost us a lot in drafts to come, depending on where that player was drafted.

litz

April 15th, 2011
2:41 pm

“Riley Holzapfel” ??!?

Ok … how the HE-double-hockeysticks does one pronounce *that* ?

radeksmom

April 15th, 2011
2:43 pm

This just in the TRASHERS will indeed move to Macon, Georgia and will become the MACON WHOPPEE II. Can it get anyworse?

Cornbread

April 15th, 2011
4:56 pm

I do believe I lost a lengthy one at 4:50…

Bissch

April 16th, 2011
9:46 pm

Why would Ladd stay?? You’ve won two cups in your short career buddy, don’t stick around to stay with a mediocre team. This team has done nothing in the time they’ve been here other than steal money from the fans. Year 12 of the rebuilding project is about to begin. With the Blackhawks, Ladd and Byfuglien were not first line players, yet here they are about as good as you’ve got. Ladd played on the 2nd and 3rd lines in Chicago, and Byfuglien was a 2nd line player except on the Power Play when he played up front causing havoc on opposing team goalies. These two guys are the top two scores for the Thrashers, enough said. This team needs a true #1 line. Even Kane would not be a #1 line guy on any of the teams playing in the postseason. I think Dudley will do the right thing to try and turn this around. Lord knows they are plenty UNDER the salary cap. And hopefully a new ownership group finally puts Waddell out to pasture so he does not continue to poison this team. Let’s hope the new group can run this organization like the Detroit’s and Chicago’s successfully do.

Joe Friday

April 19th, 2011
10:43 am

They can have a #1 line pretty quickly. Sign Bieksa, or Erhoff, as UFAs this summer, move Buf to #1 RW, Kane #1 LW, and trade for a center or give an offer sheet to an RFA center from a cap strapped club, and voila. Ladd, Little, Wheeler are a 2nd line, they should not play #1 minutes.

And what the heck is talking about with Stewart finding a home here, I’m frowning in your direction, Duds!

RockmSockm Thrasher

April 19th, 2011
4:22 pm

Seriously, does anyone believe that the Thrash will ever improve. Management/Ownership’s plans are clear, pay enough for an average team. I’m sorry, but its never going to happen! Eleven years of the same thing.

Just move the team and be done with it.

Cal

April 20th, 2011
2:28 pm

We need to remove our affiliation with Chicago. They have no interest in developing our players.

Mat"T"

April 20th, 2011
10:53 pm

Top on the “To-do” list:

FIND LONG TERM OWNER WHO IS PASSIONATE ABOUT HOCKEY AND HOCKEY IN ATLANTA!!!

Find that one or two player(s) that we need as a scoring threat. Keep the rest of the team intact and let them build!

Plan on playoffs in Atlanta in 2011-12 season!

LET’S GO THRASHERS!

Rick

April 21st, 2011
9:15 am

I’ve heard the team has been sold already… Quebec City; small town in Canada. Really!?!? :-(