The new guy has a plan. The new guy has a resume. The new guy certainly isn’t short of confidence.
“I like to think I can do things better than somebody else,” Rick Dudley said. “If you want to call that arrogant, I think I’m as good as it gets at what I do. I like to build. I like to put the pieces together. I like to anticipate. I like to be able to look at a situation and say, ‘That human being could do better in a different situation.’ I’m good at that.”
Rick Dudley leaves you with the thought: Why is he general manager of the Thrashers? Shouldn’t he be in Washington? Maybe NASA? At the very least, he would rock on Celebrity Apprentice.
He is the new guy in charge of hockey in Atlanta. It’s his job to make people believe that an organization with one playoff berth (an abbreviated one) in 10 seasons is suddenly going to become relevant. He has done it before.
What do words count for? Not much. But he talks a convincing game. He has revamped the way the scouting staff evaluates players. He thinks too many scouts get it wrong, partly because of laziness, and he’s probably right.
Soundbite: “They say, ‘Oh, he scored 46 goals, he’s going to be a good player.’ But he may be dumber than a sack of hammers.”
He has raised the level of accountability. Comfort is gone in the building.
He refuses to use a potentially low payroll, which is to be expected from an uninterested ownership group, as an excuse for losing.
“Give me the payroll and we’ll make it work,” he said.
And then this: “We can have the greatest city in the world with the best sports fans and if we don’t win we’re not drawing flies. I know everybody in Atlanta will say this city is not a hockey city. Bull. I look at Washington – it’s a hell of a lot better than Washington. But they put something together that excited the people.”
Are you ready to run through a wall for him yet?
The organization was overdue for a new start. There had been too many false starts, too many excuses. Dudley’s job begins in earnest with the draft June 25-26. He also needs to hire a coach (Chicago assistant John Torchetti is the perceived overwhelming favorite.) But that decision likely will not come until after the draft.
Shouldn’t the coach have some input if, say, Dudley wants to make a trade involving veterans at the draft?
“I prefer coaches who don’t care what their personnel is,” he said. “If a coach wants to be part of the personnel decisions, then he’s always going to hate his team.”
The Chicago Blackhawks are on the verge of clinching their first Stanley Cup since 1961. Dudley helped get them there. He was the Blackhawks’ assistant general manager for three years before coming to Atlanta last summer. Things got ugly in Chicago. General manager Dale Tallon was demoted the month after Dudley left. Tallon goofed when he failed to submit qualifying offers to eight restricted free agents before the deadline, resulting in the team having to pay higher salaries than probably necessary. Still, Tallon’s demotion was unpopular. He eventually left and now is the GM in Florida.
Dudley did most of the ground work for the Lightning’s 2003-04 Cup team. But he resigned late in February of 2002 after a feud with ownership over whether to trade Vincent Lecavalier, who was in the midst of a salary dispute. Dudley wanted to deal the player. His assistant, Jay Feaster, sided with ownership. There went that relationship. The Lightning reached the second round of the playoffs the following season and won it all a year later.
“Would I like to have a ring? Sure,” he said. “But I take satisfaction in the process.”
How close are the Thrashers in that process?
“We’re as close as Chicago was two years ago,” Dudley said.
So Rick Dudley predicts . . .
“We won’t win it this year,” he said, laughing.
Just move in that direction. That’s all anybody wants.