With the Atlanta Spirit once again busy litigating and lying, I thought this would be a good time for the rest of us to actually focus on their teams.
The Hawks wilted in the fourth quarter in Milwaukee last night and lost. Later today, I’ll post a column on the biggest concern about the team and whether they need to make a trade (answer: yes). But this morning, we start with the Thrashers, the franchise that the Spirit/Team Pinocchio has been trying to sell since roughly five minutes after purchasing it.
On the ice, the Thrashers have been a nice little story. The personnel decisions of Rick Dudley and coaching of coach Craig Ramsay have been impressive. When the team went 19-11-5 in the first 35 games, it was stunning. Some would call it overachievement.
But recently there has been a market correction. Prior to the 1-0 win over Washington Wednesday night, the Thrashers were 1-4-3 in their previous eight games and had only one regulation win in their previous 16 (4-8-4). There have been injuries. There was a difficult stretch of the schedule. Mostly, they just came back down to earth.
They need a trade. They need help. They need a top-six forward. I spoke to Dudley Wednesday night and he agreed. But will an ownership that clings to nickels, except when it comes to paying attorneys, dare to raise the team’s anemic $41 million payroll, which ranks 29th out of 30 teams?
Dudley thinks yes. We’ll see. If the object is to sell or “dispose” of the team — “dispose” is an actual verb from the latest suit — why would Team Pinocchio agree to raise its costs?
Here are some comments from Dudley:
♦ On the team’s salary cap space: “We’re in a great position. A lot of teams are looking to make a run at the playoffs but most are up against the cap in some form or another.”
♦ On whether he believes he’ll be handcuffed in trade talks: “No. I’ve talked to [the owners] about it and talked to Don [Waddell] and there doesn’t seem to be a problem. If there’s a piece out there that makes sense, I think we’ll do it.”
♦ On how he’s affected by the ownership situation: “One of the nice things is I think there’s a little bit of resolution [with Steve Belkin leaving the group]. I think it was a bit of a pain in the [rear] for everybody. Now at least they can make decisions without input from anybody else of any kind. … I’m sure [owners] would like to part with part of the team or all of the team. That’s what I read. That’s what you write. But I don’t think any of us in the hockey operations department can concern ourselves with that. One thing I do know is whether they sell part of the team, all of it, whatever, we can make it a much more viable product for whomever.”
♦ On perceptions that the team was overachieving before: “I don’t believe in overachieving. I believe there are teams where guys play at close to their optimal level. We had been playing as close to an optimal level as any team in the league and that made us a force. Right now we’re not at that level. We were at 90 percent before. We’re probably at 70 or 65 percent now.”
Dudley’s preference is for a right winger but he would take any goal scorer. (Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien continues to lead the team in scoring but he has gone 10 games without a goal.) The NHL trade deadline is Feb. 28. The team needs help.
Can another $10 million be spent on players. Or has that been earmarked for attorneys fees?
Coming next: The Hawks’ biggest concern.
By Jeff Schultz