Bob Hartley is a good hockey coach. Of that, there is no debate. But when his Atlanta Thrashers opened the 2007-08 season with six straight losses, hot on the heels of being swept in the first round of their first-ever playoff appearance last spring, well, you didn’t need to be Kreskin to know figure out he was toast.
Couple that with the fact Atlanta is a struggling hockey market skating on very thin ice, and you can see why GM Don Waddell fired Hartley. In doing so, however, Waddell put himself in the line of fire and if the Thrashers don’t start winning soon, you can bet he’ll be the next one to be shown the door.
It is too easy to say Hartley was too tough on his players, especially the younger players. What was he supposed to do when he felt they weren’t committed to winning, make them stand in the corner? Some of his players probably have never been in a corner.
No, what made his job hard – nearly impossible – was the fact he was left with virtually no leadership in the dressing room when Scott Mellanby retired this past summer. Mellanby was the type of captain who would give teammates a kick in the butt if he felt they needed it. His replacement, Bobby Holik, is a player in decline who hasn’t been the same since he left New Jersey for the rival Rangers in 2002.
So now the Thrashers have a European captain and four European alternates. I hate to go all Don Cherry here, but no North American representation among the leaders of an NHL team? Gimme a break!
The Thrashers have issues in goal; they’re weak defensively and, outside of Ilya Kovalchuk who had five goals (hardly an Earth-shattering total) in his first 10 games, they were non-productive on offense. Somebody may want to whisper into Marian Hossa’s ear that the season has begun.
At the end of the day I understand why Hartley was canned, but I don’t think changing coaches – and certainly not replacing him with a GM will all of nine games of NHL coaching experience – is the answer. This is a team that is going to get worse before it gets better.