Rick Dudley began his fourth stint as GM of an NHL team last week when he took the reins in Atlanta from close personal friend and colleague Don Waddell, who was promoted to team president.
Dudley previously managed Ottawa (1998-99), Tampa Bay, where I served as his assistant GM (1999 through February 2002) and Florida (2002-2004). In those previous stops, Dudley inherited coaches Jacques Martin in Ottawa and Mike Keenan in Florida. In Tampa, he hired close friend and former coaching colleague Steve Ludzik.
Dudley recommended his good friend, John Torchetti, replace him as GM of the Detroit Vipers of the old International League when Dudley went to Ottawa in 1998. Dudley then hired Torchetti as an assistant coach in Tampa (1999), as head coach of the Panthers’ top American League affiliate in San Antonio (2002), as interim head coach in Florida (2004) and then recommended Torchetti for an assistant coaching position with Chicago (2007) after Dudley joined the Hawks organization. Torchetti remains with the Blackhawks, but perhaps not for long.
In my opinion, either Torchetti or current Boston Bruins assistant coach, Craig Ramsay, will be the next coach in Atlanta. In addition to his relationship with Torchetti, Dudley also has a long-standing connection to Ramsay. The two played together with the Buffalo Sabres and Dudley has always admired and respected Ramsay’s ability to coach and teach. He hired Ramsay as an associate coach in Tampa (2001) to work with coach John Tortorella and he tried to hire him to coach the Panthers as well in 2003.
Shortly after Keenan was fired in Florida, Dudley asked me for permission to speak with Ramsay. While I knew ‘Rammer’ wanted to be a head coach again, I was not inclined to release and lose him just one month into the season for the benefit of a division (and in-state) rival. My first priority was to our team and our owner. The fact the Panthers were in disarray and dysfunctional at the time was no reason for us to create an unnecessary distraction and a huge hole in Tampa. Ramsay remained in Tampa and won the Stanley Cup.
Dudley is quoted as saying he wants a “teacher,” someone to be an “educator on the ice.” He wants a coach with “good communication skills, good teaching skills and good technical skills.” Ramsay is one of the best teachers in the game. He is patient, quiet, low-key, supportive, forgiving of mistakes and one of the best storytellers in a league filled with great ones. His technical skills are outstanding; he can match Dudley drill-for-drill and strategy-for-strategy. He also has the experience, resume and gravitas Atlanta needs in its next coach.
It will be interesting to see whether ownership in Atlanta is willing to step up to the plate and pay the going rate for an experienced coach who has led a team to the Eastern Conference final (Philadelphia 2000) and has a Stanley Cup on his coaching resume. This may be the first real test of whether anything is going to change in Atlanta.
Dudley may interview other candidates, but you can already start painting one of those two names on the coach’s parking spot at Philips Arena. It’s just a matter of time.
Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on THN.com throughout the 2009-10 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.