Consider John Anderson a casualty of war. The second-year NHL coach was swept out of power on Wednesday along with his staff in an Atlanta Thrashers housecleaning project that was long overdue.
The team’s new GM is longtime hockey man Rick Dudley, while the man he replaces, Don Waddell, moves up to team president, where he will focus on business rather than hockey.
For the record, in Anderson’s short tenure in Atlanta he had a 70-75-19 mark and no playoff appearances. Maybe the coach could have turned things around if given more time, but Atlanta’s not the type of market that has more time. The Thrashers are stuck on one post-season series in their history and that was a forgettable sweep at the hands of the New York Rangers in 2007.
Playing in the most schizophrenic division in hockey, Atlanta should have achieved more in the past two seasons. The Southeast’s boom-bust cycle of wretched teams and Stanley Cup winners (often the same franchises in different years) means the Thrashers have always had chances to compete, but often didn’t seize the opportunity.
I accept that the trading of franchise star Ilya Kovalchuk was a body blow to the team, but his replacements (Niclas Bergfors and Johnny Oduya) were adequate and Atlanta still had more depth up front than they ever had in the past.
Despite that, with the playoffs still a reality at the time, the Thrashers dropped six games to non-playoff teams in March, gaining just one point in the process. By the time April rolled around and the opponents were tougher – Washington, Pittsburgh and New Jersey – the Thrashers’ margin of error was too slim and the team stumbled to four straight losses before a meaningless win over the Penguins in the season finale.
I’m OK with Don Waddell keeping a job in the organization – the man has certainly put in a lot of hours under one of the worst ownership structures in pro sports – and I’m actually cool with Anderson getting the gate despite the fact he wasn’t given a lot of time to right the ship or the proper personnel to make his job easier.
Dudley is the GM now and he’s going to want his own man at coach. Dudley will have his own vision of the Thrashers going forward and he might as well work from a clean slate.
Anderson was recently eviscerated in the press by malcontented Thrashers vet Slava Kozlov, who rode more pine than a lumberjack this season and became untradeable in the process. No matter whose side you believe, it was an untenable situation and not exactly the kind of story that endears free agents to Atlanta.
The 2010-11 campaign will be the first in Atlanta without Ilya Kovalchuk in nearly a decade. The future is based on players such as Evander ‘One Punch’ Kane, Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian and Ondrej Pavelec, and now a brand-new GM and coaching staff.
Anderson may not have gotten his fair shot in Atlanta, but Thrashers fans have gotten even less of a chance to love this team lately, so it had to be done.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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