Viva la Frenchie!
Viva la Frenchie!
I respect Jeff Schultz a great deal as a sports journalist, so this isn't a rant or anything or the sort - nor am I a person who feels even remotely qualified to stand up and say "You! Person with a job who pays you to talk about hockey! I am a blogger, and I think you are WRONG." That's actually a bit asinine. I do disagree respectfully on a couple parts in his op-ed regarding the Thrashers' house cleaning.
I don't sense any nepotism between Don Waddell and Rick Dudley. Yes, they are friends, but Dudley is one of the top former GMs in the league. He's responsible for building a competitive team in Florida until Mike "I want to make every fan base in the league hate me" Keenan forced him out. He won a Cup in Tampa Bay with the team he pieced together. Chicago was a ghost town until he helped the Blackhawk Renaissance. How is having him as our new GM anything but a good idea? Yes, Waddell suggested him for the job of assistant general manager, but why complain? He's part of the reason this off-season was so solid, and part of the reason that this season's promises to be as well. This wasn't a quick fix. Dudley was brought in during the last off season as Waddell's assistant general manager. That screams "successor" to me for some reason. Anderson being brought in was a quick and cheap fix, but he had a track record of success - Dudley has a stronger one.
Waddell staying with the team makes sense. He has a relationship with the players, and he is one of the most respected men in the league - and by that I mean by people who work in the NHL's management, not journalists or fans. Dudley is as well, but Waddell has a special relationship and understanding of the team. He had to stay. I'm not sure that he didn't care - he probably cared more than anyone else. Just because you don't make the right choices all of the time doesn't mean that you don't want something to succeed. I think the assumption that no one cares in the management is off. Ownership might be a little late to the party, though - no denying that there. But Waddell has been nothing but concerned and involved with the team since its inception.
And I do realize that some may not think that the Thrashers have an identity, or one other than "lovable losers." This season and the end of last we were shaping one. We're young, we're a little rough around the edges, but by God we can be fast and we have just as much young talent as the Kings or 'Hawks or Blues do - they just need a coach to shape them.
That's where I do agree with Schultz. We do need player development in place to transition our outstanding prospects from the farm to the NHL. Coaches shouldn't necessarily serve as the point, or serve as that only point, and that is where the Thrashers' plan failed.
I also obviously agree with Schultz regarding, as he put it, Club Med and how that attitude can impact the players gumption, for lack of a better word. Social loafing is a real thing, and we were prime examples of that at many times of the season. You can't have that.
Things though might be on the pathway to being fixed. This overhaul has been the most reactionary thing we have seen from this franchise since the baby blues became our new home jersey. Someone had to care enough to push this change and make the right move, and whoever that is, I applaud you.
The Thrashers have not decided to retain the services of the coaching staff this year, presumably because of how far short of their goal the Thrashers fell this year (i.e. 10 game and 6 game losing streaks are unacceptable in NHL level hockey). This might well be as close to a wasted roster and talent as I have seen on a team, and I've pointed my finger of blame at JA and the coaches on and off again this season.
Anderson was interviewed this morning by Chris Vivlamore of the AJC, he had this to say:
“Absolute disappointment,” Anderson told the AJC Wednesday morning. “From last year, I don’t like to use the word rebuilding mode, but that’s what we were in. Two years later, I think we left the house in pretty good order. We almost made the playoffs. I wish we had. It might have been the difference in my job and some other guys’ jobs."
True, if we had made the playoffs it might have been ok. But to say that making or not making the playoffs was the only issue is completely incorrect. It's not as though we were out of contention all season. It's not like we were just a few points out the entire year. We were as high as 5th place at one point, until the team went on a prolonged death spiral of a losing streak in December. Granted, I'm sure that a decent amount of that had to deal with the uncertainty surrounding the Kovalchuk situation, but coaches have been fired for less. The six game losing streak (five game pointless) in March would have been the final nail in the coffin yet Boston and Philadelphia had to fight to keep their head above water. Really, what wound up being the nail is the lackluster play in the games that truthfully mattered most - the 4-0 loss to Boston, the 4-1 loss to Carolina, and the 3-0 loss to New Jersey. If you can't motivate a team when your franchise's success is on the line, there's something wrong. Bad bounces and black clouds aren't why teams miss playoffs, and no team - not even this one - has 10 games straight of bad bounces.
Vivlamore interviewed a few players; other than Slava's "I told you so," the most interesting response was Hedberg's: “As a player you feel bad because you had a part in doing it to them." Hedberg has a point, but unless there's a carefully crafted mutiny of "let's tank and screw up so all the coaches get fired," it's not the players' fault. People react to certain people different ways, and if Anderson was no longer motivating the team, well, so be it. Andy Murray was outstanding last season in St. Louis, and then this past year he lost the locker room with the same group of guys. Changes happen, people get tired of personality traits that we were once useful, whatever.Maintain most of this team, get a qualified coach, and we're in the playoffs next season. Bank on it.
Dudley was quite possibly brought in with the intention to, after a season of acclimation, promote him to the GM position. I'm very pleased that Waddell has been promoted to president. He might not have always made the best decisions, but he did have the best interest of the team at heart, and he's always been dedicated to this franchise.
Let the rumors of replacement coaches commence! And you know that somewhere, probably on a beach, Slava Kozlov is laughing his ass off.
Ok, good news first - Davis Payne is expected to stay on as head coach of the St. Louis Blues for next season, getting that nasty "interim" dropped from his title. It has yet to be officially announced, and I am guessing that is because of the Blues' wishes to give Keith Tkachuk his moment, but the announcement should be coming soon. He turned the season around, almost brought us to .500 at home (woot) and helped us finish just slightly out of the playoff picture from what began the season as a near certain basement languishing one. Much congrats to him - here's looking forward to the House of Payne.
On the other coaching side (it's not really bad news, but it is a bit much), the Thrashers have regressed into Degrassi Junior High. Timmy breaks down what Kozlov said, and what Anderson said in the AJC over on BWA. The tit for tat between Kozlov's comments and Anderson's comments (especially when played in your head with their voices) are actually borderline comical. Total polar opposite interpretations of the situation that they were in. It really, seriously, is a personality conflict. That may or may not have been the reason that Kozlov was benched, but it certainly played into it. Kozlov is a type A, and extremely serious. I can understand how that mindset might not fit well on Anderson's team. I found this quote from Anderson interesting:
“If you know Kozzy, he is very straight-laced, very rigid. I was brought in to try and change the culture here. I believe you are allowed to smile at practice and you are allowed to have fun. I want it to be a workplace where you say, ‘Man, I’m glad I’m here.’ That’s what I tried to convey. If he portrayed that I don’t work hard, then I think he’s wrong because we have film [work] every day, every power play even. We are prepared.”
Not everyone will adapt to a way of thought, especially someone who is set in their ways as much as Kozlov probably is. But in his defense, any time I have seen a practice, it seems extremely light, especially the morning skate that I observed before the first game against the Pens in November. I realize that AM skate isn't a practice, and really isn't time to go into deep coaching, but you do need to work on some things and fine tune things for the game that evening. It didn't strike me that way at all. Anderson does not seem a high intensity guy (though his other coaches do seem to be a bit higher than he is), and considering the fact that he might be passive could very easily emphasize the enjoyment of the game over the actual purpose of the game - to win the Cup. I hate to make it so coroprate and direct, but that is Anderson's job - to prepare them to compete for the Stanley Cup. I don't care if you have a pinata at center ice filled with bubblegum and rainbows, but if you are not working towards that ultimate goal, then you have no business being a professional ice hockey team.
Anderson may or may not have iced the lines that he felt were the best for the team, but certainly the coaching staff did not promote the jump and consistency necessary. There was no intensity during the first period (occasionally period and a half) of a good number of games. I'm sure that they watched the video, and this was pointed out to them, but it was never fixed.
I know Anderson was brought in to, as he put it, "change the culture" of the Thrashers. He does need to remember the many younger kids on the ice that we have, and they need some sort of structure and guidance from the people at the top. Absolutely never stress fun over work (or even indirectly do so) with youth. Don't be a tyrant, either, but you have to have some way of being stern, getting results, and then laying back. Fun should be a reward for hard work, not necessarily part of it.
Falconer seems to have unearthed a new rumor, and Mirtle maybe confirmed it (the rumor, not the factual basis). Waddell might be getting fired up to team president, and Dudley will take over at GM. This goes in line with Waddell telling Chris Vivlamore at the AJC that he expected to stay with the team, but he refused to name in what capacity.
Is a semi-housecleaning a la Tampa Bay coming to Atlanta? Waddell getting moved up continues the loyalty the organization has to the well-meaning but perrennially derided general manager. What about Anderson, though? Will he and Rick Tocchet have to compete for a job at the start of the next season with new teams?
This move could work. I’ve always wondered how much of what was going on this off-season was Dudley and how much was Waddell. Generally speaking I’ve been happy with the moves regardless of who did it, but I was hoping to pin it on Waddell to show he’s not totally incompetent.
Of course, I’ve never believed that he was – some bad decisions, some seemingly good ones that blew up in his face, no support from up top when it comes to important decisions (e.g. starting talks with Kovalchuk in a timely manner). He sounds like that teacher who is burnt out on classroom life and gets “fired up” to an administrator. I think allowing him to remain with the organization in a role like President would be a good move. It gets him in a new role with minimal day to day involvement, but still shows loyalty to him. I’ve felt for a while that loyalty to him led to some pretty positive relationships between him and the players – he was Ol’ Reliable, and they felt like they had open communication with him.
The housecleaning at coach, if it happens, should probably just consist of Weeks and Anderson. Kozlov’s comments about Anderson telling him one thing and Waddell telling him another soured me a little more on JA if it’s true – and I think it is, considering Waddell has nothing to gain from telling Anderson to bench Kozlov, and it goes against that whole "open communication with the players" thing. A real, legit goalie coach would be a Godsend. Weeksie needs to cease being a placeholder for Hedberg when Moose retires. We have never had a goalie coach, and that might explain the stalling of Lehtonen and the skittishness of Pavelec.
I'm not completely sold on totally changing the system after being taught it for two years straight. Going to a drastically new one might set the development back. If we can find a coach who still plays offensively minded hockey, but who knows how to adapt and not be predictable (and coach against the damn trap), a transition period shouldn't be bad. A lot of players who can't adapt well will be gone, and the guys who remain (and who hopefully will re-sign) seem to benefit as individuals from being given some sort of free reign. Let's see what the what is, but after this season's promise being flushed down the toilet, the times have to be a-changin'.
I have never made my disappointment at Kozlov not being played more often a secret. No, this season was not his best year, but there were other players, such as Todd White, who have gotten playing time over Kozlov and who have not played well. Kozlov was the powerplay quarterback, and the powerplay this season was abysmal despite a strong start. He also was clutch in the SO, which is another place the team was lacking this year, especially in the second half.
Slava has never had a reputation for speaking out, so when he criticized John Anderson publicly to the Russian press I figured that something was up and that he had a legit complaint. Anderson responded by benching Kozlov for almost nearly every game for the last part of the season. Some felt that this was appropriate, others like Ilya Kovalchuk, disagreed.
So when Kozlov was interviewed by the AJC's Chris Vivlamore after cleaning out his locker today, what he had to say was not exactly surprising, nor was it positive as far as Anderson was concerned. Frankly, there was little in what he said to disagree with.
“This system, for two years they tell us it’s going to work but unfortunately everybody knows what we are going to do. Our breakouts, we make two, three passes in our zone and we don’t beat anybody. I saw that in the New Jersey game. New Jersey just waited in the neutral zone and we make two or three passes and make one mistake in neutral zone and boom, they counter attack us."
I've actually pointed to that for the reason on the power play's horrible plummet in effectiveness over the season - we're not a hard egg to crack. With or without Kovalchuk, we do the same thing on every single play, and if the opposition's video coach has a spare 20 seconds, they can point out the gaps. You have to be able to modify your plan as you go along if you're a good coach. Anderson is incapable of this.
“I felt pressure since training camp. Coach told me he has pressure from upstairs. I talked to [GM] Don [Waddell], he said he never talked to the coach. Somebody is lying. I don’t want to know what happened and who is lying. I feel like I don’t deserve to be treated like that. Right now, it’s over. The last game, I have lots of support from the fans. I don’t know maybe it was because I’m not coming back next year or it’s my last game but it was nice last night.”
This is unacceptable, and I think Kozlov wanting to resolve this situation at the source was feasible. He was being told that upstairs wanted him benched, so Kozlov went to confront where he thought the problem was coming from. Waddell said no, he didn’t have anything to do with it, and that it was the coach’s call.
If Waddell told the truth to Kozlov, then that double talk from the coach fits pretty well with what people have observed of his passive aggressive nature, and might explain the discussion on last night's Hotstove on whether or not Anderson's job is in jeopardy. Double-speak like this, especially when it gets leaked to the press, is very inappropriate and makes the franchise look bad on many levels.
Slava Kozlov got good support last night in his final game as a Thrasher because the fans recognize what he has brought to the franchise over the past eight years, and we appreciate it. There have been seasons where he wasn't exactly "on," and this was one of them, but a good many people feel that Anderson was unjustified in benching him all season. Frankly, I feel like it came off as petty.
Falconer looked at our record with and without Kozlov. 25-23-7 with him, and 10-11-6 without. You crunch the numbers (no, I mean you crunch them to double check me, because I'm awful), and the former is an 85 point season, the latter is a 57 point season. 85 wouldn't've been enough to get us in this time, but it's significantly better than 57 points.
You have the usual post-game ceremonies, and the fan appreciation video, and you leave with that feeling of "we could have...". Welcome to the usual Thrashers season finale. There wasn't the purveying sense of hope like there was last season. Rather, there was still a sense of falling short, and of knowing what this team is capable of and what this team actually did are two completely different things.
Can we succeed next season without Kubina and Afinogenov if they choose not to re-sign? Will Waddell make it a priority to grab Boulton and Slater again, and give them a nice little bonus? What about goaltending? If Moose doesn't come back, is Pavelec ready to do this on his own? Will we, as Slater very correctly pointed out, have that team continunity that forms a winner? What is the future of this team?
Matt Cooke got a healthy does of the future last night.
Frankly, you would think it's probably not the best idea to go after someone who was named for Evander Holyfield and whose father is a boxing trainer, but whatever.
We have some very bright pieces moving forward. Like Hedberg said yesterday after the win, "You have to keep building... Rome wasn't built in a day." There are lots of things to shore up, and we have to find a way to have motivation and fire all season long. No 10 and 5 game losing streaks during critical times of the year (or at all, preferably). We shouldn't see a single game next season like the last Boston game this one, or the last Carolina game. There is no excuse for this team to not be motivated.
We have a solid core, and we have young players who will continue to become the best in the league. Next season, hopefully, we won't have any outside problems dragging us down and away from what needs to be done. Yes, aside from the fight, last night's season closer was a bit underwhelming, but that was this season as a whole. Hard fought, and while we sometimes did just enough to get where we needed to be, we'd fall flat. Find a way to stay upright all next season, and we might just be good to go.
This is not meant as a metaphor for either teams' season... or is it?
The last game of the season's always kind of sad, especially when you're not going to the playoffs. Driving home, knowing that you won't make that trek to the arena again until preseason starts in September... it's a bummer. Blues fans got to feel that last night, but on a high note - the Blues absolutely creamed the Ducks, 6-3, with four goals in the 3rd period. Keith Tkachuk had assists on two goals, and should have had one himself if not for the intent to blow rule. He had a tremendous send off, both from the team and from the fans. All of Scottrade was chanting "Keith Tka-chuk!" by the last minute of the game - it was chilling. Walter got a great ovation from the crowd after the game, and it got louder when he said that there would be a Cup coming to St. Louis, and that he would be a part of it. I hope that the front office finds some position for him. He loves this team and this town, and guys like that - guys who want to be a Bluenote for life - they deserve a chance to be one.
We might see Paul Kariya's last game as a Blue tonight in Nashville which is the Blues 2009-2010 closer. This season might have been a disappointment in that the Blues didn't make the playoffs, but they'll probably crack 90 points again, are 8 games above .500. Chris Mason has back to back 30 win seasons. Yes, if we were in a weaker Conference we'd be in the playoffs this year. The West is absurd. But there's so much to build on for next year, and the cap space to do it. I'm optimistic.
The Thrashers have a chance to extend their home closer win streak to five years, but they get to do it against the Penguins. Point-less since the OTL to Pittsburgh, the Thrashers get to face the Penguins in their hardest Fan Appreciation night match up in quite some time - please stop by The Pensblog for some pre-game fun. They haven't beaten the Pens since 2008, and sit right at .500 right now. This is the 3rd highest point total in franchise history. How very Thrashers-like for us to get that that many points and still wind up under .500.
Despite the fact that this seasons win number is in par with last year's and the year before last's, it was nice to be playing relevant hockey up until April. It will also be nice to not see Atlanta's name pop up during the draft lottery on Tuesday night. There were a lot of things to enjoy about this year, and while it's frustrating to see the best start in franchise history wasted by the worst December in franchise history, as far as 10th anniversaries go it wasn't half bad. Here's hoping Kubina and Afinogenov return next season, Kulda hangs around, and we get to see how Kane looks with a year under his belt. Pavelec should be sharper, too. We also won't have a huge dark cloud hanging over our heads all season long - we'll be able to just play.
No, I'm not happy about how this season ended up for either team, but I'm going to go to the Thrashers game tonight, meet up with some friends who just so happen to be Penguins fans before the game, and have some fun. Win or loss, I'm just thankful for some hockey in Atlanta, and I won't be able to wait for next season.
Is it training camp yet?
|38-31-11; 87 pts.||39-32-9; 87 pts.|
Season against Anaheim: 1-1-1
So many UFAs, so little time. Kariya's probably gone. Sydor, Winchester, Weaver (who better be back), Mason (who probably will be back), Carlo (damn straight he'll be back)... but you know who is the only one that matters tonight, the last home game of the season?
FoxSportsMidwest is having a Walter-a-thon, with tributes before and after the game, as well as during the intermissions. Mike Modano got an absurdly unreal tribute last night at the Stars' last home game, and responded with the game tying goal and a shootout goal. It was storybook perfect. While the Blues' season has been less than storybook, there's no reason the Ducks can't help a team for the second night in a row send a veteran off in style. Brad over at GameTime did an excellent write-up on the mixed bag that is Tkachuk's career with the Blues, but ends it with the conclusion that we love Walt because he loves St. Louis as much as we do. He earned major brownie points when he gave the reason he wanted to go back to the Blues after the Thrashers' 2007 playoff hopes were dashed - St. Louis was his home. I'm still waiting for Atlanta to trade my re-signing rights back, but Walt got his chance.
Also fun tonight, the Blues have called up Lars "Skeet" Eller and Jonas "No nickname yet" Junland from Peoria to get some experience these last couple of games. It appears that the Teej is hurt and won't play tonight. It looks like these two guys'll play a big part in just how offensive the Blues are next season.
|Curtis McElhinney||Chris Mason|
|Season against St. Louis||Season against Anaheim|
|0-1-0; 4.08 GAA, .882 SV%||0-1-1; 2.91 GAA, .908 SV%|
EDIT: Here's the end of the game through Walt's speech. I loved, absolutely LOVED the crowd chanting "KEITH TKA-CHUK!" at the top of their lungs. Big sniffle moment.
|34-33-13; 81 Pts.||53-15-12; 118 Pts.|
Season against Washington: 0-5-0
I'm really not going to lie here. I'll be watching the first hour of this game which means absolutely nothing to either team and therefore will be boring as crap (except for Ovie's run for the RR Trophy, which is fun), and then I'll be watching all of the Blues game, which while it means nothing to either team involved still carries some emotional value.
Congrats on the Caps' Presidents Trophy win, though a word of warning - it's jinxed. Ask San Jose, though that could have been karma for them sweeping the Blues that season that we won it. But still... tread lightly.
No Antropov, no The Todd, no Kubina, possible Kozzie. Kulda's your call-up to fill in for Chelios, who has been sent back to the Wolves with Stapleton to help them in their playoff run. I won't mention how I think Kulda should have been the original call up anyway, because that would be dwelling.
|Ondrej Pavelec||Jose Theodore|
|Season against Washington||Season against Atlanta|
|0-4-0; 4.42 GAA, .859 SV%||Has not played|