Give the new Thrashers GM a lot of credit.
Rick Dudley is already displaying his savvy management ability in the early stages of his tenure. In negotiations with forward Maxim Afinogenov, Dudley has shown considerable shrewdness in offering a short-term one-year contract for over one million dollars.
Afinogenov is rumored to have received a raise from his $800,000 last year after his 24-goal performance in the 2010 season.
The Thrashers seem to be concerned about Afinogenov’s history of inconsistency when given a long-term deal. Afinogenov signed a multi-year deal with Buffalo for $700,000 in 2007 and then disappeared.
The Thrashers then picked up Afinogenov and signed him to a one-year deal for the 2009 season.
Legendary GM Jack Adams was known as a skilled negotiator for the Detroit Red Wings in the 1950s.
At the time, the Wings were perennial Stanley Cup favorites and had an unprecedented lineup of future Hall of Famers, including Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, Terry Sawchuk, Red Kelly, and Marcel Pronovost.
Adams still offered them minimum contracts and kept player payroll low enough that many of the players had to take on jobs in the offseason to supplement their earnings from professional hockey.
Those days are gone. Most hockey players today are millionaires, or close.
Still, the NHL collective bargaining agreement has created budgetary issues that continually must be addressed by team management in the NHL. The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) has reported rumors that the Thrashers are seeking financial investors for the hockey club, indicating that they are banking heavily on the prowess of Dudley to turn their fortunes around before they consider selling the team.
The Thrashers, while under the salary cap, must consider a leaner payroll due to significant losses and the potential for light attendance at the start of the 2010-11 season.
Dudley has some work to do, signing both restricted and unrestricted free agents to contracts that are reasonable and that will produce the necessary stimuli to race for a playoff berth.
He does have some positives on his side, however.
With Afinogenov, Nik Antropov, Niclas Bergfors, Tobias Enstrom, Johnny Oduya, Evander Kane, Jim Slater, Zach Bogosian, and Rich Peverley, the team is not far away from the talent pool needed to make a playoff run.
It will still be necessary to pick up a top-tier skill player and somehow sign a solid goaltender to solidify the team’s chances.
Even more interesting is that the Thrashers will still have rookie prospect Patrice Cormier and two first round draft choices to work with.
Dudley seems to have a game plan that focuses on addressing each priority.
He was quoted saying that he has made offers to all of the team's restricted and unrestricted free agents.
Finding a way to sign Afinogenov while staying within the budget is one of many goals he will have to accomplish before July.