New Atlanta Thrashers general manager Rick Dudley has been preparing for his new position for quite a while.
For over a decade, Dudley has picked up considerable seasoning during stints as a player, coach, assistant general manager, and general manager.
According the Thrashers' official website, as a general manager he has led his teams to the league finals eight times and won four championships in the American Hockey League, IHL and ECHL.
Dudley also has a lengthy and successful record as a head coach in both the NHL and minor leagues, earning a lifetime record of 592-321-105. He spent two-and-a-half seasons as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres from 1989-90 to 1991-92, posting an 85-72-31 record while leading the team to the playoffs twice. During the 2003-04 season, he spent 40 games behind the bench of the Florida Panthers, earning a 13-15-9-3 record.
He also served as head coach of the Detroit Vipers (1994-95 to 1995-96), Phoenix Roadrunners (1993-94), San Diego Gulls (1992-93) and Flint Spirits (1986-87 to 1987-88) of the IHL and the AHL’s New Haven Nighthawks (1988-89) and the ECHL’s Carolina Thunderbirds (1982-83 to 1985-86).
With San Diego in 1992-93, he led the Gulls to a 62-12-8 mark, the best record in professional hockey history. After leading Flint to a 42-31-9 record and an appearance in the league finals in 1987-88, Dudley won the IHL’s Commissioner’s Trophy as the coach of the year.
In every assignment, Dudley can probably point to something meaningful that has shaped his current belief system today.
Dudley also played seven NHL seasons with Buffalo and Winnipeg, tallying 174 points (75 goals, 99 assists) in 309 games. He also appeared in 270 World Hockey Association games over four seasons with the Cincinnati Stingers, where he produced 277 points (131 goals, 146 assists) and tallied two 40-goal seasons from 1975-76 to 1976-77.
Dudley was never afraid to take on the oppositions fiercest enforcers including NHL pugilists Terry O’Reilly of the Boston Bruin’s and Philadelphia goon Bob “The Hound” Kelly.
Although he will not expect his players to drop their gloves at the point of contact, he will expect them not to give up the puck for fear of contact.
The ingredients that create great general managers like Montreal‘s legendary Sam Pollock, his understudy Scotty Bowman, New York Islanders architect Bill Torrey, and Edmonton Oilers mastermind Glen Sather are difficult to quantify.
The two attributes that all of the legendary GMs share are a deep love for the game and a knack for quickly identifying a player’s strengths and weaknesses.
Dudley has already had an impact on the Thrashers, making aggressive moves in hopes of improving the team.
He's traded for Chicago’s Dustin Byufglien, hired former teammate Craig Ramsey as head coach and selected 18-year-old speedster Alex Burmistrov in the NHL amateur draft a few days ago. The team could also add the competitive and aggressive Patrice Cormier to their roster if he performs as expected in training camp.
Dudley has also made one-year qualifying offers to all of the unrestricted free agents on the team.
The thing that perplexes several NHL fans about Dudley is the question: “What kind of team does he want to build?”
Although Dudley has not specifically spelled out the type of team he would like to see on the ice, there are several clues.
Ramsey recently said in an interview in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) that he wanted an aggressive style of play. Ramsey said, ”Defensemen will forecheck and jump into the offense and forwards will backcheck and play defense.”
The Thrashers also recently hired a new strength and conditioning coach.
With the addition of Byufglien and Cormier and the recognizable skating ability of many returning players, the team already projects promise. Add into the mix unrestricted free agents such as Maxim Afinogenov, Clarke MacArthur, Evgeny Artyukhin, Evander Kane, Pavel Kubina, Arturs Kulda, and several others, the Thrashers could emerge with an exciting, well-conditioned team after training camp.
One thing to be sure of is that Dudley will expect his team to be aggressive on the forecheck and not shy away from physical contact. As a player, Dudley scrapped his way to the NHL and it makes perfect sense that he will not tolerate his players performing without passion for too long.
It may take some time, but Dudley will mold Atlanta into a team of his own image. And even though Thrashers' fans might have to wait, the team is already beginning to make some aggressive moves that could pay off when the regular season begins.