Thrashers eye Mass. connection

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

Hockey's Massachusetts Mafia might be adding another don. Or make that John.

Atlanta Thrashers have received permission to speak to Blackhawks' assistant John Torchetti about their head coaching position.

Torchetti, born in Boston, would join John Tortorella (Rangers), Peter Laviolette (Flyers), Scott Gordon (Islanders) and Joe Sacco (Avalanche) as Bay Staters behind NHL benches in 2010-11. The extended family includes general managers Dean Lombardi (Kings), Garth Snow (Islanders), Larry Pleau (Blues) and Toronto's Brian Burke and New Jersey's Lou Lamoriello (both from Providence, R.I., but close enough).

The only other identified coaching candidate for new Thrashers boss Rick Dudley is Craig Ramsay after the other frontrunner, Scott Arniel, ended up in Columbus. The irony is that Boston just named Cam Neely president, with fellow Canadians Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien as GM and coach, respectively.

Market research

Two experienced defencemen who could be hitting the free-agent market on July 1 are Ottawa's Anton Volchenkov and Nashville's Dan Hamhuis.

With about $8 million US left to spend on restricted free agents Chris Campoli, Peter Regin and Nick Foligno and hoping to keep UFAs Matt Cullen and Andy Sutton, the Sens are going to make a call soon and Volchenkov's snub of a $20-million deal over five years didn't go over well.

The Kings and Canucks like Volchenkov, but Vancouver is eyeing a cheaper player in Smithers, B.C., boy Hamhuis. He could be the odd man out on Nashville's defence with the Preds tied to the No. 1 pair of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter and considering Denis Grebeshkov as a cheaper alternative. Signing Grebeshkov would also take him out of potential restricted free agency. Hamhuis leaving would also allow more ice time for youngsters Jonathon Blum and Ryan Ellis.

Frozen assets

There won't be much need for future think tanks on the state of global hockey, if the game keeps pricing itself out of reach for kids and parents.

Equipment, ice rentals, insurance and other costs will be a hot topic at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit, Aug. 23-26 in Toronto. With four big names leading the public forum; Team Canada/Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman, Leafs president Burke, Senators' winger Daniel Alfredsson and national women's star Hayley Wickenheiser, ideas to stop declining enrollment and build the game in non-traditional markets will be high on the agenda.

"I know (money) is a tough issue in Sweden," said Alfredsson, the father of three boys, on a conference call Wednesday. "There aren't a lot of new rinks and ice time is hard to get."

The Leaf-sponsored Mastercard Centre four-pad was the first new facility to be built in Toronto in more than 20 years.

"We have to build rinks and maintain them," Burke said. "Or build in-line skating rinks, which are another way to develop the game. Then you get into affordability. Can you share ice time or recycle equipment?"

Yzerman hinted at more private sector and government involvement, citing the positives that a hockey program brings to any community.

Hands off Europe

Don't confuse the merits of expanding hockey around the globe with expanding the NHL.

"We can't go in and destroy what's already there," warned Yzerman of the impact the NHL would have on club teams in Europe.

Burke, who was in Germany last month for the world championship, said the NHL would have to go big in any European foray, putting at least four teams in places such as Sweden and its hockey hub of Stockholm.

"What does that do to a club team such as Djurgarden?," Burke warned. "Right now the buildings are full there and the playoffs are great, but most buildings in Europe do not generate NHL economics. Then you have to think about travel (costs)."

Not even transplanted Swede Alfredsson liked the idea of the NHL setting up there.

"It sounds sexy, but it's not," Alfredsson said.

Ice chips

The Red Wings did well with Valtteri Filppula at 95th overall in the 2002 draft and have now signed his older brother, 28-year-old Ilari, to a one-year deal worth $500,000. The older Filppula, who was with Turku in Finland, has a two-way contract, but will get a crack at joining his brother in camp ... According to reports, the Wings have re-signed forward Todd Bertuzzi to a two-year, $3.875 million U.S. Deal. Bertuzzi was to become an UFA on July 1.

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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