SUN Hockey Pool

Thrashers GM made the right call

SCOTT MORRISON

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

Of the many decisions Don Waddell has made this season, at least two truly stand out. One, was the decision to fire his coach. It was a tough call, but the right call.

The second was the decision to not replace the interim coach. It ultimately became an easier call.

Not surprisingly, Waddell, the Atlanta Thrashers general manager, seemingly has decided to stay on as coach for the rest of the season. He told reporters and the club's ownership Thursday.

"Things are going well, so we don't want to change anything," Waddell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Internally here, people are doing a good job and we're going to continue the same way."

After starting the season 0-6 and firing Bob Hartley as coach, Waddell and the Thrashers are 8-4 since, prior to last night's encounter with the Carolina Hurricanes, and survived a stretch of seven games, over two weeks, on the road.

The move makes sense on many levels, including financial. The Thrashers are on the hook for Hartley's salary this season and next (because he got an extension on the eve of the season) and money isn't exactly free-flowing in Atlanta.

And the team obviously has responded well to Waddell. The player who has responded in the best way, who is also the player the Thrashers needed to respond in a big way, is winger Ilya Kovalchuk, who has 12 goals and nine assists in the dozen games Waddell has coached. He led the league with 15 goals before last night.

Even the best coaches don't survive without the best players performing.

ALEX THE GREAT

Where exactly the Washington Capitals are in their negotiations with star Alexander Ovechkin, general manager George McPhee is not saying. He wants to keep contract talks as private as possible to avoid the daily questions and potential distractions. The Caps have enough on their plates on the ice, without any off-ice issues.

Bottom line is McPhee simply has to find a way to sign his star, who potentially could become an unrestricted free agent in the summer, but the Caps are not likely to let that happen. The question is whether the $8.7 million US, on average, the Pittsburgh Penguins are paying Sidney Crosby, will be enough for Ovechkin. There have been reports the 22-year-old has rejected that figure, but they also have been denied.

The Ovechkin pot got stirred this past week when he was quoted by a Soviet reporter, who is based in the U.S., as saying: "I don't know yet where I will be next season. I am not negotiating my new contract. I want to stay in Washington. But who knows what is going to happen?"

Who knows, indeed.

Like we said, the Caps just have to get it done. According to stats the club issued before their game last night, Ovechkin had scored three of their past four goals and had accounted for 29.3% of their goals this season. Only Kovalchuk had a higher percentage, at 30.6%. And despite that the Caps were in last place.

WAIVE GOODBYE

Brian Burke has been trying to deal goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov for weeks but without success. It was believed a second-round pick was necessary to make a deal work. But because Bryzgalov is an unrestricted free agent in the summer and because he earns $1.36 million, it was tough to make a deal. So, the Anaheim Ducks put him on waivers yesterday.

Essentially, the Ducks want Jonas Hiller, whom they signed as a free agent last spring, to be their backup to J.S. Giguere, and have promised Bryzgalov they would find him a place to play, in or out of the organization.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE

One of the surprise teams of the season, perhaps shouldn't be regarded quite that way. While not many would have considered Colorado to be a power when the season started, the Avalanche did add winger Ryan Smyth in the off-season, along with defenceman Scott Hannan. Those are two pretty solid additions.

But think back to the final month or so of last season. The Avalanche finished on a 15-2-2 roll, led by youngster Paul Stastny, and just missed the playoffs on the final weekend. This season, with the goaltending better, the 21-year-old Stastny very good, and ageless Joe Sakic still playing well at 38 though not putting up his usual numbers, the Avs were 11-5-1 entering last night, with four of the losses coming in the first three weeks of the season.

Add it up and in their past 36 games, the Avs are 26-7-3. According to reports out of Denver, only Ottawa has been better over that same stretch. So are they surprise? No longer.

TRASH TALKING

Somewhat lost, it seems, in the Sean Avery-Darcy Tucker incident last Saturday, is that the words that were screamed don't matter as much as the actions. Regardless of what Avery said and without knowing what he said, the most apparent troubling aspect is that players were poking sticks into faces and slashing each other across the red line during a pre-game warmup.

Avery seemed to be the instigator and, having performed the act for a second consecutive Saturday, was fined for his objectionable conduct. Tucker reacted and that is why he was fined.

The next interesting act in this saga happens at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 6 when the Leafs and Rangers next meet. Do the Leafs dress Wade Belak? It would seem the logical thing to do, but Belak, with his candour, has put himself in an awkward position.

After the game last week he said: "If (Avery) ever starts chirping about my family like that, he'll get a stick over the head" and "If he keeps this up, someone is going to kill him."

He may be right, too, but Belak had better tread carefully in that game.

BRIEFLY

Larry Robinson will have his No. 19 retired Monday by the Montreal Canadiens. He will become the 14th player to have his sweater raised to the rafters. His is the 13th number to be retired, with Dickie Moore and Yvon Cournoyer sharing No. 12.


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