KEN WIEBE, QMI Agency
|Thrashers forward Bryan Little is one of the up-and-coming players on the team who could play a major role in Winnipeg.
WINNIPEG - With all this time on our hands waiting for an official announcement from the NHL, it’s a good time to look at the Atlanta Thrashers in our crystal ball.
Most hockey fans are familiar with Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd after the job they did in helping the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010, but there aren’t a lot of other big-name stars on the Atlanta Thrashers roster.
However, many believe the young Thrashers — with a roster that features up-and-comers like Bryan Little (23), Evander Kane (19), Alexander Burmistrov (19), Carl Klingberg (20) and Zach Bogosian (20) — aren’t that far away from challenging for a playoff spot next season.
“We’re a really good skating team,” Thrashers goalie Chris Mason said Thursday from Red Deer, Alta., “We’re young and last year we were trying to find our identity. About three-quarters of the team last year was new and there were some difficult periods. We’re an exciting team and there’s a lot of good players that not a lot of people know about. I’d say it’s a good, up-and-coming team with a lot of potential.”
The Thrashers have three players who will become unrestricted free agents on July 1 — Radek Dvorak, Eric Boulton and Freddy Meyer — and another six guys who are about to become restricted free agents, including Ladd, who is the team captain. The team had plenty of cap space last season so it could lock up those RFAs and still potentially be a player when free agency opens on July 1.
The Thrashers hold the seventh pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft next month in St. Paul, Minn., so there’s going to be a lot of business to take care of in the coming weeks.
Who will be the guy overseeing the big decisions?
We don’t know this for sure, but what we expect is that Manitoba Moose general manager Craig Heisinger plays a critical role.
It’s certainly possible Heisinger could be named GM right off the bat, since he is highly respected throughout the hockey community, but we expect he might prefer to work as an assistant GM initially and focus on the player personnel side of things.
Regardless of the title, Heisinger will have significant influence — as he should, considering the outstanding job he’s done during his tenure with the Moose.
There will be no shortage of capable candidates to be the GM and current Thrashers GM Rick Dudley is one of them. Dudley, who spent some time playing for the Winnipeg Jets, is another respected hockey man but there’s been no indication whether or not he’ll be making the trip north.
One guy we can’t help but think must garner consideration is John Ferguson Jr., the former Toronto Maple Leafs GM. Ferguson Jr. has worked in a hockey-mad Canadian market and has done an excellent job in his current role as a pro scout with the San Jose Sharks.
Things weren’t always smooth in Toronto, but history has shown that most guys are able to apply lessons learned when they get a second shot as GM.
Ferguson spent his formative years in Winnipeg when his father was the Jets GM, so his ties to the city are strong, as is his desire to win.
We’d also suggest Mike Keane play a role in the organization, either as an assistant coach or more likely in player personnel, much like Steve Yzerman did with the Detroit Red Wings before becoming the GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
As for the head coach, Craig Ramsay has a strong reputation and was an assistant coach when the Tampa bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, so he’ll warrant strong consideration.
Don’t be surprised to see Moose head coach Claude Noel factor into the mix either.