Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Townhall Meeting: Getting Back on Track?

"Luck is the residue of design"

At last night's Thrasher Town Hall Meeting I asked one question of Don Waddell. Basically it was a paraphrase of what I have written on the blog. I said the following:

"I've been attending games since 1999 and in that time the Thrashers have finished as follows: bottom half, bottom half, bottom half, bottom half, bottom half, bottom half, middle, bottom half. I look at the Thrashers management and I see the same Director of Player Personnel, the same Director of Scouting, the same General Manager and the same Asst. GM. When I look at the the Thrashers record of trades and free agent signing there have been more unpleasant surprises than pleasant surprises. Tell me why I as a paying customer I should expect things to be improve?"

Don Waddell sort of looked at the floor and mentioned that they evaluate every trade in the summer, they had made some management changes with Les Jackson and Jack Ferreria leaving, they had made coaching changes. "We've talked about this before, but I may have been too conservative." "If I never made any trades then they wouldn't be criticized, you have to take some risks." "We are working hard and trying to do our best." Basically it the same answer he gave when DucksThrashers asked him why he should still have a job this summer at Prospects Camp breakfast. (note: Les Jackson left before the lockout ended and Jack Ferreria two years ago--in both cases the Thrashers were left with less, not more NHL experience in their front office.)

That was not the answer I was hoping to hear. I was serious about the last part--is there a plan? Why should expect anything different? Has upper management learned anything from the recent past mistakes?

I would have been more optimistic about the Thrashers going forward if I knew that they were adding another hockey person to help evaluate trades and free agents. The Blackhawks just added Scotty Bowman (his son works for them) and the Thrashers could certainly stand to have another NHL veteran around in my opinion. I wrote this summer that the Thrashers management looks like an IHL alumni group and nothing has changed in that respect. Given the team's record in acquiring NHL talent I think it is a fair question to ask why they haven't upgraded their Director of Player Personnel position within the organization.

If the Thrashers are going forwards with the same people doing the same jobs--then I want to hear some solid reasons why things will be different this time. What did they learn from past mistakes? What is the plan this time and why will it work when the last one failed? If you look around pro sports some people do learn and improve. Take the Patriots coach Bill Belichick for example, he wasn't anything special in his first stint as coach in Cleveland but in New England he has been extremely impressive. Same person, different results--I'm assuming he learned a few things from his mistakes in Cleveland.

Instead of hearing about lessons learned by the Thrashers I was told that they try hard. I have no doubt that the statement is true--they all seem like decent human beings and I have no doubt that they put in long hours and give it their best. I try hard in my job too, but if I perform poorly my annual contract will not be renewed. This is the NHL, not grade school--nobody gets credit for "effort" anymore.

Much of that effort is likely wasted unless it is focused. At the top I put the quote "luck is the residue of design" which essentially means that those who follow a plan are more likely to get the breaks than those that don't. What appears to be "luck" is in fact a by product of an intentional strategy. One of the most troubling things about the meeting last night is that Coach Anderson and Ron Hainsey seemed to grasp this point more than the GM.

When Anderson walked out he basically said "I have a plan, we're going to do x and y and z." Hainsey mentioned that both Anaheim and Detroit won the Cup because they were all committed to using the same system--it wasn't so much that one system was better than another--but that everyone was on the same page. Don Waddell never laid out any master plan of strategy but just sort of rambled through the roster and who he expected to play better this year.

I've been listening to Don Waddell for close to a decade and he often talks about the Thrashers in a sort of stream-of-consciousness way. I believe that reflects his seat-of-the-pants management style. But I'm afraid that catch-as-catch-can is an insufficient way to run a NHL team. You need a plan, a strategy, a design and you need to execute that to the best of your ability. Over the years I've heard Waddell talk about becoming a uptempo western style team, adding toughness, adding character, getting bigger, getting faster, etc. All of those are goals--none of those reflect an overarching strategy.

Let's face facts, the Thrashers face big obstacles compared to many NHL markets. They have put forward a poor product for years. They need to break through and draw attention in a crowded sports marketplace. They have low team revenues. They have incredibly low TV ratings. In order for this club to win they need a plan and they need a path to get there. They cannot afford to miss opportunties by lurching from one objective to another. They need to exploit every advantage that they can exploit. Coach Anderson has his plan, but I'm not so sure the same can be said about the Thrashers management.


  • I agree with you 100%. I think Anderson does have one. He has a great assistant in Randy Cunneyworth. Not sure about the other guy, but then we still have Steve Weeks, and some of the other guys.

    Over the summer, I saw that Scott Mellanby became a professional scout for the Vancouver Canucks. Why did the Thrashers not get him to be a director of player personnel? He just retired from here and it might have been a good move! Or why not with Ray Ferrarro or Jeff Odgers, or someone else who retired and played here in Atlanta? That doesn't make any sense. The reason I see Detroit as so successful is:

    1) They have owners who will spend the money to put the best team on the ice.

    2) They have a director of player personnel who played for the Red Wings or used to coach there- not sure, but I saw Steve Yzerman at the draft, and I know he is an executive vice pres.; I would assume he is in charge of player personnel. I looked at the website, and they did not have a title for someone who is director of player personnnel that I could see. The point is that their are people in their organization that take their youth development very seriously, and, at the draft, the commentators were saying that usually, many of the young players spend up to 5 years with an AHL affiliate or some other junior team before they make it to the NHL, and play for the Red Wings. Anyhow, I think that coming off of the Calder Cup win, it shows our AHL affiliate is very successful, but the transition between the Thrashers and the Wolves is not successful. I have heard that the Gwinnett Gladiators and The Chicago Wolves are very close in their systems too. Hopefully, this is a problem that John Anderson will address. Tony Granato is now going to be coaching the Wolves, and I was watching a Classic NHL game the other day in which Granato was either a former Red Wing or a former Calgary Flame. So, that makes me feel a bit confident that Granato was a former player with a team that either has been in the playoffs or in the Cup Finals.

    I don't see ASG changing their personnel in the way of a new GM even though it was promised that Waddell was going to be promoted to a higher position, but that has not happened yet, and I am not sure that is going to happen either. My understanding is that ASG is happy with Waddell, and intend to keep him on as GM. Personally, I think that it is a mistake.

    It sucks that Les Jackson left here and is now one of the GMs in Dallas with Brett Hull. I wish that ASG would get a great hockey coach or former player to be GM who would really set a different course for this franchise. Maybe we will see something different after this season IF the Thrashers have another bad season. I don't want another bad season, but if it does occur, I hope that Levenson and Gearon consider this. They need to or else more people will not come to the games, less people will watch on TV, and their credibility when it comes to free agency and the trade deadline in February will be further tarnished.

    By Anonymous Steve, at 2:41 PM  

  • Bemoaning losing Jack Ferreria as a "loss of NHL experience" is misleading. He's been in the NHL for a while, but he's been worthless everywhere he's been. Funny how the Ducks started winning after he was replaced.

    By Anonymous Rasp, at 2:59 PM  

  • sorry Steve but DON Granato, Tony's brother will be coaching the Wolves. Tony has been reinstated as the Avs head coach this season.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:36 PM  

  • Steve,

    Mellanby publicly stated that he was unhappy with the organization after his retirement, as they had nothing for him. There was no contact after his contract was up. I also remember Ferraro saying earlier this year at Philips that it was his first time back since his last game in the arena. If that is true, it leads me to believe that the organization doesn't necessarily value its players beyond their on-ice contributions. Jeff Odgers just gave up the radio gig to go home and raise his boys, so he's not coming back. The only other player I know the Thrashers still have dialogue with is Per Svartvadet. I suspect that is due to him captaining Modo when Enstrom was still a prospect.

    I'm not sure how much I am reading into something that is not there, but I see a bit of a pattern. Holik's comments about the team not even contacting him make the thought a bit stronger in my mind, too. It seems like the Don would have the decency to pull Bobby to the side and let him know what the future holds. At least shake his hand and wish him well.

    As an outsider, who knows?

    By Blogger Justin, at 3:57 PM  

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