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Dudley is pick for top GM at midway point

Sunday, 01.09.2011 / 1:59 PM / 2011 NHL Awards

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

It's never easy to sacrifice young talent or draft picks when one attempt to improve his hockey club in quicker fashion, but Rick Dudley went for it last summer. So far, it's paying off.

Dudley, who surrendered the likes of Jeremy Morin and first- and second-round picks to land Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd from the Chicago Blackhawks during the offseason, and had the courage to give a 60-year-old his first head-coaching gig in the National Hockey League, is mainly responsible for the Thrashers' 180-degree turn in 2010-11.

It's the aforementioned reasons and more as to why Dudley is NHL.com's choice to win GM of the Year honors halfway through this season. Forty-four games into their season, the Thrashers were in seventh place in the Eastern Conference and just three points behind first-place Tampa Bay in the Southeast Division.

Atlanta finished 35-34-13 last season and failed to qualify for the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I don't know that we are anywhere I didn't think we'd be," Dudley said. "We knew that in the early part of the season it would be a chore. We knew that there would be games when we'd play pretty well and we knew that there would be games where we would struggle. Are we a perfect team? We are a long way from that. There aren't too many perfect teams that I know of. So are we looking to tweak things, to add things to make us better? Sure. But we are a team that's learning and we are becoming better at certain things.

"I think we are going to get better and better as the year goes on, and that's what I want to do. Obviously we'd like to stay in the hunt as long as we can so when we do get better it puts us in the right position. And if we have to make a move at some point in time to make us a little better or a little more successful, then we will do that."

Runners-up

Paul Holmgren, Philadelphia Flyers

One has to wonder where the Flyers would be without the early-season play of rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, whom Holmgren signed as a free agent last May. Bobrovsky carried the load when Michael Leighton went down with a back injury. It's one of the biggest reasons why the Flyers find themselves atop the Eastern Conference halfway through the 2010-11 season.

Holmgren also deserves credit for signing Nikolay Zherdev as a free agent last summer. Zherdev, who never realized his full potential with the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers, has 13 goals in 35 games.

Joe Nieuwendyk, Dallas Stars

To the surprise of many, it's Nieuwendyk's Stars who are in first place in the Pacific Division halfway through the season. One of the biggest reasons for that was Nieuwendyk's ability to land Kari Lehtonen from the Atlanta Thrashers last February. Lehtonen has been splendid this season, posting a 2.61 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in 32 starts.

Realizing his team has a chance to make a postseason run, Nieuwendyk sent a conditional third-round draft pick to the New Jersey Devils on Friday in exchange for winger Jamie Langenbrunner, who helped the franchise win its lone Stanley Cup championship in 1999.

"I don't think any of us had a crystal ball and knew what type of team we were going to be coming out of training camp," Nieuwendyk said. "We're now halfway through the season and I think all of us are really happy with where we're at. There's a good feeling in the locker room, there's a belief in that locker room and I think this move will even strengthen that belief. I think it sends a message to people, to our fans and our players in the locker room that we're serious not only about the future of our team, but currently right now. We think we have a good team."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL