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Dudley hopes deal puts Thrashers back on track

Friday, 02.18.2011 / 6:08 PM / 2011 Trade Deadline

By John Manasso - Correspondent

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Dudley hopes deal puts Thrashers back on track
Atlanta GM Rick Dudley is adamant that his team is not in sell mode, and Friday's trade with the Bruins was about finding some missing pieces to get his team back into a playoff spot.
ATLANTA -- Thrashers general manager Rick Dudley was fairly plain-spoken on Friday about his need to make a trade to try to jump-start his team's playoffs hopes.

The Thrashers are 3-9-4 in their last 16 games, a stretch that has seen them drop to 10th in the Eastern Conference entering Friday's games, two points out of playoff contention, after spending much of the season in the top eight.

After acquiring 24-year-old forward Blake Wheeler and 26-year-old defenseman Mark Stuart from Boston on Friday for center Rich Peverley, 28, and minor-league prospect Boris Valabik, Dudley also announced that he has no plans to be a seller for a franchise that has made the playoffs only once in its history.

"I don't believe so," he said. "No, we want to make the playoffs. Right now we have not played very well. But the deal today was clearly made to give us a jump start. We've proven this year we can get on a significant roll. … We think we've played well lately, we just haven't won. We like both players in terms of giving us a chance to win."

In Wheeler, the Thrashers are getting a 6-foot-5 forward who can play any position up front -- he could potentially play right wing on the top line with Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little on Saturday in Edmonton, though Dudley said that would be up to coach Craig Ramsay -- and who totaled 39 goals in his previous two seasons but only 11 in 58 games thus far.

Dudley said that with the two of the Thrashers' centers being Little and Alexander Burmistrov -- recent first-round picks who are both under 6 feet tall -- for the foreseeable future, he thought Peverley, a former 20-goal scorer also listed at 6-foot, was too small to include long-term, especially when his best position is center, even though he has played some right wing lately.

Peverley also had been centering the fourth line because of his poor defensive play while jumping up at times to play right wing on the first line. His minus-16 rating was second-worst on the team and worst among forwards, but Dudley denied Peverley had a poor relationship with Ramsay.

"It was hard moving forward with Burmistrov, Peverley and Little all -- small people," Dudley said. "Wheeler is 6-5, a big man, and can play all three forward positions and he's quite young."

In Stuart, Dudley said the Thrashers were adding someone with a nasty disposition -- a quality he said his team could use a lot more of.

Ramsay knows Wheeler and Stuart well, as he worked as an assistant coach with the Bruins for the past three seasons before coming to Atlanta last summer.

"To be honest, our coach is very familiar with (Stuart) and likes him a lot," Dudley said. "The fact that Rammer feels comfortable with him between (number) four or five or six (defenseman), he can play a good amount of minutes. What the Bruins had was they had a couple of young people come in and play some minutes. This is a chance to redeem that."

"He's a great competitor and brings grit to the defensive corps," Ramsay said of Stuart. "He will also jump up and join rushes. He really wants to be involved offensively, not just be a defenseman."

"Right now we have not played very well. But the deal today was clearly made to give us a jump start. We've proven this year we can get on a significant roll. ... We think we've played well lately, we just haven't won. We like both players in terms of giving us a chance to win."
-- Thrashers' GM Rick Dudley

Ramsay referred to Wheeler as a "big body with good puck skills."

The coach also said of Wheeler, "He's able to kill penalties and has become pretty good at that aspect of the game. He should help on the power play as well because of his good offensive skills."

Both players Atlanta acquired can be free agents at the end of the season -- Wheeler would be restricted, while Stuart can be unrestricted. Nonetheless, the Thrashers took on $3.875 million in annualized salaries while giving up in Peverley a player with a cap hit of $1.325 million.

The timing of the deal might have had much to do with Boston's need to clear room for defenseman Tomas Kaberle and his $4.25 million salary, a move that came soon after the Bruins-Thrashers deal was announced.

"That was certainly part of the deal," Dudley said. "If you ask (Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli), he's working the one in conjunction with the other. It was what we perceived as a good deal for us. On occasion there are two winners in a trade, and I like to think this is one of them."

Dudley said Wheeler and Stuart would make their Thrashers debut Saturday at Edmonton.

"To be quite candid, we were hoping things would turn around on their own," he said of the team's recent struggles. "There was one thing I wouldn't do. We have a nice young team moving forward. I didn't want to affect that by trading for an old player. But this deal, when I talked to Peter, made sense."

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