It was interesting listening to GM/head coach Don Waddell of the Atlanta Thrashers talking today about the changes they had to make in Atlanta after an 0-6 start.
With Bob Hartley behind the bench the Thrashers had scored just nine goals and allowed 27. Waddell fired Hartley and stepped behind the bench himself. He went about changing the atmosphere. He tried to make things fun again reasoning that you have to have fun playing this game to have success. They have gone 11-6 since the change but have lost their last two games coming into tonight's game with the Leafs in Atlanta.
In my opinion the Leafs “Fun Meter” is pinned somewhere below whale excrement. You can see it in practice with the players getting testy and you can sense it while traveling with the team. I don’t think the coaches have had a smile on their faces in weeks. I have always felt that attitude and atmosphere is what creates the difference in the NHL. Talent throughout the league is pretty evenly distributed despite what some people may say.
I remember sitting on a plane in January of 1992 after the Leafs had lost 12-1 in Pittsburgh on Boxing Day, followed by a 5-4 loss to Detroit on home ice and a 5-2 drubbing in frozen Quebec.
The Leafs had gone 11 games winning just once and looking at the rest of the schedule we couldn’t find another game on the schedule you thought the team would win. The critics suggested that there was no talent on the team and it was time to get rid of everyone.
GM Cliff Fletcher the next day pulled the trigger on the Doug Gilmour trade. The Leafs were 10-25-2 when the trade was made and went 20-18-2 following the deal. Gilmour and Jamie Macoun, Rick Wamsley, Ric Nattress and Kent Manderville brought a big load of confidence with them and all of a sudden the dregs in Blue and White uniforms who were “no good” became pretty good players after the atmosphere in the dressing room changed.
Will this happen this year with the Leafs? Time will tell. I think there is no question a change is needed and that change has to be in the atmosphere around this dressing room.