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Atlanta's Waddell, Dudley eager to continue remolding

by Mike G. Morreale
LOS ANGELES --  The phone might not ring as often as it once used to, but that doesn't seem to bother Don Waddell these days.

After presiding over the last dozen Entry Drafts as the general manager of the Atlanta Thrashers, Waddell is now the team's president. Still, Waddell will provide his usual input at the team's draft table Friday at Staples Center as he gears up for what he believes is going to be one special season.

Waddell will be working closely with newly appointed GM Rick Dudley, who was promoted to the position on April 14, and who is no stranger to making big decisions. Prior to joining Atlanta last season, Dudley was an assistant GM with the Chicago Blackhawks and also previously served as GM for the Ottawa Senators (1998-99), Tampa Bay Lightning (1999 to 2002) and Florida Panthers (2002 to 2004), and head coach of the Buffalo Sabres (1989 to 1992).

Dudley already made a huge splash earlier this week when he sent Marty Reasoner, Joey Crabb, Jeremy Morin and the No. 24 and 54 picks in this year's draft to Chicago in exchange for forwards Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Akim Aliu, and defenseman Brent Sopel.

In order to facilitate that seven-player swap and get under the NHL limit of 50 contracts per team, Dudley also dealt pending unrestricted free agents Brett Sterling and Mike Vernace and a seventh-round pick (No. 188) in this year's draft to the San Jose Sharks for future considerations.

And when the dust settled, he then named Craig Ramsay the fifth head coach in franchise history on Thursday.

Waddell said the deal with Chicago, the 2010 Stanley Cup champion, strengthened his hockey club in more ways than one.

"We wanted to make our hockey club better and the one nice thing is, over the last few years, we've assembled a numerous amount of assets so when you go to try and improve your team, you need assets and we felt like we had enough assets to move them and not leave the cupboards empty, so the timing was right for that," Waddell told "Here's the thing, we've got some really skilled players -- (Niclas) Bergfors, (Bryan) Little, (Rich) Peverley -- but we're still a little small so we wanted to get bigger.

"You can do that either through trades, free agency or the draft. The draft takes time and free agency was probably not something for us, so this was an opportunity and we knew that Chicago was in a cap situation, so we wanted to take advantage of that."

Byfuglien (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) produced 11 goals and 16 points in 22 playoff games to help lead the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup. Eager is 6-2, 230 pounds and Sopel stands 6-1, 200 pounds. Aliu, drafted by Chicago in the second round, No. 56, in 2007, is 6-3, 225.

While the trade sparked tantalizing debate throughout the NHL circles, Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford didn't seem all that concerned when asked to comment on the deal.

"These were guys on a Cup team and they certainly have things to offer, but I'm just concerned about putting our team together -- that's all I'm looking at," Rutherford told "At some point in the season, if we need to make adjustments, we'll do it. It's not like someone makes a deal and you say, 'Oh boy, what are we going to do?' "

For Waddell, it had to be tough dealing away budding prospect Morin, the No. 45 choice last year who starred for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League this past season. He had 7 points in seven games with the U.S. at the World Junior Championships and finished with 47 goals in 58 junior games.

"It's very tough (trading a player like Morin), but when you're going out and getting three NHL guys, you have to pay the price," Waddell said. "We're getting three guys that we'll instantly put on our hockey club, so that's important."

Waddell said the hiring of Ramsay, one of the League's most respected teachers, was a solid decision.

"We're going to get a really good player there, we know that already. We're anxious to get going." -- Don Waddell on the 2010 NHL Entry Draft

"Craig is not only a great hockey man, but great teacher of the game," Waddell said. "With us having a bunch of young players, it's important to have someone who could teach our young players. Craig's got a wealth of experience, and a wealth of experience with young players, so I think this is a great hire for us and he's going to do a good job."

Now the club will look to fortify their depth chart with six draft choices in the fold, including two in the top 87. It begins with the No. 8 pick Friday in the opening round.

"We're going to get a really good player there, we know that already," Waddell said. "We're anxious to get going."

The Thrashers have done extraordinarily well with choosing wisely in the opening round, although many of those picks no longer suit up for Atlanta. Ilya Kovalchuk (No. 1, 2001), Dany Heatley (No. 2, 2000) and Kari Lehtonen (No. 2, 2002) were high picks that got away. Recent draftees, including defenseman Zach Bogosian (No. 3, 2008) and power-forward Evander Kane (No. 4, 2009), would appear to be major building blocks moving forward for Waddell and Dudley.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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