ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Toronto Maple Leafs didn't wait until July 1 to land a coveted free agent.
Rick Dudley officially joined the team's front office on Friday in a position that is still to be determined. A number of NHL teams showed interest in Dudley after Winnipeg decided not to keep him on as general manager when the Atlanta Thrashers moved north.
"Rick is an exceptional evaluator of talent," said Leafs vice-president of hockey operations Dave Nonis. "If you look at where he's been, what's followed after he's left has usually been successful. He's widely known around the league by people we consider quality hockey men as an excellent judge of talent and hard worker.
"We felt that adding him gives us just another opportunity to try to find players — not necessarily the guys who'd you think of as high-end guys but the diamond in the rough that he's been able to uncover over his career."
Leafs general manager Brian Burke reached out to Dudley the day it was announced he wouldn't be retained by Winnipeg. The two go a long way back and Dudley indicated that played a big role in his decision to join the staff.
The 62-year-old also grew up in Toronto and believes the Leafs are about to turn the corner.
"I see the team as evolving into something good," said Dudley. "And I'd like to be part of that to be honest."
Dudley was previously been a GM with the Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers and has also coached the Panthers and Buffalo Sabres.
He also played a big role in helping turn the Chicago Blackhawks from a laughingstock into the 2010 Stanley Cup champions. He served in a number of roles for that organization and sees parallels with that situation and what is going on in Toronto.
"Well the Leafs are ahead of where Chicago was when I arrived," said Dudley. "There are some pieces in place. There are some very likable pieces in place. That's a key thing."