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Thrashers acquire Ladd, sign Mason

by John Manasso /
Rick Dudley spent five years with the Chicago Blackhawks organization before coming to Atlanta last summer, and he's wasting none of his accumulated knowledge from that time.

Dudley acquired his fourth player from the Stanley Cup champions in eight days on Thursday, acquiring winger Andrew Ladd, 24, in exchange for prospect Ivan Vishnevskiy and a second-round pick, while also signing free-agent goalie Chris Mason, formerly of St. Louis.

After pulling off a blockbuster trade with the Blackhawks a week ago to the day for Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel and Ben Eager, Dudley continued to remake the Thrashers into a big, physical forechecking team. Ladd played anywhere from Chicago's first line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to its third with David Bolland and Kris Versteeg. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound left wing, the fourth player chosen at the 2004 Entry Draft, totaled 32 goals and 87 points over the last two seasons.

"What everybody likes about Laddie is his ability to do all things," said Dudley, mentioning that he and Chicago general manager Stan Bowman had worked on the deal for a while. "He can score, he can check, is physical and he is as hard of a worker as you'll find. Talking to the coaches in Chicago -- I had that advantage from working there -- they always talked about his habits and how his habits rubbed off on the team.

"He doesn't take a shift off or a practice off or a drill off. He does it as hard as he can do it."

Bowman said that moving Ladd -- along with Byfuglien, Sopel, Eager and Versteeg, who was shipped to Toronto on Wednesday -- was part of a long-term contingency plan the organization knew it would have to carry out if it won the Cup and had to deal with the salary cap squeeze caused by some performance-related bonuses that have kicked in.

"That's the system we play under," Bowman said. "Every team has the same type of situation as we do. You can't look at it in any other way than that. We're focused on maintaining an excellent-caliber hockey team in Chicago and sometimes that means doing some of the things we've had to do here and make, at times, some tough decisions."

Bowman said that he had finished shedding salary and was now intent on looking at the free-agent and trade markets to pick up some grit, in particular, as that is the trait that the Blackhawks have most had to deplete in recent weeks.

In Atlanta, they're trying to get on the same upward arc that the Blackhawks put themselves on a few years back. In adding Mason in goal, the Thrashers appear to have upgraded that position.

Mason, 34, replaces Johan Hedberg, 37, who signed with New Jersey on Thursday. In addition to being younger, Mason has played as a No. 1 goalie for the last three seasons -- the last two with the Blues and, before that, with Nashville.

Mason owns a career save percentage of .914 while Hedberg's is .900. Hedberg was a popular player in Atlanta who twice won the organization's "player's player" award -- voted on by players as to their best teammate.

Mason, who played 61 games last season and 57 the year before in leading the Blues to the No. 6 seed in the West, will vie for the No. 1 job with Ondrej Pavelec, a rookie last season who showed big potential but also inconsistency. In addition to having inside knowledge of Ladd, Dudley had Mason on his top minor-league club in San Antonio for the 2002-03 season when he served as general manager of the Panthers.

"I know him as a person," Dudley said. "He's a wonderful guy on a team. He'd go in the dressing room and be a similar type personality [to Hedberg]. He had some impressive numbers."

Dudley especially liked his 115-86 record. Participating in the negotiations was Thrashers president Don Waddell, the franchise's only general manager until April who received a call from Mason's agent Tom Laidlaw. Laidlaw and Waddell were teammates together at Northern Michigan in the late 1970s.

It's been a tumultuous few weeks for Mason, who said he was one day away from finalizing a new contract with the Blues when general manager Doug Armstrong called to inform him of the team's acquisition of Jaroslav Halak from Montreal. Then on Thursday, in his first experience as an unrestricted free agent, teams at times gave him 10 minutes to decide on a deal, he said.

"It was a pretty crazy day," Mason said. "I've never been to July 1. It was pretty nerve-wracking, a weird feeling to be honest with you. At the end of the day, I talked to Don Waddell and Rick Dudley and they were pretty interested and wanted me to be here and I was their guy."

He said he spoke to new coach Craig Ramsay, who told him he wants to win now.

"That excites me and makes me proud," Mason said.

Mason has spent virtually his entire 10-year career in the Central Division, so he knows well the four former Blackhawks who will join him in Atlanta as teammates.

"They're extremely hard to play against," Mason said. "With Rick being so familiar with them and knowing what they have to offer -- they won a Stanley Cup -- and you see the value all three of those guys had to Chicago. To get all three, that's just an instant improvement. Getting people who've won and who are winners and compete every night, it's so easy to say, 'Well, why doesn't everyone play that hard?'

"The bottom line is not everyone does. It's contagious. It rubs off on young guys. It makes everyone try and compete that much harder. It's a really powerful feeling on a team when everyone's pulling in the same direction. That's what bringing in guys like that can do."

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