ATLANTA (AP) -Six games? Why fire Bob Hartley less than two weeks into the season after the coach took the Atlanta Thrashers to the 2006-7 Southeast Division championship and their first playoff appearance?
Thrashers general manager Bob Waddell understands the question, but he and co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. say Wednesday's decision to fire Hartley came only after careful study of the 0-6 start.
It was not just that the Thrashers were the only NHL team without a win, but that they kept losing by lopsided deficits, with Tuesday night's 4-0 setback in Philadelphia the final straw.
"Just watching the last few games I wasn't real pleased with the way things were going," said Waddell, who will serve as coach until he hires a replacement.
Waddell cited as examples a 6-0 loss in Buffalo, a 6-5 loss to New Jersey on Saturday when the Thrashers blew a 4-2 lead and also the loss to the Flyers. The Thrashers have been outscored 27-9, creating negative momentum that Waddell feared was in danger of ruining a season he still believes holds promise.
"I believe this team is better than what we're playing for sure," Waddell said. "I believe in this team. I believe in these guys that we brought in here.
"I believe we have a chance to salvage this season."
Hartley's firing surprised Atlanta's players.
"It was a big shock," defenseman Garnet Exelby said. "I don't think anybody really who saw this happen this morning wasn't surprised. It's only been six games in the season.
"Sometimes changes need to be made. At the same time, it tells all of us it's a big wake-up call and we need to fix this."
Added forward Marian Hossa: "You can't blame the coach for everything. But it's always easier to replace the coach than 22 players."
Hartley didn't attend Wednesday's news conference. In a statement released by the team, he acknowledged the first six games have been disappointing.
"I was excited to enter the season and face the challenge of building on the success of last year, but things just didn't come together as we anticipated," Hartley said. "I dedicated myself to helping this team reach its potential, and I understand the decision following our disappointing start."
Waddell said the Thrashers opened this season as if they were still stunned by four straight losses to the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs last season.
"The emotions were so high last year going into the playoffs and we went out quickly, and to be honest I don't know if we've recovered from that yet," Waddell said. "If you look, we've lost 10 games in a row now, including the last four last year. That's why I believe a change has to be made."
Waddell said he has no timetable for a hiring and indicated he may look for a coach who is less intense than Hartley.
"Maybe we've got to back off a little bit and let the players have some fun in the game," Waddell said. "Certainly Bob has been here a long time. ... We weren't getting the most, particularly out of our veteran players, and that was a concern."
Gearon said he was worried all momentum gained last season might be lost if a coaching change was not made.
"From our perspective, it's important to see progress," Gearon said. "From the start of this season we're not seeing that.
"This is an important time for the franchise. It's not taking one step forward last year and two steps backward. The point is to keep moving forward and to be competitive for a long time."
Added Gearon: "Clearly, there needed to be a change."
Waddell was 4-5-1 as an interim coach after he fired Curt Fraser during the 2002-03 season. Waddell then hired Hartley.
The GM indicated this interim coaching stint could last longer.
"The last time you could sense that something was probably happening," Waddell said, referring to the firing of Fraser. "Six games into the year, I certainly wasn't preparing for that decision to be made today."
Hartley, who won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001, was 136-123-32 with Atlanta.