It wasn't hard for new Atlanta Thrashers
coach Craig Ramsay
to tell reporters why he wanted to become coach of a franchise in a nontraditional hockey market that has made only one playoff appearance since joining the NHL in 1999.
"That's pretty simple actually," he said, "it would be Rick Dudley."
The two have a lot of history together.
"I've known Rick Dudley since 1971," Ramsay said of the Thrashers' recently hired general manager. "He was my first roommate. We played together. I've known him and went to work for him in Tampa Bay and put together a great product and won a Stanley Cup (though Dudley had departed by then). I know what he can do as a hockey person.
"It's a good opportunity to hook up with an old buddy in a place known throughout the league as being a great city. Hopefully, we can create a great hockey team."
Thursday's hiring of Ramsay, who has nearly 40 years as an NHL player and assistant coach, was another event in one of the wildest days in franchise history. Ramsay, an assistant for the last three seasons with Boston, joined the Thrasher just hours after Dudley pulled off a major trade with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks
that brought left wing Dustin Byfuglien
, defenseman Brent Sopel
and winger Ben Eager
Ramsay twice has been an interim coach and won the 2004 Stanley Cup as an assistant with Tampa Bay. Amazingly, he's never been in charge of an NHL team for a full season. The 59-year-old officially owns a 16-27-6 NHL coaching record.
He led the Philadelphia Flyers
during the final 25 games of the 1999-2000 season -- games uncredited by the Official NHL Guide and Record Book -- when coach Roger Neilson took medical leave with cancer. Ramsay guided the Flyers to a division title in that span, then took the Flyers to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost to eventual Cup champion New Jersey.
Ramsay hired Bill Barber
on his staff and then-GM Bob Clarke chose Barber, a former teammate, to replace Ramsay just 28 games into the 2000-01 season despite a .500 record.
"It was quite awkward," Ramsay said. "I didn't understand the reasoning. I got along with Bobby. I don't understand what happened with Bobby. But you get past it.
"Rick gave me a chance in Tampa, and we faced Philly in the  semifinals in Game 7 -- and I got my revenge."
In his conference call with reporters, Ramsay promised to install an aggressive forechecking system that rolls four lines and creates four-man rushes -- sounding akin to John Tortorella's "Safety Equals Death" system that was so successful during the seven years Tortorella and Ramsay worked together in Tampa.
"I would really like to be an aggressive team," Ramsay said. "I want to forecheck first. That's a priority. Get everyone involved. ... We want our [defense] to join as many rushes as we can. ... I think we have people on the blue line who can do that. My philosophy is to be as aggressive and play as up-tempo a game as we can."
For his part, Dudley said he hired Ramsay because his old teammate is one of the great teachers in the game. Dudley referred to his stint as general manager of the Florida Panthers
when he attempted to hire Ramsay in 2003 -- but the Lightning would not grant him permission to speak to Ramsay.
Dudley cited Ramsay in particular in helping the progress of players in Tampa Bay such as Dan Boyle
, who became one of the League's elite defensemen, Fredrik Modin
, who became a 30-goal scorer, and defenseman Paul Ranger
"When looking for a head coach, we were looking for someone who could bring players to their optimal level as quick as possible," Dudley said. "I watched Craig do that a lot. ... You see people like [young Thrashers Zach] Bogosian, [Tobias] Enstrom, [Evander] Kane, [Bryan] Little and you go down the roster -- [Niclas] Bergfors -- these are people whose optimal level is pretty darn good, and we think can bring them up pretty darn quick."
"Craig thinks out of the box. I never sat down with him and have not gotten something new in terms of a strategy. We will be prepared. If he says, ‘This is what we need to do against them,' I'm going to bet money this is the right thing."
"When looking for a head coach, we were looking for someone who could bring players to their optimal level as quick as possible. I watched Craig do that a lot. ... You see people like [young Thrashers Zach] Bogosian, [Tobias] Enstrom, [Evander] Kane, [Bryan] Little and you go down the roster -- [Niclas] Bergfors -- these are people whose optimal level is pretty darn good, and we think can bring them up pretty darn quick."
-- Thrashers' GM Rick Dudley
Lack of preparedness is a criticism that veteran forward Slava Kozlov, a winner of two Cups in Detroit, hurled at former coach John Anderson
, who was not retained in April following two non-playoff seasons.
With Atlanta's existing roster and with the players Dudley acquired from the Hawks, Ramsay believes Atlanta has what it takes to play an aggressive system. He said there's probably few defensemen in the League who would want to dig a puck out of a corner first if the 257-pound Byfuglien is following to punish them.
"I went over it a little bit with Rick and [team president Don Waddell]," Ramsay said. "This roster has been changing almost as we speak. But I think on the blue line that Bogosian, Enstrom, a couple of other young players can really add to the offensive side of our game. Ron Hainsey
is a guy I believe can get up and down the ice and fit into this philosophy. [Pending unrestricted free agent Pavel] Kubina is a guy I hope comes back who is another guy who likes to do that.
, it's nice to have that big, strong guy in the middle. We have a good power forward now along with Buff. Again, we've got guys who can get to net and create havoc around there."