Thrashers’ GM Rick Dudley is doing what he does best: burn up the phone lines to talk trade with fellow GM’s who are looking to deal. Yesterday, in a candid interview with Atlanta Journal & Constitution beat writer, Chris Vivlamore, Dudley laid out his thoughts about the current state of the Thrashers. In so doing, he did not mince words or filter his thoughts: “As of last night, yes [we are actively looking for a trade],” Dudley said. “Are we looking to do something? Absolutely. We don’t want to let this go. Obviously we haven’t given up on the season. It would be ludicrous. We haven’t given up on improving either. If it doesn’t come from within, it will come from outside.”
Without a doubt, Dudley has a reputation as a dealer and thusly does not get too attached to his players. And his message in the paper could not be any clearer about his desire to shake up the roster mix. While there is always a chance that Dudley’s posturing has as much to do with trying to motivate underperforming players — like the recently demoted Rich Peverley, who’s recent struggles have landed him on the 4th line as a right wing — as it does with sending up an obvious “bat signal” above the league’s landscape for all GM’s to see, there remains little doubt that something must change in order for the team to have any chance for post-season play. Tonite the Thrashers welcome in their franchise predecessor Calgary Flames, who come in scorching hot having won their last 5 games. High above the ice, Dudley will be letting his fingers “do the walking” to canvass GM’s about potential deals as many players on the Thrashers’ roster ponder the thought of getting their “walking papers” in the very near future.
So who on the team should be worried about getting dealt? Using a process of elimination, one can whittle it down to a list of about 8 players who could be candidates for getting shipped out of Atlanta. First of all, you can cross off the following players who most certainly constitute Atlanta’s core for the future: Ondrej Pavelec, Tobias Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov, Patrice Cormier and most likely Zach Bogosian even though he has been the object of many a fan’s ire and derision this season. Secondly, don’t count on injured players like Jimmy Slater or Chris Mason to have much trade value at the current juncture, nor should you expect call-ups Tim Stapleton and Drew MacIntyre to have much more than “throw-in” potential for a trade. Thirdly, you can probably take Ron Hainsey and even Nik Antropov off the list of likely trade candidates as both have either a limited or modified “No Trade Clause” and both collect large salaries with a cap hit of more than $4 M that makes them difficult to move.
After eliminating those 15 players, you are left with a small collection of 8 or 9 players who’s future in Blueland may be coming to a close very soon. The lucky nine fellows who may get to sample life elsewhere are Nicklas Bergfors, Eric Boulton, Freddy Modin, Rich Peverley, Anthony Stewart, Chris Thorburn, Freddy Meyer, Johnny Oduya and Brent Sopel. In all likelihood, Boulton, Thorburn and Meyer probably don’t need to worry that much about a potential change of scenery. Boults, Thorbs and Meyer are either role players who are too valuable to unload or a depth reserve without much trade value on the open market. Plus, all three are UFA’s this summer so unless Atlanta loses 7 or 8 of their next 10, don’t expect them to get sold off the island.
That leaves us with the select and ultra-lucky few of Bergfors, who has been mentioned in trade rumors since he started getting the healthy scratch last fall; Oduya, who came over in the Ilya Kovalchuk deal last winter; Modin and Stewart, both of whom were acquired as free-agent pick-ups prior to this season; and Sopel and Peverley, who could attract the most interest from playoff bound teams looking to fortify a deep roster and make a serious run at the Cup. Having watched Oduya play for the last year up close and personal, I would say he is also in the category of “attractive veteran who can fill a serious need on a contending team”, but I’m not so sure Coach Ramsay and Dudley are that keen on letting him go. Ramsay’s system needs adept puck movers and Oduya may be too valuable to the team’s fortunes to part with in a trade. Plus, he’s under contract for another year at a decent price ($3.5 M per). Of course, that makes him attractive trade bait as well.
There aren’t a lot of obvious trade partners right now as the playoff races in both conferences are so tight right now that only 4 or 5 teams are ready to throw in the towel: New Jersey, Ottawa, Edmonton, Columbus and the Isles. However, the latter two are both limited by their small salary budgets and aren’t necessarily ready to give up on young players who still have plenty of upside. CBJ’s GM Scott Howson has been actively pursuing potential deals, but since he plays it close to the vest, it is tough to speculate what he’s looking for and what he’s willing to give up. Toronto’s GM Brian Burke is always open to discussion on the trade front and he would desperately like to get back into the first round of this year’s draft after trading for winger Phil Kessel from Boston.
That brings me to the most interesting scenario of them all as the Boston Bruins are reportedly looking to make a deal in order to address the loss of pivot-man Marc Savard to yet another frustrating concussion injury. With his timetable for return very uncertain, the Bruins might very well be interested in two players from the Thrashers: Peverley, who can play center and wing, and Nick Bergfors, who would be an attractive piece in a trade involving a high draft pick since Boston has their own 1st rounder in addition to the one from Toronto. This blogger would personally love to see Dudley swing a deal that would net not only the B’s first rounder (not the Toronto one), but also RW Blake Wheeler, who has fallen into disfavor much like Bergfors.
Since the B’s are looking to address obvious needs to cement their roster for the stretch run – Montreal is hot on their tail for the Northeast Division race lead – they may covet a versatile player like Peverley, who would be better served playing third line center on a deep roster laden with talent rather than struggle playing top line minutes for a team still building an identity. Peverley is excellent in the face-off circle and can add lower line scoring punch to a team that is built on puck possession. Wheeler is big and fast and seems like a good fit in Ramsay’s system, which places a premium on aggressive forechecking. His size is an attractive option for the Thrasher’s top six and his hands are certainly better than those of RW Anthony Stewart, who would look better playing in a 3rd line checking role rather than top-6. Since Boston’s roster is replete with RW, perhaps even LW Freddy Modin would be an option, but since 41 year-old Mark Recchi and lumbering RW Michael Ryder have uncertain futures with the club, the right-handed Bergfors would certainly seem like the type of sniper they could use going forward.
While there haven’t been rampant rumors emanating forth from Boston about making a deal, there seems to be a lot of potential for a deal between these two teams that would help both teams address well-defined needs. The Thrashers could certainly benefit from adding a player like Wheeler, a D-man like Mark Stuart, who has been mentioned in rumors, and a high draft pick to give them flexibility for perhaps another deal closer to the deadline. Perhaps a 4-player swap along with a pick for a prospect could be in the offing? Something like Wheeler, Stuart — Dudley has mentioned he’d like to add a top-4 defenseman — and their #1 pick in return for Bergfors, Peverley and a prospect such as blueliner Arturs Kulda, who may not fit the mobile D-man profile that Thrashers management prefers (see Paul Postma). Regardless of what happens, there aren’t many teams desperate to wheel and deal just yet so Dudley may need to wait things out another week or two.
Ottawa or New Jersey may be the most likely to unload expensive veterans, but I’m not sure the Thrashers have the depth of prospects or picks (they are without a 2nd rounder as it was traded to Chicago in the Andrew Ladd deal) to swing a deal with either team. Edmonton could be an option, but both players that have been rumored as available, Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky, have an expensive remaining year left in their contracts that may not be as palatable for a salary-strapped franchise like Atlanta. More logical options for a swap are depth forward Ryan Jones and/or bottom-pair D-man Jim Vandermeer. That’s why a deal with a team like Boston, who isn’t desperate to trade, might make for an attractive partner especially considering Ramsay’s familiarity with their personnel as a former assistant coach in Beantown for 3 years. I realize it may be a longshot, but I also know that I’m not alone when it comes to a restless fanbase desperate to see some changes for the final two months of the season. If nothing else, we know Dudley’s cell phone volume is set on high!
About the Author: Accountant / Analyst who has a nagging writing addiction when it comes to hockey. I've been a hockey fan since I was a wee tyke and now my allegiance to the Atlanta Thrashers has me "mentally thrashed". My other long-time passion is the game of golf so I'm a glutton for punishment! As a mid to late 30-something, I'm blessed to have a girlfriend who aids and abets my hockey / blogging obsession. Hockey heroes include: Gilbert Perreault, Adam Oates (Go RPI!), Pat LaFontaine and Marty Reasoner. Follow me on the twitter machine @j_barty_party