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Meet the GM Summary 7-10

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Don Waddell had one of his Meet the GM events before Prospect Camp this morning. I attended thanks to a long time poster over at who let me tag along. Here is a summary of key points that I found interesting. I'm been typing this up for a while and have to leave to go play hockey in 5 minutes so please ignore the typos.

DW started off as usual with a recap of recent events and the situation. His demeanor was very subdued and he probably expected some angry responses. He ran through the Hainsey signing and Anderson hire and the possibility of trading with teams in cap trouble. He mentioned that Valabik may be the meanest player he's ever seen play hockey (which makes me wonder why we just re-signed Boulton since nobody is really afraid of Boulton's fighting skills). Bogosian has the skill, body and mindset for the NHL (sounds like he is highly likely to make the roster out of camp). The Nikulin contract is simply waiting proof of the out clause in his Russian contract and a signature on a Thrashers contract.

Sometimes at these things the most interesting thing isn't the exact words DW uses but how he delivers them. One example was his discussion of the salary cap which rose to $56.7 million this year. He mentioned how the team spent over the cap max when it was set at $39 and $44 million. Based on body language and inflection I think both he and the owners were genuinely shocked at how quickly the cap has gone up and he indicated that they will not be anywhere close to hitting the maximum.

For those of you interested in the financial side of things check out the Forbes November 2007 estimates. The Thrashers probably saw solid revenue growth last year but may very well see a decline in revenue this year (speculation on my part). Even with revenue sharing in $10 million neighborhood it is hard to see how they make any money this season.

The first question was about why the Thrashers did not sign any restricted free agents (RFA) to an offer sheet--"are you afraid of making Brian Burke angry?" (laughter in the room). DW said that most teams would match and that if the player was of high quality it might cost three 1st round picks. Under the current CBA you MUST develop your own players and losing three 1st rounder is simply too much to pay in most cases.

He also spoke to the issue of UFA misses and said that certain cities are more appealing and that "at end of the day the players get to choose" some guys only want to play in Canada or in certain regions. He said all the Southeast Division teams get disrespected to some degree. (blogger editorial comment: Florida landed Stillman, Washington Theodore, Tampa signed what seems like 35 forwards--the division explanation only goes so far. Back in 2005 players wanted to come here because of our young talent, things have changed.) In the case of Brian Campbell, the family is from Ontario and playing for an original six team really meant something to them. He concluded by saying "we have to make this a place where players want to be" which seemed to me to be a tacit admission that it is not right now. "Last year we had a bad year, we're not starting over, but we do have a 'fresh' start."

Later he mentioned that they had been active in targeting some free agents but they were unwilling to add extra years on the end of contracts. "Giving 34 + players five year deals is something we're not going to do." (editorial comment: Hainsey was one of the youngest UFA and I endorse a shift away from signing veterans entering their decline phase. Notice that the Sharks almost never do this.)

Question: If we're rebuilding why didn't we deal more veterans at the deadline? Even if the team sneaked into the playoffs they weren't going anywhere? DW: "The return on the Hossa trade dictated our strategy, if we received mostly draft picks we probably would have made some more trades, but we wanted to give the new guys and the remaining guys a shot at the playoffs even if it was a long shot. I can tell you we didn't turn down any 1st round pick type offers, the offers were for lower picks."

The question about whether Kovalchuk would re-sign or not came up. Someone also suggested that given his plus/minus maybe Kovalchuk shouldn't be kept. There was zero indication from him that they are considering trading Kovalchuk. "He's the most important player on our team and we have to find a way to support him." He indicated that he talked to Kovy while in the head coach hiring process. He said Anderson's style should fit Kovy's love of scoring. But more than scoring Kovy wants to win and we have to do more of that.

Someone asked about being below the salary floor. DW "We're at the floor--well, we will be once you figure Lehtonen's contract. We're at $36-37 million now and Bogosian's incentive clauses will add up to nearly $4 million, we'll probably be in the mid-$40 [million] range." This is another indication that Bogosian is likely to make the team. The only thing about that statement is Bogosian is unlikely to achieve all of those incentive bonuses so his end-of-the-year cap number is highly likely to come in below $4 million even if he has a fantastic season.

Perhaps the most distressing part of the morning for me was when someone said "I understand that the team doesn't want to make crazy offers to UFA, but surely there is someone out there who could have improved our collection of forwards?" In response Don Waddell said they were still looking at C and RW free agents. Then he ticked off the roster of forwards. A short version of it went like this: "Kozlov-should be better, Christensen-should be better with more opportunity, Perrin--could improve, Todd White--should be better, Chris Thorburn--showed us he can play at a higher level, etc."

Editorial Comment: essentially he emphasized the upside of every returning forward. I assume this was a bit of rose colored glasses for the season ticket holders but and not an accurate picture of the organization's internal risk/reward assessement. His answer didn't include any of the downside risks at all such as, Perrin (I love him) probably had a career year and will be hard pressed to top it. Or the possibility that Kozlov will continue the downwards trend towards Zhitnikville as he gets closer to 40.

Someone asked if the NHL could intervene like the NBA recently did to try and facilitate a settlement in the dispute between ownership. DW indicated that both the NHL and the NBA have encouraged the litigants to reach a settlement and it was not for a lack of trying.

Then we got to the big ball of wax question by the poster DucksThrashers of SmirkinChicken. The heart of the question went something like this: "After ten years at the helm you have very little success with the Thrashers and the US Olympic team--either you're the unluckiest GM in the business--or you're just not up to the task. Why should you still have a job?"

The answer went on for a while. He began by saying that they had been unlucky in some instances such as the Snyder death, then he started talking about Curt Fraser and Bob Hartley as his head coachs--this part I found confusing because it seemed like he might be saying that the coaches hadn't gotten the most out of his roster--then Anderson interjected and said something like "finally he made the right choice for coach" which got some laughs in tense room. After that Waddell regrouped and shifted away from coaches and said "fans don't like to hear this but we are a business and I'm upfront and I've made some moves that worked and some that didn't but we've never miss our budget. Some organizations take on huge contracts with big long term risks and I've always been very conscious about balacing our needs today with needs five years down the road. I've been conservative, maybe too conservative at times about making a big move. I guess if anything you could say I've been too cautious." Editorial comment: full credit to DucksThrashers for asking the question that needed to be asked. I found DW's respone that he has been too cautious to be accurate, but after seeing the team do very little this off season--so far--there is no evidence that he is breaking with that pattern in terms of fixing the team's significant needs.

Believe it not, there were even more things said but theses were the things that struck me as most interesting. Next I'll post some things that Coach John Anderson said.

I want to finish with this final note. I think the Thrashers really needed to get some of this stuff out there. I know many fans were very curious about what the organization was thinking after we came up mostly empty in free agency after hearing some big talk at the townhall meeting last spring. Question on salary cap, re-signing Kovalchuk and other things needed to be addressed.