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(updated) Koivu to have knee surgery; Russo undefeated after Opening Night of playoffs; Dudley to steer Thrashers, Torchetti next coach?

  • Blog Post by: Michael Russo
  • April 15, 2010 - 11:19 AM

Sorry, meant defeated, not undefeated. Yup, off to an 0-4 start in terms of predictions, which is about par for the course for moi.

What an opening night of the playoffs! This is why you play the games. Four games, four upsets, and don't tell me Detroit's a lower seed than Phoenix.

Four games, four upsets. I'm in a playoff pool with a bunch of hockey writers. Apparently none of us even had a winning goalie last night.

Good thing I was in Minnesota and not Vegas last night, or I'd be crawling home without my shirt or selling my plasma.

Ottawa waxes Pittsburgh in a first-game hiccup by Marc-Andre Fleury. New Jersey just had nothing going against division rival Philadelphia, and is now 1-6 against the Flyers this year. Phoenix beats Detroit in front of a rabid home crowd, which was great to see, and Colorado, which played a strong game, scores the winner with 49.3 seconds left when Chris Stewart's centering feed from the corner banks in off Rob Blake's skate.

Four good games, although the Coyotes should consider themselves lucky the refs didn't see Nick Lidstrom's face get hacked late. That would have been a double minor, and with the game at 4-on-4 at the time, it would have been a 4-on-3 to start the power play. I'd put my money on the Wings in that situation.

Can't wait until tonight. I'm thinking higher-seeded Washington, Buffalo and Vancouver were given a very good wakeup call.

Today, by the way, is the greatest day of the year. No, not because it's tax day.

It's free coffee at Starbucks Day (bring your own mug)! I'm writing this from my sixth Starbucks already  

There will be a trickling of Wild news in the next few days. A couple more players are undergoing different surgeries to clean some stuff up, as GM Chuck Fletcher says. I know a couple of 'em, but I'll wait until I get the full list before publishing.

I did get a text from Mikko Koivu, and he confirmed reports in Finland that he's undergoing knee surgery tomorrow (Friday). He alluded last week that he was having something done. I assumed it was his elbow -- the latest injury, but he didn't want to comment until he knew for sure if he'd have to have surgery. He says it's nothing major ("It shouldn't be too bad"). He said the knee injury happened in November. I recall an incident in a game where he injured his leg, and he missed practice the next day, but I can't seem to find it in a search. He did hurt his knee in a collision with Andrew Brunette in training camp, but I don't think it's related.

There will be a few other Wild surgeries announced soon, and I'll also try to confirm through team that Koivu's surgery is indeed nothing major.

The Atlanta Thrashers made some news yesterday by promoting Rick Dudley to GM, promoting Don Waddell upstairs and firing their coaching staff. This was set into motion last summer when Dudley left his job as assistant GM with the Blackhawks. This is why he became "associate GM," and took the No. 2 in Atlanta as opposed to the No. 3 in Toronto.

He knew he'd be GM. It was just obvious, which is why after I interviewed Dudley on KSTP in January during the radio show I guest hosted, I made the comment on the air to Lavelle Neal afterward, "I think we'll find out very soon after the season that he's the next GM of the Thrashers."

Dudley was actually an influence to Fletcher's career. Here's the lead to a Q&A I did with Fletcher last September:

In 2002, Chuck Fletcher was expecting to shed the interim tag and become the Florida Panthers' general manager.

Next thing he knew, Rick Dudley was brought in as Florida's GM, and soon after, Fletcher was out.

"Leaving Florida, Rick Dudley gave me the best advice I've ever gotten in hockey," said Fletcher, now 42 and the Wild's first-year GM. "He advised me that people around the league perceived me to be more of a contract, administrative, office type of person and in order for me to advance my career, I needed to scout more, see more games and form my own opinions on players."

Bryan Murray, the former Panthers GM, hired Fletcher in Anaheim to oversee pro scouting and the Ducks' farm team, beginning Fletcher's path to gaining more respect around the NHL.

"I remember one year in Anaheim, I was gold status on three different airlines -- Delta, Air Canada and Northwest," Fletcher said. "Some months I was gone 26 nights."

Fletcher, a Harvard graduate, grew up inside the sport as the son of Hall of Fame executive Cliff Fletcher, getting a front-row seat while his father built the 1989 Stanley Cup champion Calgary Flames. He then went with the Panthers to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, came within a victory of winning the 2003 Stanley Cup as Anaheim's assistant GM and got to spend a day with the Cup last month (and Thursday afternoon at the White House) thanks to the Penguins winning it all in June a few weeks after Fletcher gave up his role as assistant GM to become the Wild's second-ever GM.

Finally, after 17 years of soaking up execs like Murray, Bobby Clarke, Bill Torrey, Brian Burke and Ray Shero, Fletcher has his first team.

Dudley is one of the game's great talent evaluators. He built the Tampa Bay Lightning's Cup team even though he doesn't have a ring to show for it and Dale Tallon credits Dudley for helping him rebuild the Blackhawks. This could be a very good move for the future of the Thrashers.

Next up Dudley will hire a coach. The top contender in my opinion is Blackhawks assistant coach John Torchetti, who was brought into Tampa Bay, Florida and Chicago because of Dudley and played for Dudley on the old ACHL Carolina Thunderbirds. Torchetti was nearly hired a few times by the old Wild regime to coach Houston. He's a former interim head coach of the Panthers and Kings.

On those Thunderbird teams Dudley coached, he used to also drive the bus. From a 2002 feature I wrote on Dudley, Torchetti told me this: "I used to stay up talking hockey with him until 3 or 4 in the morning while he was driving the bus," Torchetti said, laughing. "I learned so much from him about conditioning, demeanor behind a bench, how to deal with players, the hard work needed to win and loyalty.

"Loyalty is what hockey is all about."

Dudley has an immense amount of respect for Torchetti, a true player's coach, tactician and teacher.

You can bet Dudley will be interested in talking to Boston Bruins assistant coach Craig Ramsay, too. When Dudley managed Florida, Dudley fired Mike Keenan and took over behind the bench. But he tried incessantly to get Jay Feaster and the Lightning to let Ramsay come across Alligator Alley to coach the Panthers. Feaster wouldn't allow that (division rival, in the middle of the year -- were the obvious reasons), so Dudley replaced himself with Torchetti (coincidentally, that story broke while I was here in Minneapolis for the All-Star Game -- I edited pretentious clause, ha).

But Dudley gushes over Ramsay.

Until these teams are eliminated in the playoffs though, you can bet the Thrashers' coaching job will be on hold.

I bet you never thought you'd get so much Thrashers info on a Wild blog. Hey, it's the offseason and I wanted to freshen up the blog.

OK, have to go. Christmas Vacation is on.

Meant to toss this up: Thanks to a reader for passing it along, but here's a really good Wall Street Journal piece about the resurrection of the Los Angeles hockey fan base.

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