Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Rick Dudley talks about his uncertain future, and the future of Winnipeg's new team

Posted by: Michael Russo under Vikings draft, Wild off-season news Updated: June 2, 2011 - 11:57 AM
It’s been a weird couple days for Rick Dudley.
In a few hours Tuesday, he went from being the Atlanta Thrashers general manager to not knowing if he was still the Winnipeg/Manitoba ---------- general manager.
He hasn’t talked yet with True North Sports & Entertainment, which has purchased the Thrashers from Atlanta Spirit and plans on relocating the franchise to Winnipeg once the NHL’s Board of Governors approve the sale and relocation June 21.
Tuesday night, I got a text to meet Dudley in the hotel lobby here in Toronto. When I found him, Dudley was chatting in a corner with the hotel’s manager, who was about to escort him out of the hotel through the back to dodge the numerous cameras and reporters who were camped out in front of the hotel waiting for him.
Dudley is one of the most accommodating NHL executives around when it comes to being accessible to the press. So you knew this wasn’t easy. But Dudley also knew he wouldn’t have answers for the questions thrown his way.
Plus, even more awkwardly, Dudley was about to take his staff -- many of which were wearing Thrashers polos – for dinner. They had a lot of questions, too, about their futures, answers Dudley also would not have at his arsenal.
So it’s been a weird couple days for Dudley.
In the next couple days, the veteran NHL executive and talent evaluator expects to sit down with the new Winnipeg group to find out what the future entails for him and his entire staff – from his office workers, to his scouts, to his coaches.
After recently signing an extension, Dudley has four more years left on his contract.
He’ll be OK.
But he’s worried about his staff, and he wants to continue what he feels he’s started to build in Winnipeg.
 
In the late afternoon yesterday, I sat down with Dudley to talk his expertise – the draft. But I also asked him a few questions about Winnipeg and the future. Here’s Dudley on a couple subjects:
 
--On how hard it was to concentrate Tuesday on the draft and conduct business as usual: “I thought the staff was unbelievable yesterday. We stayed focused on the draft list, stayed focused on the interviews [with prospects]. I thought they did a wonderful job, and I commend them for that, because it’s not easy. And I’ve been through a lot more than they’ve ever been through this kind of stuff as you know. But I thought the guys were wonderful.” Russo note: Dudley is referring to being fired in Tampa and replaced by his assistant GM, Jay Feaster, and then in Florida, where he won a power struggle with coach Mike Keenan but ultimately lost when Keenan bizarrely returned as GM in a Jacques Martin tagteam.
 
--On how much he wants to see this through: “That’s the only frustrating thing. You get tired of building things and not being there. This is one I really believe in. I believe this is a wonderful hockey team that’s just a couple pieces away from being an elite team. I guess if you’re not there for that again, it’d probably be the third time that that’s happened. It would be the third time. That would be a little frustrating to be quite candid.” Russo note: The previous two times: When Tampa won a Cup in 2004 with largely the team he built and when Chicago won a Cup in 2010; he had left to become Atlanta’s associate GM in 2009 after spending five years as Chicago’s assistant GM.
 
--You’ve said previously though that you didn’t care about not getting rings: “No, that’s very true. I was glad that Dale [Tallon] got a ring from Chicago. That was a good thing. But you’re right, my joy comes from building. When I see it coming together, I get more out of that than maybe even the fruition of it. I know that’s hard to understand, but it’s reality. I like to build. When I signed this contract, I knew I had one more building job left in me. And that’s what I mean. I’d like to see it through because I think we’re on our way. It’s a young, very talented team. For half a season, we were one of the top teams in the NHL. I think I can explain what happened [in the second half]. We’ve done a pretty good analysis of it. I’m not going to get into it, but we think that team’s capable of big things and it really boils down to the consistency of three or four players, and we think that can be built into a culture. If we made a mistake last year, it’s that we allowed the culture to slip a bit, and it cost us.”
 
--The last 30 games of your NHL career were spent in Winnipeg. Did you like it? “I loved Winnipeg. I just remember the fans were great fans. I’d come from Buffalo, which was pretty good. I went to Winnipeg and they were passionate people. What I remember the most, the team that I went to was last place in the NHL. I remember the fans still came out. They were so excited. If you were a Winnipeg Jet, you were a big deal. That I do remember.”
 
One’s got to think the new ownership group in Winnipeg will want to keep Dudley on board. The guy’s got immense experience and he’s an incredible talent evaluator. That’s a pretty good thing to inherit for a new team. In other words, I've got think they'll think, "why would we want to pay him not to work for us?" One add: Although there is some question out there as to who would actually be on the hook for Dudley's contract if he's not retained -- True North or Atlanta Spirit.
 
Couple other things:
 
--Later today, the Wild and Fox Sports North is expected to announce the details for the 2012 Hockey Day Minnesota on Jan. 21. The host city will be Excelsior, and three games will be played on Lake Minnetonka, including Minnetonka vs. Duluth East boys, White Bear Lake vs. Grand Rapids boys and Minnetonka vs. Hopkins girls.
 
When the full details come out, I will post a new blog.
 
I got a couple questions last week from fans wondering where I thought 2009 sixth-round pick Darcy Kuemper would have been drafted if he had not signed with the Wild and instead re-entered the draft. I had no clue, but I asked a bunch of scouts here at the combine, and the consensus has been mid-second to mid-third round. The Wild basically gave him a package you'd get if you were a second-round pick.
 
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