The Atlanta Thrashers, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, have asked for and received permission from the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks to speak with assistant coach John Torchetti. The Thrashers have been looking for a replacement coaching staff since cleaning house at the end of the 2009-2010 campaign. The team fired head coach John Anderson and assistant coaches Randy Cunnyworth, Todd Nelson, and Steve Weeks after the team did not perform up to expectations and missed the playoffs for a 9th time.
The owners and general manager were displeased with the fact that the team were unable to focus and mount sufficient pressure on opponents to make up for the few points that they were short. Despite finishing with a winning record - the first since 2006-2007 - the young rookies on the team experienced regression in their play. Don Waddell and Rick Dudley were both very concerned about Zach Bogosian and Bryan Little in particular. Bogosian lead the team in hits and tied a record for goals by a defenseman, but he became a non-scoring factor after the first couple of months of the season, and steadily got bumped down the depth chart to the third paring. He was paired with Ron Hainsey for a vast swath of time despite the very obvious fact that the two had zero chemistry and just weren't playing well together. Anderson refused to tweak his lines at defense, and Bogosian's numbers worsened. Bryan Little, after a rookie campaign of 31 goals, dropped off to just 13, and was a healthy scratch for a couple of games. Little and Bogosian are often named as part of the "young core" of the Thrashers, and the team management was rightly concerned that Evander Kane and the other rookies on the team could follow suit.
Many individuals have been tossed around as possible replacement head coaches, and the ones in serious contention for the job all have a background working with Dudley. Torchetti's been long rumored to be the shoe in for the job, considering the background that he and Dudley share. Torchetti was assistant coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning when Dudley was assistant general manager, and they were also in that very same position with the Florida Panthers.
Torchetti was the coach in charge of Chicago's powerplay. It ranked 16th overall with 17.7% success, and in the playoffs the Blackhawks were first overall with an impressive 22.5% success rate. One can argue that this success can't be compared with the Thrashers' lack of it (25th at 16.1%) due to the superior squad that the 'Hawks iced. That is a valid argument, but it is also worth noting that the Thrashers' powerplay was ranked as high as second in the league at the start of the season, but steadily dropped off over the course of the year before almost recovering after the Kovalchuk trade. The issue with the Atlanta powerplay is that they had a set formation and plan, regardless of the lines out there: pass-pass-fake shot & pass-pass to player at the point-shoot. Every team caught onto this extremely quickly, and it was easy to defend against. if more imagination would have been used to set up the powerplay, Atlanta's would have ranked much higher than it was at the end of the year.
Torchetti has history with Dudley and a new shiny Stanley Cup ring. Let's hope that he, and if he is named coach, the coaching staff he selects, fair better than Anderson and company. The Thrashers are a team with an outstanding young core of talent, and need someone to work with them and foster their development. Torchetti's had experience working with two of the best youngsters in the game in Toews and Kane. Let's see what he can do with Bergfors and, um... our Kane.