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You can’t fire the players, so the winless Atlanta Thrashers fired the coach Wednesday when Bob Hartley was relieved of his duties behind the bench, making him the first NHL coaching casualty of the young season.
“I felt, watching every game, it wasn’t going to change. And I needed to do something about it,” General Manager Don Waddell said on a conference call with reporters. “I never predicted I’d be making a coaching change six games into the year.”
The Thrashers have not won a game yet this season, and including their first-round playoff loss to the Rangers in the spring, Atlanta lost 10-straight games under Hartley’s watch, including the first six of the new season. The Thrashers slipped to 0-6-0 Tuesday night, but it was even before the final buzzer sounded on that game that Waddell made up his mind.
“Going into last night I was just hoping we would win a game,” Waddell said. “We lost last night 4-0. We played a very good first period and once Philadelphia scored their first goal it was panic mode. I could see we were in big trouble. We gave up two really quick. Witnessing that, I just said this team needs a fresh voice, maybe a fresh face here to take some of the heat off them and let them just go play their game and just go out and have some fun and win a game.”
For now, that new voice and face will belong to Waddell, who will take over for Hartley until a full-time replacement is found. With a busy schedule and the NHL season in full swing, Waddell says he’s willing to wait to find the right guy for the job rather than make a hasty hiring. Therefore, this will be Waddell’s second cameo as head coach after he filled the same position before Hartley was hired to replace Curt Fraser in 2003.
Waddell went 3-5-1 in his nine-game coaching stint four years ago before hiring Hartley, who had won a Stanley Cup in 2001 as head coach of the Colorado Avalanche.
Hartley, Atlanta’s second head coach, posted a 136-123-32 record in his tenure with the Thrashers and guided the franchise to it’s first-ever division title and playoff appearance last spring. Atlanta’s postseason was brief, lasting only four games as they were swept by the Rangers in the first round.
The losing continued into this season with six-straight wins, a league-worst nine goals scored, and Waddell acknowledged that poor playoff showing also played a small part in his decision to replace Hartley this week.
“Certainly we have to be aware of what happened last year, but I really thought that the summertime would heal a lot of that history and the remembrance of it, but obviously it didn’t with some of our players,” Waddell said. “I think last year may have played a small part on how we finished. I felt the direction we’re going right now, the six games, we haven’t played very well. We’ve played well at periods of time, but not for any full 60 minutes of the game. I couldn’t let it go any longer.”
Following a conference call with ownership, Waddell said he made one of the toughest drives he can remember to the rink to let Hartley know.
“It was very emotional for me,” Waddell said. “Like I said, Bob has done a very good job for us and he’s become a very good friend and I had to separate that because at this point I feel – I don’t want to lose him as a friend – but we had to do something to try to help this team. We have a lot of games left. We’ve only played six games. We have 76 games left and we feel like we can salvage the season.”
They’ll begin trying to save their season Thursday against – who else? – the New York Rangers.