Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dudley keen to see job through

Thrashers GM thinks he has a good thing going

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On the second full day of its return to the NHL, True North chairman Mark Chipman and senior vice-president and Manitoba Moose GM Craig Heisinger -- Chipman's hockey point man for years -- went to Toronto to meet with some of the staff from the team they've purchased.

Atlanta Thrashers GM Rick Dudley and several of his scouts were attending the NHL's scouting combine in the Ontario capital.

Chipman and Heisinger returned from Toronto Thursday night and while they no doubt had many words for Dudley and staff, they had none for their fans in Winnpeg.

Both men declined to answer any and all questions about the events of the day.

Efforts to reach Dudley on Thursday were unsuccessful. The Thrashers GM was busy all day with the combine and also with his meeting with Chipman and Heisinger.

Dudley has spoken in person to a few media outlets in recent days and has said he'll be frustrated if he's unable to follow through on the building blocks he has put in place, starting last summer, with the Thrashers team."I believe this is a wonderful hockey team that's just a couple pieces away from being an elite team," Dudley told Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

"I guess if you're not there for that again, it'd probably be the third time that that's happened (including his stints with Tampa Bay and Chicago, both of which became Stanley Cup champions after he left). It would be the third time. That would be a little frustrating to be quite candid.

"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."

Interestingly, the last 30 games of Dudley's pro career -- which included WHA stints with the Cincinnati Stingers and six years with the Buffalo Sabres -- came as a member of the Jets.

"I loved Winnipeg," Dudley told Russo. "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."

True North spokesman Scott Brown was left to field the questions on behalf of the team.

"I won't be any help to you because I'm not part of that," Brown said Thursday night.

Brown did add that he was certain nobody was fired on Thursday.

The new Winnipeg NHL entry has a short time frame to get its hockey department up and running.

The first round of the 2011 entry draft takes place three weeks from tonight in St. Paul, Minn.

It's highly likely that Chipman and Heisinger have a week maximum to decide who the key people running the team are going to be.

Chipman said at Tuesday's press conference announcing the purchase of the Thrashers that he had been solely focused on the transaction and that he had devoted not a minute to the hockey issues, considering that the cart before the horse.

He also said Tuesday that he then owed it to Dudley, someone he's known since the Manitoba Moose's days in the IHL, to get together with him as soon as possible

It's believed that True North had been urged to begin those discussions with the Thrashers hockey department while negotiations were proceeding prior to Tuesday but that both Chipman and Heisinger felt that to be highly inappropriate before the sale was completed.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

-- with files from Ed Tait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 3, 2011 C2

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