Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

THE CONTENDER: Craig Ramsay

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KEVIN CHEVELDAYOFF has made no secret of his desire to find a coach who wants to play an up-tempo brand of hockey that will have fans at the MTS Centre sliding to the front of their seats with each puck possession.

Systems built exclusively around the trap or the left-wing lock, frankly, simply aren't appealing to the new Winnipeg GM.

Knowing all that, some may think that would immediately eliminate Craig Ramsay -- former winner of the Frank J. Selke award for his defensive prowess -- from the head-coaching picture.

Think again, hockey fans.

Consider the following, for debate:

Back in the day Ramsay teamed up with Don Luce and Danny Gare to provide the Buffalo Sabres with one of the more-potent lines in their history. Gare had 56 goals in 1979-80 and Ramsay, while indeed paying attention to his defensive responsibilities, scored 20 or more goals in eight consecutive seasons.

Dustin Byfuglien led all NHL defencemen in goals last year with 20 and finished fourth among D-men in points with 53; teammate Tobias Enstrom was tied for fifth among defencemen with 51 points.

Atlanta finished 20th in goals for last season, averaging 2.66 per game but was only 18 goals shy of being in the Top 10 in that category.

Captain Andrew Ladd led the team in scoring (29 goals, 30 assists); Bryan Little was a plus player (+11) for the first time in his four-year career while Evander Kane continued to morph into one of the game's rising stars with 43 points in 73 games.

A couple other issues which work in Ramsay's favour while the True North hockey department scans resumés and does interviews -- 1) The 60-year-old hockey veteran has the support of Ladd, who said last week he enjoyed playing for him and, 2) No one would understand which buttons to push with the current personnel than the man who guided them to a 34-36-12 record under some difficult circumstances last winter.

Indeed, one of the biggest selling points for Ramsay might simply be that not only were the young Thrashers winning their division at one point last year, the team -- while struggling in the second half -- did stay in the playoff hunt until April while the uncertainty swirling around the franchise hovered like an enormous black cloud. That alone should have earned Ramsay an interview and maybe some sort of hockey purple heart.

Ramsay, at the very least, will get the chance to state his case as to why he should keep his job.

"We are going to talk," Ramsay told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week. "It's weird, but it is what it is. This whole situation is a bit awkward. Kevin (Cheveldayoff) was good to talk to and we'll see what we can get done."

-- Ed Tait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2011 C2

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