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Thrashers done, coach Anderson's future uncertain
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DULUTH — Atlanta general manager Don Waddell believes his job is safe despite the Thrashers missing the playoffs again.

“Oh, I think I’ll be back for sure,” Waddell said Sunday. “We do have to figure some things out. Like I said, we’re disappointed we’re not playing next week, but I do think we made strides this year, 100 percent.”

The future of second-year coach John Anderson, however, seems shaky. Waddell twice cited Atlanta’s struggles in either losing or earning just one point in 28 of 45 one-goal games.

Despite trading franchise scoring leader Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey after the captain declined a maximum NHL contract offer in February, Waddell indicated the Thrashers still had enough talent to make the playoffs.

“We’re going to evaluate everything,” Waddell said. “We will start this week, look at everything, talk to ownership, get some direction from there.”

Anderson was not available to speak with The Associated Press, but longtime center Slava Kozlov, a healthy scratch in 26 of the team’s last 31 games, thought the coaching staff did a poor job of communicating with players and just as bad in game-planning.

“They have to take responsibility because I think ownership did everything right, signed good players, have a good goalie, good defense,” Kozlov said. “But some things were missing, and I think they were missing from the coaching staff. They have fun, but unfortunately in the NHL you have to work. You have to prepare for every game. There’s a lot of good teams in the NHL.”

Waddell, the team’s only general manager in its 12-year history, has put together just one playoff roster — the 2005-06 team that won the Southeast Division but was swept in the first round by the New York Rangers.

Kovalchuk, considered the franchise cornerstone since he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2001, joined Andrew Brunette, Marc Savard, Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa among the prolific scorers that Waddell couldn’t keep in Atlanta.

High draft picks like goaltender Kari Lehtonen, forward Alex Bourret, defenseman Braydon Coburn and center Patrik Stefan are no longer with the team. Defenseman Boris Valabik has played in just 80 games since Waddell drafted him in 2004.

Waddell believes, however, that rookie forward Evander Kane, the No. 4 overall pick, and defenseman Zach Bogosian, the third overall pick in 2008, are potential All-Stars.

The Kovalchuk deal brought defenseman Johnny Oduya, forwards Niclas Bergfors and Patrice Cormier and a first-round pick to Atlanta. Trades in early March landed forward Clarke MacArthur from Buffalo and Evgeny Artyukhin from Anaheim.

“I think we did make some strides this year,” Waddell said. “I know we’ve heard that before, but we did finish above .500, which is something we haven’t been able to do.”

A leadership void seemingly contributed to the team’s struggles. With Kovalchuk gone and Kozlov benched, Waddell turned to defenseman Chris Chelios, recalling the 48-year-old last month from AHL Chicago.

“After we traded Ilya, I told the team that everybody’s going to be writing us off,” Waddell said. “But I think we saw some guys step up like Nik Antropov. Then you’ve got guys like Ron Hainsey, (Pavel) Kubina who had opportunities to step up and didn’t.”

According to Kozlov, Anderson could have done more to improve the young players’ chances of success. Particularly glaring was Bryan Little’s production drop as the 12th overall pick of 2006 went from 31 goals last season to 13 this season.

“Our young players, they come here and they can do whatever they want,” Kozlov said. “They’ve got no role models. I played in Detroit and I played with some great players. I learned a lot from them.”

The 37-year-old Kozlov, who faces unrestricted free agency after 536 career games with Atlanta, also thought Anderson’s game strategy suffered.

“They tell us it was going to work, but unfortunately everybody knows what we’re going to do,” Kozlov said. “On our breakouts, we make two, three passes in our zone. We don’t beat anybody, and I saw that in (last week’s 3-0 home loss to the Devils).
New Jersey just waiting in neutral zone. We make three passes in our zone, (or) we make a mistake in the neutral zone and they are on a break.”
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