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Don't Expect Another Bruce Boudreau, Atlanta

When the Atlanta Thrashers hired John Anderson to be the fourth head coach in franchise history last week, much was made of how similar his path to that job was to Bruce Boudreau's journey to his perch behind the Caps' bench.

Both Anderson and Boudreau won multiple championships at lower levels (including the AHL) before getting NHL gigs where they'd coach many of the same players they had in the minors, and the pair are apparently best of friends dating back to their time as teammates on the Toronto Marlboros for two seasons. Without question, Boudreau's success emboldened Thrashers GM Don Waddell to take a chance on Anderson rather than recycling a coach with NHL experience, but is it realistic to expect Anderson to enjoy the immediate success that Boudreau found in D.C.?

No, frankly, it's not.

My buddy The Falconer over at DTHLT? went into some detail as to why the Anderson hiring might not work out, asking some tough questions:
  • Can he motivate NHL players? One of the reasons that Braydon Coburn is wearing a Philadelphia Flyers uniform today is that he looked bad in a Chicago Wolves jersey. If Coburn had played well there he probably would not have been dealt in my opinion. Coburn is hardly the first prospect to get angry about being demoted to the minors. If Anderson can't motivate a 20 year old who wants to get to the NHL how is he going to handle a multi-millionaire veteran who just mails it in?
  • Can he win with less talent? In the old days, the Chicago Wolves spent more on their roster than just about any other franchise. They were the Rangers, Flyers, Red Wings of the AHL. Now to his credit Anderson turned that advantage into regular season wins and playoff championships (something the Rangers and Flyers didn't always do). The question is can he win when he has a talent deficit--nobody knows the answer to that question yet.
  • Can he win without having the best goalie? The Wolves three trips to the AHL Finals all occurred when they had one of the best--if not the best--goalie in the entire AHL. In 2002 they rode Pasi Nurminen to a championship, in 2008 it was Pavaelec and in 2004 Lehtonen got them to the Finals (which they lost to Kari's arch nemesis fellow Finn Antero Nittymaki). In Atlanta Coach Anderson will not have Brodeur, Luongo or Nabokov.
  • Can he improve our defense? Coach Anderson prefers an offensive style of hockey as does the Thrashers GM. But the harsh reality is that the Thrasher defense has been among the NHL's worst for 7 of their 8 years in existence. I am very concerned that the defense will remain as porous under Anderson as it has been under Fraser and Hartley. Without better defense this team is not going to contend for anything.
With those questions yet to be answered, consider that Anderson is inheriting a team that couldn't score or keep pucks out of the net in 2007-08, has just one player on the roster who scored more than 17 goals last season and has little help on the way. Whereas Boudreau inherited a talented but underachieving team playing a brand of hockey which it had out-grown, the ingredients were all there; for Anderson, he's going to be asked to make chicken salad out of chicken poop.

So don't plan that 2009 Jack Adams Award party quite yet, Thrashers fans - John Anderson may be a hell of a coach (or he may not be), but given what Don Waddell has given him to work with, he's probably more likely to be the next Bruce Cassidy than the next Bruce Boudreau.

Oh, and don't even get me started on the guy the clowns down in Tampa Basement are about to hire.