Jim Neveau, NHL Correspondent
The Atlanta Thrashers, currently struggling to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race, made a couple of low-key moves on Monday morning. They re-signed defenseman Mark Stuart to a new three-year contract, keeping their newly acquired defenseman in the fold for the foreseeable future. They also acquired Radek Dvorak from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Niclas Bergfors and Patrick Rissmiller.
Atlanta’s thinking on the Stuart deal definitely mirrors the situation that the Senators found themselves in with defenseman Chris Phillips. Stuart can definitely be considered more of a stay-at-home defenseman, and he definitely fits in well with the Thrashers because of their more mobile blue liners like Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom. The contract is very fair, with a $1.7 million cap hit, and it definitely shows that GM Rick Dudley is serious about upgrading this team on the defensive side of the puck.
The Dvorak trade is more of a head-scratcher to be sure, but not because of the decision to acquire Radek specifically. The Thrashers decided to give up on the 23-year old Bergfors, who has shown flashes of brilliance but nothing sustained as of this point. He scored 11 goals and dished out 18 assists so far in 52 games this season, and while those numbers aren’t anything to write home about, his cap hit of $900,000 a season definitely wasn’t bankrupting the team for that kind of production. He is headed toward restricted free agency this off-season, but he isn’t going to be in line for a huge raise and could be a good asset a little further down the road.
Dvorak is currently making $1.7 million, but he will be a free agent after this season so the Thrashers certainly are looking at him to be a short-term rental to bolster them in the penalty killing area. He isn’t a huge offensive guy, scoring only seven goals and picking up 14 assists in 53 games this year, but that’s not why Atlanta picked him up.
These two moves paint a pretty clear picture of what Rick Dudley is wanting to do with his team. The Stuart extension fits in line with the moves to lock in several key players moving forward for the Thrashers, including Byfuglien’s new contract and the new deal that they are hammering out with captain Andrew Ladd. The acquisition of Dvorak is a good one for their weak penalty killing unit, and while giving up Bergfors probably was a little too high of a price for that upgrade, shedding a player who isn’t living up to expectations isn’t something that fans can really begrudge their GM for doing.
Stay tuned for continuing trade deadline day coverage on The Hockey Writers.
UPDATE: The Thrashers weren’t done dealing after picking up Dvorak, picking up Rob Schremp off of waivers from the New York Islanders. He has scored 10 goals and dished out 12 assists in 45 games so far this season for the Isles, but he has struggled with his consistency at times as well.
The hope in Atlanta is that he will find his groove on the offensive side of the puck, and at only 24 years of age, it could be a sneaky good pickup for Dudley to bring him into the fold.