Hartley shown the door after franchise-worst start

Updated: October 17, 2007, 9:17 PM ET
Associated Press

ATLANTA -- A six-game losing streak to start this season put Bob Hartley's job in danger. A quick ouster in last season's playoffs did not help his cause.

Hartley was fired Wednesday as coach of the Atlanta Thrashers, the only NHL team without a victory. General manager Don Waddell will coach the team until a replacement is found.

Waddell said the Thrashers were playing as if they have not recovered from losing four straight games to the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs last season.

"The emotions were so high last year going into the playoffs and we went out quickly, and to be honest I don't know if we've recovered from that yet," Waddell said. "If you look, we've lost 10 games in a row now, including the last four last year. That's where I believe a change has to be made."

Waddell said he has no timetable for a hiring and indicated he may look for a coach who is less intense than Hartley.

"Maybe we've got to back off a little bit and let the players have some fun in the game," Waddell said.

"Certainly Bob has been here a long time. ... We weren't getting the most, particularly out of our veteran players, and that was a concern," he said.

Hartley didn't attend Wednesday's news conference, but the team released a statement on his behalf later in the day.

"I was excited to enter the season and face the challenge of building on the success of last year, but things just didn't come together as we anticipated," Hartley said. "I dedicated myself to helping this team reach its potential, and I understand the decision following our disappointing start."

Michael Gearon Jr., who represented the ownership group at the announcement, said there was great concern the team was losing all momentum gained from winning the Southeast Division last season and making its first playoff appearance. The Thrashers have been outscored 27-9, including a 4-0 loss at Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

"From our perspective, it's important to see progress," Gearon said. "From the start of this season we're not seeing that.

"This is an important time for the franchise. It's not taking one step forward last year and two steps backward. The point is to keep moving forward and to be competitive for a long time."

Added Gearon: "Clearly, there needed to be a change."

Waddell was 4-5-1 as an interim coach after he fired Curt Fraser during the 2002-03 season. Waddell then hired Hartley.

The GM indicated this interim coaching stint could last longer.

"The last time you could sense that something was probably happening," Waddell said, referring to the firing of Fraser. "Six games into the year, I certainly wasn't preparing for that decision to be made today."

Waddell wouldn't rule out the possibility he could coach for the rest of the season.

"I'm never going to say it's not a possibility," he said. "We're not going to hire a coach just for the sake of hiring a coach."

Hartley, who won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001, was 136-123-32 with Atlanta.

Waddell said he spoke with team owners Wednesday morning and met with Hartley after reaching the decision.

"It was a big shock," Thrashers defenseman Garnet Exelby told The Associated Press. "I don't think anybody really who saw this happen this morning wasn't surprised. It's only been six games in the season."

Waddell, however, said Hartley was not surprised.

"He thanked me for the opportunity. ... We've become pretty good friends during that time and that's not going to change. He's a competitor. He was very disappointed of course. But he's a competitor and he'll bounce back."

Waddell knows he is under pressure to win.

"Since the day I was hired, my job is on the line," he said. "You are brought in here to have success. We started building something. I think we have something good going and I still believe that."

The players also feel the pressure.

"Sometimes changes need to be made," Exelby said. "At the same time, it tells all of us it's a big wake-up call and we need to fix this."

Added forward Marian Hossa: "We know we're in a deep hole, but the good thing is that it's just the beginning of the season. You can't blame the coach for everything. But it's always easier to replace the coach than 22 players."

It was clear after Tuesday night's loss to Philadelphia that Hartley was aware that he might soon be out.

"You know what? If anyone is not satisfied with the team effort, I don't agree," Hartley said. "I think those boys work hard. ... Let's keep working, let's get a couple of breaks going our way and we're going to turn this thing around."

"The last thing that those guys need right now is to be hard on them," he added. "It's hard enough right now. When people don't have great confidence you don't step on them. I'm part of this. We have to find solutions, we have lots of young players, we have lots of new faces, and to get in those guys face and to start yelling and throwing stuff, I think that we would go backward."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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