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Thursday, December 26
Fraser fourth coach to be fired this season

Associated Press

DULUTH, Ga. -- In 3½ years, Curt Fraser couldn't win with the team built by general manager Don Waddell.

Thu., Dec. 26
The Atlanta Thrashers got off to such a bad start (winless in their first 10 games), it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Curt Fraser would be the first coach to be let go this season. Then they got on a bit of a run, only to settle back into their mediocre ways.

I think general manager Don Waddell was waiting to see if the Thrashers could go on a stretch that would close the gap between them and not only teams in their division and conference, but teams in their category such as the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild.

Similar to Columbus, Atlanta made offseason moves by bringing in Slava Kozlov, Richard Smehlik, and Uwe Krupp. In Fraser's defense Smehlik and Krupp have been hurt most of the year, so there hasn't been a true indication of what those players can do to help them.

With the worst record in the NHL, it will be interesting to see what the Thrashers next move will be. But I'm not surprised. The Thrashers dug themselves such a deep hole, it was just a matter of time until Fraser was let go.

Now Waddell gets a chance.

Fraser was fired Thursday as coach of the Atlanta Thrashers, who have the worst record in the NHL. He has been the only coach in the team's history.

Waddell will be the interim head coach when the Thrashers play at Carolina on Friday. Waddell's only previous coaching experience was in the minor leagues a decade ago, when he was coach and GM in San Diego.

"I think we all have to be held accountable,'' Waddell said. "I'll tell the players today when we meet that they got a good guy, a good person, fired.''

Fraser is the fourth NHL coach to be dismissed since the start of the season, following Darryl Sutter (San Jose), Greg Gilbert (Calgary) and Bob Hartley (Colorado).

Hours later the Hawks, a team also owned by AOL Time-Warner, fired coach Lon Kruger.

Waddell said he made his decision Tuesday, a day after Atlanta lost 5-1 to Toronto.

"Talking with Curt ... he was devastated after that loss,'' Waddell said. "This is probably the toughest business decision I've ever made. He's a good friend of mine, a good person.''

Assistant coach Tim Bothwell also was fired. Goaltending coach Steve Weeks will help Waddell as an assistant coach, and defenseman Uwe Krupp will act as an assistant while on injured reserve.

Waddell said there was no timetable for hiring a permanent replacement, and the new coach will have the opportunity to hire his own assistants.

"The bottom line is we have to win more games,'' said forward Dany Heatley, last year's Rookie of the Year. "It's going to come down to us anyway. You can bring in whoever you want, but bottom line, it's going to come down to these 20 guys in this room. We've got to do it.''

Atlanta is 8-20-1-4 this season, and Fraser leaves with a record of 64-173-31-15.

After an encouraging November, in which the team went 6-6-0-0, the Thrashers faded to 2-6-0-3 in December. Waddell said the players may have begun ignoring Fraser during the recent skid.

"He tried everything with the guys, the message just wasn't getting through,'' Waddell said. "The players start tuning the coach out.''

That may have been the case after Atlanta blew late two-goal leads and lost in overtime -- first at Washington on Dec. 5 and then against Carolina at home last Friday.

"They're unacceptable,'' Waddell said, referring to those losses. "You can't lose a game when you have a two-goal lead in the third period.''

The Thrashers had higher expectations this year after acquiring Shawn McEachern and Vyacheslav Kozlov to complement young stars Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk.

But the new combination never worked, and the Thrashers started the season 0-8-0-1. The team signed free-agent goaltender Byron Dafoe in November, but the defense continued to be shoddy, allowing a league-high 124 goals.

That's where Waddell plans to make most of the changes.

"We're going to be a little more aggressive defensively,'' he said. "We lose some of those 1-on-1 battles in our end, so let's try to out-man the other team.''

Atlanta also added free-agent defensemen Richard Smehlik and Krupp, but both have spent a good part of this season on injured reserve.

"Was it all his fault? No,'' center Tony Hrkac said. "And if we keep on doing this, it's going to start with the players. It's a tough situation for everybody.''

The 44-year-old Fraser played 12 years in the NHL with Vancouver, Chicago and Minnesota. He was hired by the Thrashers after a successful coaching career in the minors at Milwaukee and Orlando.

"We got as much as we could out of Curt,'' Waddell said.

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