Zach Bogosian's growth comes with pain
ATLANTA -- Thrashers GM Rick Dudley was a minor league coach in the Los Angeles Kings' organization when the Kings acquired Wayne Gretzky in the summer of 1988, so he knows whereof he speaks when he says anyone can be traded.
But let's be clear, the Thrashers are not shopping blue-chip defensive prospect Zach Bogosian, and it will be a major shock -- repeat major shock -- if the struggling Thrashers move the third overall pick in 2008.
When rival GMs call, "I tell them, I'm not offering him up if that's what you're calling about. But if you want to make an offer go ahead," Dudley told ESPN.com.
That said, has it been all sweetness and light when it comes to Bogosian's development?
No. And those issues, including being benched and dropping down the team's depth chart, are likely what led other GMs to kick the tires on Bogosian's availability in recent days.
Head coach Craig Ramsay acknowledged Wednesday there have been issues with Bogosian's learning curve under a new coaching staff. And there has been some conflict with assistant coach John Torchetti, who deals with the team's defensemen.
"I don't think that John is mean to him. I don't think he's overly vocal with him. I think John is just trying to do what he thinks is best for Zach and for everyone," Ramsay said.
"I trust John to pass on the appropriate information in the appropriate way. I think misunderstandings occurred that have been dealt with and I see nothing but good things," the coach said.
For his part, Bogosian didn't have much to say about his relationship with Torchetti, who joined Ramsay's staff this past offseason after being behind the bench with the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks last year.
"It's between me and him," Bogosian told ESPN.com this week.
"It's not a huge deal where I'm losing any sleep over it," he added.
Bogosian, big, strong and fleet of foot, admitted this season has been trying.
"It has been an up-and-down year for me," he said.
Byfuglien and Enstrom are first and second in team scoring with a combined 83 points and, when healthy, dominate the power-play time allotted by the Thrashers' coaching staff.
For a guy who's used to being one of the best players on any team on which he's played, that dynamic has been sobering for Bogosian.
With Enstrom out with a broken finger, Bogosian has been asked to do more and he has responded, Ramsay said.
In the team's last game, a loss to Toronto, Ramsay said he thought Bogosian looked as good as he has all year.
"I think he understands, I hope he understands, I believe he understands that we're only here to make him better. That's our only thought. We don't show him mistakes because we want him to be a bad player. We want him to understand how small the differences can be that would prevent those errors and would allow him to have some fun," Ramsay said.
So now what?
One rival GM said of Dudley, you're never going to be able to beat him on a trade because he knows too many players. That means if a team wants Bogosian, it will have to come up with an asset that would be equal in terms of age/potential. For instance, if the Los Angeles Kings wanted Zach Bogosian, a deal would almost certainly have to include top prospect Brayden Schenn.
The Thrashers' history is littered with poor draft choices and poor decisions on player development. But rest assured if Zach Bogosian ends up being moved, it's because Dudley doesn't think Bogosian will develop here and that the GM feels he can get full value in return in terms of age and potential.
Beyond Bogosian, though, you can fully expect Dudley to look for ways to improve his club as the Thrashers try to pull out of a slide that has seen them win just twice in their past 13 games.
Dudley said ownership has been receptive to changes that may need to be made to this roster, including adding salary.
It would stand to reason that Dudley will be talking to Toronto GM Brian Burke about former Chicago Blackhawk Kris Versteeg, a former rookie of the year nominee who was part of the Hawks' Cup run last spring.
Certainly Dudley would like to add a top-six forward to help spread the burden among the team's forwards. And if he could find a defenseman to play 20 minutes a night to spread out the burden on guys like Byfuglien and Enstrom, that would be OK too.