TORONTO– The most influential free agent signing this summer by the Toronto Maple Leafs wasn’t even someone who wears a jersey. It in fact was someone who sports a coat and tie. That man is Rick Dudley.
“Within 20 minutes of the time it was announced that I would not be going to Winnipeg, Burkie text me and said would you be interested in joining the Leafs organization? And I said yes,” stated Dudley while evaluating the 42 players at prospect camp. “From there I had probably 12 teams that I would say were quite interested but at the end of the day Toronto made sense.”
“I like the people that work here in the front office. I get along with Brian and I always have. I found David Nonis to be an honest, straight guy,” said Dudley when asked why he chose an organization that’s filled to the brim with management staff. “Obviously the fact that it’s (Toronto) my hometown; it would be fun to have something to do with putting together a winner,” he added with a smile.
Dudley experience and time spent with the game of hockey goes far beyond what we know as the new NHL.
Now 62 years of age, Dudley first entered the NHL as a rookie for the Buffalo Sabres in 1972. After three seasons there, he skated off to the World Hockey Association (WHA) where he would score more than 40 goals in a season on three separate occasions with the Cincinnati Stingers. He returned to the Sabres in 1978 for three more seasons before ending his NHL playing career with the Winnipeg Jets.
“I won a Calder Cup in the American Hockey League (AHL), played in a Stanley Cup final with Buffalo but my memories now centre around the people who have remained good friends over the years,” said Dudley when asked to reflect back on his playing career. “Guys like Donny Luce, Craig Ramsay, Terry Martin; there’s so many. Mostly the guys I played with you remember because their still in the game.”
Although most of his playing memories are based heavily on the relationships he created with past Sabres alumni, one tale that stands out in Dudley’s mind is the relationship he has to 99.
“I was one of three people to wear it,” Dudley said with a laugh.
“I went to Winnipeg from Buffalo and I wore nine in Buffalo. One of the equipment people asked me about 99 so I said sure. I wore it about 10 days and then we went to Edmonton and the fans in Edmonton gave me such a hard time that halfway through the game I thought maybe they’re right and the next game I changed the number.”
Rather than stepping away from the game when his playing career was through, Dudley began coaching almost instantly. He spent time in the Atlantic Coast Hockey League (ACHL), winning three championships in his first four seasons. From there he coached in both the International Hockey League (IHL) and the AHL, and in 1986 made his NHL coaching debut with, you guessed it, the Buffalo Sabres.
Commended by his peers for the amount of effort he puts into the game of hockey, Dudley would eventually move to an executive role with the Ottawa Senators in the late 90’s.
Since then, his titles and organizations have changed many times, but you can’t doubt his track record.
As assistant GM in Chicago, he played a large role in obtaining the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharpe.
Through the draft he landed Florida Nathan Horton and Jay Bouwmeester and, although he was only with Atlanta for one season, he acquired Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien through trade.
When asked about his proudest accomplishments however, it comes under the title of Senior Vice President and GM with Tampa Bay.
“Danny Boyle was a 5th round draft pick who ends up being a superstar. Brad Richards is a guy we drafted 3rd round and much of the organization didn’t want to sign him and I put up enough of a fuss that we did. Marty St Louis had been bought out by the Calgary flames and was on his way to Europe and that one turned out pretty well. Dave Andreychuk at the end of his career, he did exactly what I asked him to do and he changed the culture of the dressing room and that ultimately led to a Stanley cup.”
The list of talent associated with Dudley is large but even he admits not every deal he’s made has gone his way.
“Some didn’t turn out as well as you’d want them to. There have been a lot that were lopsided the other way. There were times when we had to dump money. I had to trade Valeri Bure but we got Mike Van Ryn for him. I like Valeri Bure very much and I regretted trading him but I had to move the money in that situation.”
Being the one to normally make hockey operation decisions, Dudley found himself this past season in an awkward situation. When the Atlanta Thrashers were purchased by True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd, and moved to Winnipeg, he wasn’t considered as part of the Jets future and eventually let go.
Fortunately for Dudley, he understood why.
“You have a situation where there’s a comfort level, or not. In my case I didn’t know Craig Heisinger at all. Kevin Cheveldayoff is a good man and him and Craig go back 25 years. When I went to Atlanta, I became GM there and I hired Craig Ramsay as my coach. I not only knew he was a good coach but he was a good friend for 30 years and those are things that are done. One of the advantages of having experience is that you get to know people and it makes it easier to hire people that you’re comfortable with; but I understand comfort.”
With the likes of Nonis, Claude Loiselle, Dave Poulin and Cliff Fletcher backing up Burke, you may wonder what exactly Dudley will do for the Leafs.
“I know what they want me for. I’m a guy who likes to evaluate and rate players, likes to have some input on trades and things like that. That’s what I expect to be doing. I’ll probably be doing that at the amateur and pro level. Whatever Burkie wants and David (Nonis) wants I’ll do.”
With all the staff that will be sitting in the Leafs press box this season, it seems that Dudley isn’t concerned about finding a seat as he’ll be in and around various arenas scouting talent. But for the record, he won’t be labelled a scout and is looking to only make the situation in Toronto get better.
“No title. I’m a consultant or an advisor. It’s honestly whatever they want.”
Side Notes The third player to wear number 99 was Wilf Paiement. The ACHL eventually merged with another organization and is now known as the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL)
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