Hockey

Thrashers fire Fraser

The Atlanta Thrashers fired head coach Curt Fraser Thursday and replaced him on an interim basis with general manager Don Waddell.

The struggling club made the announcement at a Thursday afternoon press conference. The Thrashers also revealed that assistant coach Steve Weeks will remain with the team.

"The decision to make this coaching change has been the most difficult one I've had to make in my hockey career," said Waddell.

"Curt has been the leader of this club behind the bench and in the community the past three-plus seasons. He has given us everything we've asked for and so much more, and I can't say enough about how I feel about him personally and professionally.

In order to make our hockey club better, difficult decisions like these have to be made. Even though we've decided to go in a different direction, I feel very strongly that Curt is capable of being a successful coach at this level for a long time."

The last-place Thrashers made the coaching change after compiling an 8-20-1-4 mark and a league-worst 21 points this season.

Fraser had been the Thrashers' only head coach since the team joined the NHL in 1999-2000.

The former Vancouver Canuck guided the Thrashers to a 21-point improvement in 2000-01 with a respectable 23-45-12-2 record in the club's second season. But Atlanta took a step back in 2001-02, posting a 19-47-11-5 mark while finishing last in the Southeast Division. This season had not gone any better Fraser and the Thrashers.

Fraser leaves Atlanta with a 64-173-31-15 record.

The Thrashers have had problems both offensively and defensively during the 2002-03 campaign. Off-season acquisitions Vyacheslav Kozlov and Shawn McEachern have failed to click with the team's young scoring duo of Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley.

Veterans Richard Smehlik and Uwe Krupp, who were both brought into the Thrashers' fold to shore up the defence, have been hampered by injuries this year. Both are currently out of the lineup due to ailments.

Things haven't been much better between the pipes. The big mid-season signing of free-agent netminder Byron Dafoe hasn't helped lift the team out of the NHL basement.

Dafoe has looked average through nine games this season, posting a 2-7-0 record, 3.95 goals-against average and .867 save percentage. To make matters worse, the Atlanta goalie sustained a groin injury right before the holiday break.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Thursday that Darryl Sutter and Bob Hartley, a pair of coaches already fired by NHL teams this season, are the leading candidates to take over the Thrashers' top bench job on a full-time basis.

Sutter was let go by the San Jose Sharks on Dec. 1, while Hartley was relieved of his duties by the Colorado Avalanche last week.

with files from Sports Network

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