Rick Dudley has exercised the “out” in his contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs and joined rival Montreal as an assistant to recently hired general manager Marc Bergevin.
Dudley joined the Leafs management team last June after being let go after three seasons as GM of the Atlanta Thrashers when the team moved to Winnipeg.
"This is a challenge that I wanted," Dudley said on a conference call with reporters Friday. "If it wasn't Marc I'm not sure anything would have happened. I think this will be pretty exciting.
"There are some pieces in place [Montreal] that are obviously very attractive."
Dudley said leaving Toronto for Montreal is a good opportunity and noted that waiting to return to a GM's job wasn't a priority.
"My favourite job … was [working under former Blackhawks GM] Dale [Tallon] in Chicago and watching that grow [to a Stanley Cup title in 2010] and watching that situation," he said. "Watching people like [former Blackhawks assistant GM] Marc Bergevin become excellent executives.
"That was a lot of fun for me for a variety of reasons, mostly because you felt like you were part of something special. And my gut tells me that this will be something special."
Considered one of the best pure talent scouts in the game, Dudley immediately was rumoured to be a candidate to join Bergevin’s staff when the latter was hired earlier this month.
"Rick Dudley is a very knowledgeable and proficient hockey executive and we are pleased to welcome him in our organization in the position of assistant general manager," Bergevin said in a statement released by the team.
"Rick has been actively involved at the management level in the NHL for many years and is one of the league's most respected executives."
The Canadiens also announced a contract extension for Larry Carriere to remain assistant GM.
Dudley, a Toronto native, served as director of player personnel this past season with the Maple Leafs. Of late, he has been heavily involved in Toronto's pre-draft plans and no doubt has scouted the top prospects, including Nail Yakupov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Alex Galchenyuk and Filip Forsberg.
Bergevin has an agreement with the Maple Leafs that Dudley will not work in any capacity for the Canadiens as it pertains to the June 22 draft in Pittsburgh.
The Canadiens draft third overall in Pittsburgh on June 22 and the Leafs fifth.
As for the team Dudley is leaving in Toronto, he said it is closer to playoff contention than some might think, given the Leafs' slide in the second half of the season.
On Feb. 6., they sat sixth in the Eastern Conference but plummeted to 11th place and five points out of both a playoff spot and last-place in the 15-team conference by the end of the month.
Toronto went on to lose a franchise-record 11 straight games on home ice and finished a once-promising campaign 26th of 30 teams with a 35-37-10 record and seventh straight season out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"There's some obvious areas that need to be addressed. They're fully aware of that, they will address it. I think the Leafs are a team that will surprise some people in the very, very near future.
"The [Toronto] Marlies [the Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate] are still playing. They've got five or six kids on that team that are going to contribute at a high level to a good National Hockey League team and I don't think it's far off."
Wealth of experience
Previously, Dudley has been a GM in Chicago, Florida and Tampa Bay.
The former NHL player played a significant role in building the 2004 edition of the Lightning that won the Stanley Cup.
"An outstanding talent evaluator, he has extensive experience as a scout," said Bergevin of Dudley. "The success he enjoyed at all levels throughout his career speaks volumes of his expertise."
Prior to joining an NHL front office, Dudley spent four successful seasons in the International Hockey League, guiding the Detroit Vipers to the Turner Cup in 1997. In all, he has been to eight championship finals in three leagues: IHL, AHL and East Coast Hockey League.
Dudley's NHL playing career spanned seven seasons with the Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres, with whom he later coached. He was also one of only three players in the league to wear No. 99.
Montreal doesn't have to compensate Toronto for Dudley's hiring as the NHL outlawed any such requirement for teams to pay for luring executives and coaches following the 2004-05 lockout.
Carriere joined the Canadiens on July 16, 2010, as assistant GM and was named interim assistant coach during the 2011-12 campaign before returning to his management duties late in the season.
He has 30-plus years of experience in professional hockey, including front-office stints with the Sabres and Washington Capitals.
"I extended Larry because you can never have enough good hockey people," Bergevin said. "Larry here with Rick just makes the Montreal Canadiens such a better [organization]. It was clear from the get-go that these two men were going to be the backbone going forward."
Dudley was a teammate of Carriere, whom he calls a good friend, in the AHL with the Cincinnati Swords in 1972-73 and won a championship.
The Canadiens remain without a head coach after Bergevin, upon his hiring, chose not to retain interim bench boss Randy Cunneyworth. Bergevin said the arrival of Dudley could speed up the search for his successor.
"Rick has [hired coaches before] so he knows the process. I'm sure I'll use his knowledge and experience to help me in the process," said Bergevin.