RALEIGH — At last Wednesday’s press conference that announced the hiring of new coach Rod Brind’Amour, Tom Dundon — the Hurricanes’ new owner — cited several reasons for wanting Brind’Amour as his first coaching hire.
“One of the things I liked about him was he wanted it, but he didn’t need the job,” Dundon said.
Furthermore, Dundon talked about the former captain’s dedication to hockey, commitment to the Triangle and how he hadn’t “been this impressed by many people in my life.”
Also tacked on to the announcement was that Don Waddell — the man who orchestrated the sale of the team from Peter Karmanos Jr. to Dundon — would have “interim” removed from his title and become the full-time general manager and team president.
It’s impossible to question Waddell’s dedication to hockey: The Detroit-born defenseman spent nearly a decade playing professionally, bouncing from Houston to Germany to Flint, Mich., to New Haven, Conn., and often back again, playing in one NHL game on Jan. 28, 1981, for the Los Angeles Kings.
He was a player-coach in Flint for a season in 1987-88 before hanging up his skates and moving to coaching and management full time.
But after handling the sale of the Hurricanes and working with Dundon both before and after Ron Francis’ demotion and eventual termination as general manager, Waddell — like Brind’Amour — earned the trust and confidence of the new owner.
Waddell represented the Hurricanes in Toronto at the televised NHL Draft Lottery, where Carolina surprisingly jumped from 11th to second overall, earning the right to have their pick of anyone not named Rasmus Dahlin on June 22 in Dallas.
“We won the lottery to pick No. 2,” Waddell recalled. “Tom called me that night and said, ‘You’re the GM.’”
It’s a simplified anecdote that doesn’t tell much of the story. Waddell — who repeatedly said previously he did not want to be GM — didn’t get the job by being, as he put it after the lottery, “lucky.” He got it by proving to be the type of lead man Dundon wanted to guide his hydra-like front office, one where many voices will give input and be heard, but Waddell will carry out the decision of the group — and, specifically, Dundon.
“I think the bigger thing for me that I’ve seen is, right from Day 1, everything we do, it’s a collaboration,” Waddell, citing Dundon’s hands-on involvement, said after the press conference. “It’s not one, two, three people in a group making a decision, it’s 15 people, getting input from everybody.”
Be that as it may, it’s Waddell who will carry the title, and the reception to the announcement was met with some skepticism due to his lack of success in Atlanta. He was GM of the expansion team for 10 seasons — including stepping in as coach for 85 games in parts of two seasons — and then served as team president with longtime friend and new Hurricanes hire Rick Dudley below him as GM until the franchise was sold and relocated to Winnipeg.
Under his guidance, the Thrashers reached the postseason just once, winning the Southeast Division in 2006-07. Atlanta picked first overall in 1999 and took Patrik Stefan ahead of the Sedin twins — a noteworthy misstep, but the draft was unkind to just about any team not named the Canucks that year.
Despite the on-ice struggles, Waddell was positive about his time with the Thrashers while also reiterating that working for Dundon is — despite perception — easier than what he dealt with in Atlanta, which included juggling nine owners and public lawsuits that plagued the team for most of its time there.
“I could go back and tell you lots of things that went on in Atlanta,” Waddell said. “It doesn’t matter one bit. Yes, you always want to have more success when you’re leading a team. … Great people, but it was a tough situation.”
Many in hockey circles call the Hurricanes’ situation tough as well. But Waddell is encouraged by the team’s future, its new coach — “I knew he was a leader; this Captain America guy. But honestly, the thing I’m most impressed with is how good of a person he is.” — and won’t let his past define his new role.
“I know it’s going to be out there,” he said. “You can’t change the past, you can only try to learn from those experiences and try to be better from them.”