A Closer Look At What Don Waddell Will Bring To The Columbus Blue Jackets Front Office

By Ed Francis on May 26, 2024 at 7:36 pm
Don Waddell is set to join the front office of the Columbus Blue Jackets this week.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Could it be?

Could it be that the Columbus Blue Jackets finally have the front office person to right the ship and lead the franchise into a contending direction?

It sounds that way, according to reports.

He just doesn't have a title yet.

Unofficial word that Don Waddell would be joining the Blue Jackets management group was reported over the weekend, with the news expected to become official sometime this week.

While his exact role is yet to be officially announced, all signs are pointing to Waddell initially taking on the job of both President of Hockey Operations and general manager. The dual role may be temporary, with several reports that Waddell may look to hire a general manager and focus on the hockey operations side of things. There are additional reports that one candidate for that general manager role is Ken Holland, whose Edmonton Oilers are currently in the western conference finals. Holland's contract is up when the Oilers season comes to an end, so anything official in that capacity would need to wait until the conclusion of Edmonton's season.

In the meanwhile, the lock at this point appears to be Waddell — which begs the question: what are the Blue Jackets getting in the former Carolina Hurricanes boss?

Waddell's first experience in NHL management came — under Holland — as the assistant general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. That was in the 1997-98 season; one which ended with the Red Wings winning the Stanley Cup. After just one season there, Waddell became the first general manager in Atlanta Thrashers history and would stay with the team until their move to Winnipeg in 2010. 

In 2014, Waddell became the President of the Carolina Hurricanes and, in May of 2018, became the general manager as well. After missing the postseason for nine consecutive seasons, the Hurricanes saw immediate and sustained success once Waddell took over as general manager. The 2018-19 Carolina campaign was the first of not only six straight playoff berths, but six straight seasons advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs. It's a streak that is still active and is the longest current streak in the NHL of a team advancing beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Hurricanes had also won three consecutive division titles until finishing second this season behind the New York Rangers. Still, Carolina's 111 points was third best in the NHL, trailing only the Rangers and the Dallas Stars.

Waddell's contributions to the Hurricanes have made him one of the more respected names across the NHL's list of executives. In addition to being near the top of the league over the last half-decade, Carolina remains well-positioned for the future. The team has Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi all locked up through for at least the next five seasons. Aho, at 26, is the oldest of the trio. Seth Jarvis, the Canes first-round draft pick (13th overall) in 2020, appears to be a long-term staple in Raleigh, as well.

The new Blue Jackets boss (or, at least one of them) also hasn't been afraid to make a trade, when needed. Most recently, Waddell made a move for the Hurricanes to acquire Jake Guentzel from the Pittsburgh Penguins at this past season's trade deadline. Guentzel was outstanding during the Canes playoff run, scoring eight goals and 17 assists in 17 regular season contests for Carolina and adding four goals and five assists during their nine playoff games.

Waddell's tenure in Columbus will see him needing to make several key decisions almost immediately, either on his own or with Holland (or another general manager) by his side. In addition to owning the fourth overall pick in next month's NHL draft, there's also the question of what to do with the contract of struggling goaltender Elvis Merzlikins, what to do with young players who are nearly due larger contracts (Kent Johnson and Cole Sillinger, to name a few), and how to find balance between strengthening a weak defense while waiting for young prospects to develop. 

With the experience Waddell has and a proven track record, trusting him to make the right decisions is the only choice that the Blue Jackets will have.

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