|For John Paddock and Don Waddell, making their first appearances at an NHL All-Star Game was a long road not easily traveled.|
For John Paddock and Don Waddell, making their first appearances at an NHL All-Star Game was a long road not easily traveled. But all that does is make the moment that much sweeter.
Paddock, who will lead the Eastern Conference team at Sunday’s game at Philips Arena (6 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio), is in his first season in charge of an NHL bench after nearly a decade as a scout, coach in the American Hockey League and NHL assistant. He also coached Winnipeg from 1991-95.
After spending the two previous seasons as an assistant to Bryan Murray with the Ottawa Senators, Paddock was promoted to head coach when Murray was elevated to general manager last June.
Waddell, the Atlanta Thrashers’ general manager, also took over behind an NHL bench this season, but under far different circumstances.
After making the first playoff appearance in franchise history last spring, the Thrashers started this season 0-6. Waddell decided to remove coach Bob Hartley, and went behind the bench himself.
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Since then, the Thrashers have gone 23-19-4, briefly held the top spot in the Southeast Division earlier this month, and with 50 are only two points behind division leader Carolina.
And he’ll be the assistant coach Sunday for the East team.
“Never did we think we’d start 0-6,” said Waddell during Friday’s All-Star Coaching Roundtable. “I just felt like we weren’t going in any direction, and we had to make a change. Our guys have done a great job since then.
“We’re fortunate because we’re in a division where no one’s run away with it. We truly feel we can win our division. Sitting here today -- two or three points out -- we have a great stretch coming out of the break, six of the next seven at home and an opportunity, hopefully, to make some hay.”
For Paddock, the opportunity to coach again at the NHL level was something he thought had passed him by.
A successful coach in the American Hockey League with two Calder Cup championships on his resume, Paddock had been passed over for NHL jobs since he coached the Winnipeg Jets from 1991-92 to 1994-95. He stayed with the Jets until 1996 as general manager, but it would be his last NHL paycheck for nearly 10 years.
In that time, he served as a scout and minor-league coach for the New York Rangers’ farm team in Hartford, and also coached the Senators’ AHL team in Binghamton.
“Probably,” Paddock said when asked if his NHL ship had sailed. “Not pass you by, but … it’s being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of it.
“I thought of it (staying in the minors), but I hoped not. I was comfortable enough with that, coaching in the American League, that I wasn’t going to have a coronary over it.”
The NHL did come calling again, though, after the lockout. John Muckler, then the Senators’ GM, promoted Paddock to Murray’s staff. And after last season’s Stanley Cup Final, Murray tabbed Paddock as his replacement behind the bench.
It was a great place to land, with a team that had just come up short of its ultimate goal. But the other side was the increased expectations surrounding his team.
Would the Senators be a tired squad after playing so many games last season? Would there be a Final hangover?
“We encouraged them and pushed them to train harder than they’ve ever trained,” said Paddock. “I talked to couple people involved with teams in other sports, and they said the worst thing you can do is rest on the laurels. We just encouraged them to come to camp in shape and carry over.”
The carry-over was a team that has maintained the best record in the Eastern Conference since the start of the season, and entered the All-Star break with 66 points, seven points ahead of the next best team in the East.
“We have a group that was disappointed by the Final but is very hungry for it, and they were able to start that way and maintain it.
“I think a player like (Daniel) Alfredsson, he’s in elite condition, and that trickle-down effect to the rest of your hockey team. … Mike Fisher, players that have been around a while, (Chris) Phillips and (Wade) Redden, they were one step closer to being rewarded than they were before in their quest of the Cup and they want to continue to show that.”
The rewards also have come to Paddock and Waddell. And for another pair of first-time All-Stars, they’re going to enjoy the experience.
“We’ve been looking forward to this for many years,” said Waddell, who is serving as the de facto host for the weekend. “We were supposed to have it and then we had the lockout, so it’s been many years on our calendar, and now to be here and be on the bench with the guys, that makes it extra special.”
Added Paddock, “To have a weekend like this, with these players and coaches, the elite players in the world, you just have to sit back and enjoy it.”
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com