Don Waddell 6-20 press conference

Don Waddell took over as the Blue Jackets general manager and president of hockey operations with a long to-do list in late May.

Three weeks into his tenure, his days aren’t getting any lighter.

“My list is probably longer now,” he quipped Thursday at a press conference.

That doesn’t mean Waddell hasn’t made progress in trying to build the Blue Jackets into a consistent winner.

Since taking over in the big chair, Waddell has made one major move – Monday's dismissal of head coach Pascal Vincent – had long discussions with much of his new staff, and chatted with many of the players on the Blue Jackets squad.

With the busiest part of the NHL offseason ahead – the annual amateur draft will be next Friday and Saturday, and free agency will begin July 1 – Waddell feels good about where things stand.

Don Waddell speaks to the media to provide an update on the search for a head coach, the NHL Draft, Development Camp and Free Agency.

“It’s been a great three weeks, first of all,” he said. “I didn’t know everybody here, but everybody I’ve gotten to know, there’s really good people here. When you have good people that have the same common goal, you can find a way to have success together.

“I think everything is moving along. I’m happy with the progress we’ve made. You can’t do this job alone. You need to surround yourself with good people, and that’s what we’ve done here.”

Nonetheless, a lot of questions remain that will be answered, likely in short order. Who will be the head coach of the team this upcoming season? What moves will Waddell make to improve the active roster? And who will be the newest blue-chip prospect to put on union blue when the team drafts fourth overall next week?

Here’s what Waddell had to say about the hot-button issues Thursday.

The Coaching Search

When he was hired, Waddell was noncommittal on the status of Vincent, who led the team to a 27-43-12 record last season after taking over just before training camp. The two had never met, and Waddell wanted to get the lay of the land before he made a decision on Vincent’s future.

That verdict was delivered Monday, with the new GM saying he felt it was time to make a change.

“I wanted to make sure I did my due diligence as the general manager to make sure I made the right decision about moving forward,” Waddell said. “I took a couple of weeks, obviously. I met with him multiple times. The other day, it was my decision that I thought that we needed to go a different direction.”

With every other team in the league having filled its coaching vacancy, the Blue Jackets are in a unique spot. With only one job open, "the guys that are available today are going to be available tomorrow,” Waddell said.

So there’s time there, and Waddell noted that he currently has a list of 12 candidates that he’d like to whittle down to three or four before interviews are held. The plan is to spend the next few days vetting candidates, then potentially meet with some next week before making a final decision.

When it comes to what he’ll be looking for, Waddell was clear – experience.

“Talking with everybody here and getting my finger on the pulse the last three weeks, we need somebody that has been in this chair before that has coached in the NHL,” Waddell said. “We’ll have some good choices there.”

He also noted he doesn’t think he’ll have to sell anyone on coming to Columbus thanks to the team’s young, talented roster, Nationwide Arena’s recently renovated facilities and the city’s family-friendly lifestyle.

“If they do their homework, they’re gonna sell themselves,” Waddell said. “The things we can talk about, a lot of them haven’t been in our facilities. I mentioned it before, the facilities here are first-class and maybe the best in the league. I’ve been here over three weeks. It’s a really good city. I’ve found my way around pretty good around here. Maybe more the family life would be the selling point. I think the hockey will sell itself.”

As for the team’s assistant coaches – including Mark Recchi, Steve McCarthy, Josef Boumedienne, Jared Boll and goaltending coach Niklas Backstrom – a decision on their futures will be made after the new head coach is hired.

Building a Roster

Waddell inherits a team that has missed the postseason the past four years but has built around youth in that time, making six first-round choices in the last three drafts.

Some of that young talent is starting to transition into being NHL regulars, which leads to excitement, but there are still many places the team needs to improve next season to be in playoff contention.

Columbus currently has about $23 million in cap room available per CapFriendly, but one of the key orders of business will be signing a list of restricted free agents that includes Yegor Chinakhov, Kirill Marchenko, Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger, Alexandre Texier, Alex Nylander and Jake Bean. While no deals have been struck, Waddell said the team has started conversations with the players’ agents.

On the UFA front, Waddell said he didn’t expect the team to be too aggressive, though there are spots he’s looking to upgrade.

“We just had pro (scouting) meetings last week,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any game-changers, if that’s what you’re looking for. There’s maybe some spots we want to address – bottom-six forwards, maybe, and a defenseman. I don’t look at it being, we’re gonna get a major game-changer in free agency, but I think there’s some things we’d like to add for sure.”

Then there’s the draft, which is set to kick off with round one taking place at Sphere in Las Vegas next Friday night. Columbus currently has the No. 4 overall pick, though Waddell noted there has been some talk from fellow general managers about the selection.

Just like in any draft, trades are certainly possible if the Jackets get an offer they can’t refuse. If that fails to materialize and they do make the pick, they’ll expect to leave with another big piece of the franchise’s future.

“We have to make sure we get it right,” Waddell said of that fourth overall selection. “There’s a lot of focus on that right now.”

Waddell also noted the team will meet with some of the top prospects on their board next week in Vegas, with the general manager chatting with those players for the first time because he wasn't at the NHL Scouting Combine. He also said the team has three staff members at this week’s Gold Star predraft camp in Florida, where potential top-five selection Ivan Demidov among others is working out.

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