waddell sign

The Blue Jackets spent the past few months looking for someone with experience to run the club.

After six years building Carolina into one of the most consistent winners in the National Hockey League, Don Waddell was looking for something new.

In the end, it might just be the perfect marriage.

Time will tell how Waddell’s tenure will go as the Blue Jackets president of hockey operations and general manager, posts he officially was named to Tuesday, but there’s a lot to like about the two sides coming together.

Waddell is certainly excited, speaking Wednesday about the opportunity to mold one of the best prospect pools in the game – as well as a solid veteran core – into a playoff team. The Blue Jackets were one of three teams to reach out after he informed Carolina of his decision to move on last week, Waddell said, but it didn’t take long for the hockey lifer to decide this was the place for him.

“When I look at this point in my career, I was up for a new challenge,” Waddell said. “I had some options, but when I looked at this option, it made the most sense. That’s why I’m excited about having that opportunity.”

For Waddell, there were plenty of reasons to continue his career in Columbus. While the Blue Jackets have missed the playoffs four straight seasons, they’ve used their draft capital wisely, building a prospect pool most observers consider to be in the top five in the league. Add in such veteran players as Johnny Gaudreau, Zach Werenski, Boone Jenner and others, and Waddell said this is no long-term fix in his introductory press conference Wednesday.

He’ll also welcome a bit of a reduced role, as he’ll have the opportunity to focus solely on hockey with the Blue Jackets after running the Hurricanes’ business operations and arena for the past 10 years in addition to his duties building a team.

In his early conversations with John Davidson, who moved into a senior advisor role with Waddell’s hiring, and team president Mike Priest, Waddell quickly became convinced Columbus was the place for him.

“When I made the decision to step down there, I wasn’t sure exactly what my next move was going to be,” Waddell said. “I knew Columbus obviously had an opening, but I didn’t know if Columbus would have interest in me, and I didn’t know if I’d have interest in Columbus. Once I stepped down, I had contact from three teams, and Columbus was the first conversation I had. It was very enlightening because I know Mike. When I came to a decision, to me, it was easy, and they had to make a decision from Mike and ownership.”

On the CBJ side, adding Waddell brings in someone with more than four decades of experience in the game in all facets, from player and coach to scout and team builder. Carolina had missed the playoffs for nine straight seasons before Waddell became the general manager, but he inherited a team with a number of standout young players he could build around.

That group featuring Sebastian Aho, Martin Necas, Teuvo Teravainen and others would become the core of a team that had great success. In six years with Waddell in the GM chair, Carolina made the playoffs every season, advanced to two conference finals, captured three division titles and won 50 games each of the past three seasons. In all, the team’s winning percentage the past six years is second in the NHL.

“I’ve had the privilege of knowing Don Waddell for many, many years, and there is no one I have greater respect or affection for in this business,” Davidson said. “When we made the decision to look for a general manager, we wanted someone with experience in building a team that wins at a high level within a culture that is strong and sustainable. Don understands how to connect people and values the bond between a team and its fans, and there is no greater example of that than between the Blue Jackets and the Fifth Line.”

Waddell has worked all over hockey as well, starting his career in the IHL – he began franchises in San Diego and Orlando – before advancing to the NHL when he won a Stanley Cup as an assistant GM in 1997-98. From there, he ran the expansion franchise in Atlanta for more than a decade, then did it all in Carolina.

In the end, that might be one of the reasons he chose to move on. Balancing all the aspects of the job was certainly time-consuming, and as this past season went on, he said he started to get the feeling that it was becoming time to do something different. He and his wife, Cheryl, didn’t come to a final decision until last week, but it was something they talked about during the few quiet moments of an NHL season.

“It was all professional, nothing personal, other than the personal was that I thought it was time to move on,” Waddell said of ending his time in Carolina. “My wife and I, the whole year, we talked about what our next move was gonna be. We never made a decision on what we were going to do. I had a lot going on there ... and I said, ‘Let’s just put it on the back burner.’ As we got closer to the playoffs and that, I remember telling her, ‘I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think it’s getting close to where it’s probably time to move on.’"

And now, he's landed in Columbus. At age 65, Waddell brings a good combination of experience and energy to his new role. He acknowledged he could have just retired rather than start fresh with a new team, but the chance to build a winner with the Blue Jackets was too much to turn down.

“I’m driven,” Waddell said. “I know time doesn’t really mean anything, but I’m a 5 a.m. person. I love my mornings, and I have so much passion for what I do and what I think is possible here. You’re right, I could ride off in the sunset, but I’m not even close to that. I have lots of energy. Again, I go back to I would never come to this potential opportunity if I didn’t think it was a great outcome. With the staff we have around here and JD and that to count on, we’re gonna do that here.”

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