Waddell breakout

2018 was a time of change for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Early that year, Tom Dundon became owner of the franchise. In May, longtime assistant and former player Rod Brind’Amour was appointed as head coach, and Dundon also made the move to replace Ron Francis as the team’s general manager with Don Waddell, who already was working for the organization on the business side.

The Canes hadn’t made the playoffs for nine seasons, but it’s fair to say the moves worked. A young core led by such Carolina draft picks as Sebastian Aho, Martin Necas, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce – as well as forward Teuvo Teravainen, who had been acquired in a trade with Chicago – was in place and growing after getting its feet wet at the NHL level. Add in the steadying hand of captain Jordan Staal and over the next six seasons, Waddell’s Hurricanes would become one of the most consistently successful teams in the NHL.

Now hired last week as the Blue Jackets’ new president of hockey operations and general manager, Waddell takes over in a similar spot. The young names are different – Adam Fantilli, Kent Johnson, David Jiricek, Kirill Marchenko and more – but the Blue Jackets are hoping to blend that young talent with team veterans to end a four-year postseason drought sooner rather than later.

MORE ON DON WADDELL: Q&A | New GM sees positives in situation

With that in mind, we decided it was a good time to look at the moves Waddell made during his tenure as Carolina’s GM to see what his tendencies are and what worked.

After listing Waddell’s major moves each season, we’ll offer some analysis on what it might mean, and tomorrow we’ll break down the challenges Waddell faces as he takes over the Blue Jackets.

2018-19: 46-29-7 (99 points), fourth in Metropolitan Division, lost Eastern Conference Final to Boston

Waddell took over as the team’s general manager in May and quickly made some changes to the roster. Two major trades were key, as Jeff Skinner was dealt to Buffalo for draft picks, while a blockbuster deal with Calgary sent center Elias Lindholm and defenseman Noah Hanifan to the Flames for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and the rights to Adam Fox (who would eventually be traded late in the season to New York when it became clear he would not sign with Carolina). Two signings and a waiver claim proved to be key as well, as the Canes signed defenseman Calvin de Haan and goalie Petr Mrazek and nabbed netminder Curtis McElhinney off waivers from Toronto. The team’s goals-against average fell from 2.95 to 2.55, while jumps in production from Aho (65 points to 83) and Teravainen (64 points to 76) and the addition of first-round pick Andrei Svechnikov helped the offense. In Brind’Amour’s first season, Carolina not only ended its playoff drought, it beat Washington and the New York Islanders to make the conference final.

2019-20: 38-25-5 (81 points), fourth in Metropolitan Division, lost in first round to Boston

Not satisfied, Waddell and the Canes made some major changes going into the next season, largely on defense. Longtime Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk was dealt for Joel Edmundson prior to the season, while the team also signed Jake Gardiner in free agency. Other moves included trades that netted Erik Haula and James Reimer as well as the free-agent signing of forward Ryan Dzingel. In an interesting move, with Toronto in cap trouble, Carolina swung a trade for Patrick Marleau and a first-round pick that would eventually become standout Seth Jarvis. The biggest in-season move was the acquisition of another defenseman, Brady Skjei, for a first-round pick near the deadline. Svechnikov made a major leap to a 61-point player at age 19 and Necas became a regular as well, but Carolina couldn’t recapture its playoff magic in the bubble, sweeping a qualifying series vs. the Rangers before falling to Boston.

2020-21: 36-12-8 (80 points), first in Central Division, lost in second round to Tampa Bay

Carolina really became the fast-paced, aggressive, smothering unit it’s become known for during the 56-game COVID-shortened season, edging the high-powered Panthers and Lightning for the division crown. Waddell’s big move came early in the season as he added Vincent Trocheck from Florida for four players, including Haula, Lucas Wallmark and Eetu Luostarinen. Trocheck had an excellent season, posting 43 points in 47 games, while Aho, Svechnikov, Hamilton and Necas all topped 40 points. A big development came in net, as youngster Alex Nedeljkovic asserted himself as the starter down the stretch. Carolina downed Nashville in the opening round of the playoffs but fell victim to the Lightning in the next round as Tampa Bay went on to win its second straight Stanley Cup.

2021-22: 54-20-8 (116 points), first in Metropolitan Division, lost in second round to the New York Rangers

Perhaps the biggest change going into this season was Waddell completely retooling the team’s goaltending situation, trading Nedeljkovic and letting Mrazek and Reimer walk while bringing in Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta in free agency. Other key signings included a trio of defensemen in Ian Cole, Tony DeAngelo and Jalen Chatfield after Hamilton left for New Jersey in free agency in the summer. Defenseman Ethan Bear was added in a trade while Derek Stepan was signed to add veteran leadership up front, but the biggest move was an offer sheet that netted RFA forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi from Montreal. On the ice, it was the first of three straight 50-win seasons, with DeAngelo having his best season in the NHL and Jarvis stepping up as a regular at age 19. Aho (81), Svechnikov (69) and Teravainen (65) all topped 60 points, while Andersen had a 2.17 GAA. In the postseason, a seven-game win over Boston in the first round was followed by a Game 7 loss to the Rangers.

2022-23: 52-21-9 (113 points), first in Metropolitan Division, lost in Eastern Conference Final to Florida

Waddell made a pair of shrewd moves going into the offseason, acquiring defenseman Brent Burns from San Jose and forward Max Pacioretty from cap-strapped Vegas, though the latter move had an unfortunate end when Pacioretty tore his Achilles just five games into the season. DeAngelo was traded to Philadelphia while Stefan Noesen and Paul Stastny were added in free agency, but largely the usual suspects led the way during the season. Burns proved to be an excellent addition, posting 61 points, while Necas led the way with 71 points, Aho added 67 and Svechnikov 55. In all, 14 Canes had at least 25 points, and the team again romped through the regular season. Shayne Gostisbehere and Jesse Puljujarvi were added at the deadline, and Carolina beat the New York Islanders and New Jersey to make the Eastern Conference Final for the second time in Waddell’s tenure. There, the team was swept by Florida as the Panthers raced to the Stanley Cup Final.

2023-24: 52-23-7 (111 points), second in Metropolitan Division, lost in second round to the New York Rangers

Free agency was again fruitful for Carolina, as Waddell netted a big target in defenseman Dmitri Orlov, plus added depth options with the return of DeAngelo and the signing of forward Michael Bunting. The biggest move he’d make, though, came at the deadline, as the general manager acquired forward Jake Guentzel from Pittsburgh for a package that included Bunting, two draft picks and three prospects. Guentzel fit in perfectly in Carolina, while Aho had his best season yet with 36 goals and 89 points. Jarvis broke out with a 33-goal, 67-point season, while Andersen’s injury-plagued year led to the emergence of goalie Pyotr Kochetkov, who posted a 2.33 GAA in 42 games. Again, though, the team fell short of the Stanley Cup, downing the Islanders to start the postseason before falling in six games to the Rangers.


Perhaps the first thing that stands out about Waddell’s tenure in Carolina is that while he kept the Hurricanes’ core – Staal, Aho, Svechnikov, Necas, Teravainen, Slavin and Pesce – together throughout the entire six-year run, he wasn’t afraid to make big moves. Carolina was often active in free agency, made multiple blockbuster trades, and was one of the more creative front offices in the NHL. That’s part and parcel of what happens when you’re trying to get a successful team over the hump, but if Waddell’s Carolina tenure is any indication, he won’t shy away from trying anything possible to build a winner.

Talkin’ Trades

Waddell was a major player in some of the more notable deals of the past few years, adding Hamilton, Trocheck, Burns and Guentzel in blockbuster trades the past six seasons. He was particularly active at the trade deadline, adding Nino Niederreiter in 2019, Skjei in 2020, Max Domi from Columbus in 2022, Gostisbehere and Puljujarvi in 2023, and Guentzel and Evgeny Kuznetsov this spring. Outside of that, he was one of the most active GMs in the league when it came to dealing with teams up against the cap, taking on Marleau’s deal – and adding the draft pick that would net Jarvis – in 2019 and getting Pacioretty in 2022.

Significant Signings

It seemed Waddell did most of his notable work on the trade market, but he wasn’t afraid to attack weaknesses in free agency. Perhaps the most notable season for that was the summer of 2021, as Waddell completely remade the team’s goaltending by signing Andersen and Raanta. Orlov and Gardiner were also big signings Waddell made when the time was right, and he was active in adding depth pieces over the years as well. In another nod to his creativity, Waddell signed Kotkaniemi to an offer sheet in 2021, just the second of the salary cap era.

Draft Discussion

The Hurricanes often had a large number of picks under Waddell, selecting 12 players in 2019, 13 in 2021 and 10 in last year’s draft. Waddell and his scouting department hit two home runs in his tenure, taking Svechnikov with the second overall pick shortly after he took over in 2018 and selecting Jarvis 13th overall in 2020. Jack Drury (2018) and Kochetkov (2019) have become NHL regulars from Waddell drafts, while 2023 first-rounder Bradly Nadeau made his debut last year after an excellent season at the University of Maine and ‘21 fourth-rounder Jackson Blake also debuted after tying for fourth in college hockey in scoring this past season at North Dakota. Time will tell how the rest of the team’s picks will work out, but there have been some success stories from his tenure.

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