Prior to joining the Hurricanes, Waddell spent three seasons as a professional scout with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Waddell was general manager of the Atlanta Thrashers from the team's founding in 1998, until 2010 when he took the role of team president. Waddell also served as executive vice president and co-chair of the executive committee of the Atlanta Spirit, the parent company of the Thrashers, the National Basketball Association's Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena. He won the Stanley Cup as assistant general manager of the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98.
Before becoming an NHL executive, Waddell helped build and guide two International Hockey League (IHL) franchises in San Diego (1990-95) and Orlando (1995-97) as those clubs' executive vice president and general manager. While in Orlando, he was vice president of RDV Sports and served on the executive committee that oversaw the NBA's Orlando Magic, the IHL's Orlando Solar Bears and the company's retail and aviation interests. Waddell was twice named IHL executive of the year (1992-93 and 1995-96).
Waddell played four seasons of Division I collegiate hockey from 1976-80 at Northern Michigan University where he majored in business management. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 1978, and spent three years with the organization. Waddell played more than nine seasons of professional hockey, spending the final years of his playing career as player/coach of the IHL's Toledo Goaldiggers (1985-86) and Flint Spirits (1986-88). He also served as head coach of the San Diego Gulls in 1991-92, and was interim head coach of the Atlanta Thrashers on two occasions during his tenure with the club.
A native of Detroit, MI, Waddell has also served in several capacities with USA Hockey during the past five decades. In October 2013, he was named international consultant with a special focus on player identification and interface with the U.S. National Junior Team and USA Hockey's National Team Development Program. Waddell was the general manager for United States' teams at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Italy, and the 2001, 2002 and 2005 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Men's World Championships. As a player, he helped Team USA to the gold medal at the 1983 IIHF World Championship.
Don lives in Raleigh with his wife, Cheryl. Their daughter, Chelsea, and son-in-law, Zach, live in Duluth, GA, with their son, Noah.