The NHL is pretty much a North American and European entity, and that certainly holds true when it comes to scouting. The 30 NHL teams have scouts all over the two continents, and sometimes scouts find a nugget in the most unlikely places, such as Slovenia.
And we're not talking about players; it may be a restaurant or a museum or some cultural spot. Scouts are supposed to be concentrating on finding players, but Atlanta Thrashers
General Manager Don Waddell knows that is not consuming scouts 24 hours a day, especially with the many hockey-playing countries around the world.
"Over the years, I haven't taken advantage of many of the countries that have beautiful places, but the last few years I have," he said. "I try to spend a little time and learn the culture of each country. We are busy during the year, there is no doubt. There is a lot of time on the road, but you also have to take some time. My first 20 years in hockey, there wasn't a second you would stop to think about that. But as you get a little older, you say certainly you can fit that into your schedule and see some of the local tourist attractions."
Waddell played one game for the Los Angeles Kings
in 1980-81. He spent most of his career in the old International Hockey League with Saginaw, Flint and Toledo. But there was one season, 1983-84, where he briefly played for Augsburg EV in Germany, which was his first European experience. It was not his last.
For many NHL GMs and scouts, including Waddell, the 2000 World Championship was more than just a hockey tournament. NHL talent evaluators got a chance to take a tour of The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Hermitage, which was opened in 1762, is one of the biggest art museums in the world. It is a must-see when in St. Petersburg.
"You think about some of the cultures around the world where we play and scout, it is a great advantage to be able to see some of those world highlights spots," said Waddell, who added that he has traditional summer vacations with the family. But Waddell has been all over Europe and North America in his career and knows a lot of places.
"Exotic place? Vienna and Zurich, there are some nice places I stopped," Waddell said. "Going down to Lbubljana, Slovenia. Lbubljana, there wasn't a lot to do there. It wasn't a Marriott property. It was very modest hotel accommodations. We were there for one purpose that was to watch hockey games. It was about 10 below zero, it was up in the mountains, it was a ski resort and it was very, very cold, but not as cold as Winnipeg during Christmas time."
"I don't mind traveling by myself. The first thing I do traveling to another country is to go to a bank machine and get their local currency. I don't try to get the local currency before I go. I just use my bank card and we have joked about it but I am very comfortable walking into any country and making things work."
Being a general manager has changed Waddell's travel. He might visit New York for a Wednesday game, then up to Rochester on Thursday, and some other northeastern U.S. or nearby Canadian city the next day. The travel in the NHL-AHL-ECHL-Canadian junior circuit is a lot different than European travel. He stays with the team, and when he coached in 2002-03 and last season, it was just NHL cities.
Waddell's big traveling year was from June 1998, when he was named Thrashers GM, until the June 1999 entry and expansion drafts. He could pick whenever he wanted to go, and made six European trips that year.
"I was very fortunate," Waddell said. "I went to a lot of nice places and had an opportunity to do what a lot of people never have the opportunity to do. It was a great experience. Switzerland is an expensive country. Slovenia is a very inexpensive country, but you need currency too. We went to a dinner there (in 1998). There was three of us and we had steaks, Coca Cola and a salad and it was like nine dollars. Little Lbubljana."
Waddell has been in the managerial side since 1997 and has taken plenty of trips, which means he should be a good resource for his scouts hitting the road. But Waddell would rather see his guys concentrate on finding hockey guys, not looking for inexpensive restaurants in Lbubljana.
"There are some places in the Czech Republic that have some of the best home-cooked meals you are ever going to find," Waddell said. "The one thing I have learned in the last half-dozen years is don't be afraid to try some new food because there are new experiences out there that are pretty good."
But Waddell isn't tipping off his scouts to this information.
"No, I tell them to watch hockey games and eat the food at the concession stands," he laughed.