Columbus Blue Jackets Introduce New General Manager

Don Waddell

Getty Don Waddell at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft

The Columbus Blue Jackets announced on May 28 via an official statement that NHL executive Don Waddell has signed a multi-year contract with the team to serve as president of hockey operations, alternate governor and general manager. 

“Don Waddell is one of the most experienced and respected executives in our sport with over four decades of experience as a player, scout, head coach, general manager and team president…Most recently, he has built the Carolina Hurricanes into one of the winningest clubs in the National Hockey League,” said Blue Jackets president and alternate governor Mike Priest.

“Don has every attribute we were looking for when this process began, and we are thrilled to have him lead our hockey operations efforts.” 

This announcement comes on the heels of Waddell resigning from his position as team president and general manager with the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday, May 24.

The Blue Jackets also announced that John Davidson, the previous president of hockey operations for the past decade, will be remaining with the organization as a senior advisor and alternate governor. 

“To our fans, we remain committed to providing all the necessary resources to build a team and organization that competes for the Stanley Cup,” said Blue Jackets Majority Owner and Governor John P. McConnell. “After spending time getting to know Don, I believe his experience and leadership will take us down the path to success.” The statement read. 

Columbus Blue Jackets

GettyCole Sillinger, Columbus Blue Jackets

Don Waddell’s Introduction to the Organization

Waddell was officially introduced by the team at a press conference on Wednesday, May 29, where he fielded questions from reporters regarding his opinion on the state of the team, the upcoming 2024 NHL entry draft, and the trajectory for the Blue Jackets organization.  

“With the players currently on the (Columbus) roster, and knowing how this organization runs, the ownership gives you all the tools and resources to make it work,” Waddell said. 

In regard to the draft, Waddell had this to say; “I can put timetables on the draft because we know when that’s going to happen. End of June. We know free agency is going to start July 1. As we work things with the group, we’ll get some answers.” 

Considering Waddell is under a multi-year contract, there were plenty of long-term projections being referenced regarding what he intends to see the team through. 

“We’ve got to make strategic moves, moves that are going to make our hockey club not just better today but better in the future…This isn’t about trying to make the playoffs for one year and make a run and then be on the outside for a long time,” Waddell said. 

The Blue Jackets’ official press conference wasn’t Waddell’s only media appearance since the announcement; on May 29 he was featured on 97.1 The Fan’s Rothman & Ice. On air, Waddell spoke about several topics, including what traits his ideal head coach would embody. 

“He’s got to have control of the locker room, he’s got to get players on the same page. Not all the players get treated equally because some play 20 minutes and some play 13 minutes, but they all have to be together for us to have success as a team. You have different guys that have different value to the team.

“The players have to respect the coach. And how do you get respect as a coach? It’s how you handle difficulty with the players, preparing the players for not only training camp, but the start of the season. To me, you got to be a good communicator and a listener at the same time, because players today are different than players were 20 years ago. Players have to know where they stand,” Waddell said. 

Another interesting moment was when Waddell was asked if he considered Elvis Merzlikins to be a number one goaltender.

“I’ll answer it this way, four years ago I tried to trade for Elvis. This guy was on a course to be a pure starter for sure. We know what happened in his personal life, we also know he has three years left on his contract. I said It’s my job to make sure we put every resource we can, to see if we can get Elvis back where he was. If we don’t do that as an organization, we fail, I fail. Now, it may not work, it may work, but that’s got to be our number one goal to put all the time and energy into that,” Waddell said. 

Merzlikins’ statistics have been slowly dropping year by year since 2019, and his play can be described as inconsistent at times, despite his having once been lauded as an exceptional young talent.

Merzlikins ended this past season with a .897 save percentage and a 3.45 goals against average in 41 games. Merzlikins is currently under a five-year, USD 27 million contract that will end in 2027. 

But, if anyone were capable of drawing a team back to their former glory, Waddell certainly has a lengthy resume to indicate that he could be the man for the job.

Elvis Merzlikins

Getty Elvis Merzlikins, January 28

Waddell’s Impressive Resume

Waddell has spent the last decade with the Carolina Hurricanes organization, first as team president from 2014-18, and then as both team president and general manager since 2018.

Under Waddell’s tenure, the Hurricanes have secured three division titles (2021, 2022, and 2023), made regular Stanley Cup Playoff appearances, and featured in the Eastern Conference Finals twice (2019, 2023).

The team has won at least one playoff round in the past six seasons, where before his appointment, the Hurricanes missed the playoffs entirely 11 times in the past 12 seasons. The Hurricanes also enjoy holding the longest sellout streak in franchise history, having sold out 67 games at PNC Arena in a row. 

Waddell began his career in the NHL in the 1997-98 season as an assistant general manager with the Detroit Red Wings, who were the Stanley Cup Champions that year.

The next season Waddell was appointed the vice president of hockey operations and general manager for the newly-formed Atlanta Thrashers. In 2010, Waddell was named the team president of the Thrashers. Waddell has also regularly worked with USA Hockey over the past twenty years. 

Waddell brings with him an impressive resume, complete with his leaving the Hurricanes a Stanley Cup contender. Despite having three different NHL teams reach out, Waddell settled with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and from this statement per the official press release, Waddell seems excited about what lies ahead with the organization. 

“I couldn’t be more excited to join the Columbus Blue Jackets as this is an organization that has everything you need to have success at the highest level,” said Waddell. “It’s a wonderful city with passionate fans, strong ownership, first-class facilities, and a desire to be the best. I’d like to thank the McConnell family, Mike Priest and John Davidson for this opportunity, and look forward to being part of this community,” Waddell said. 

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