Don Waddell Interview Part II: Free Agency and the 2009 NHL Draft

Introduction: In Part 1 Don Waddell talked about the just completed 2008-09 season, in Part 2 he looks to the future and provides some clues regarding team moves over the summer. This interview took place the day before the NHL Draft Lottery. I jokingly asked Waddell who the Thrashers were looking to take in the 1st round. I expected him to decline to comment, but much to my surprise he started giving me some names and I thought I might have a big scoop on my hands--until I played the tape back and counted up the number of names--very clever Mr. Waddell. Now--on to the interview.

 

Bird Watchers Anonymous: Looking at your roster, talk about the big picture and what the team needs from your perspective?

Don Waddell: We'd like to add another a defenseman. I think our defense is better, but I'd still like to add one more guy with Schneider and Havelid departing. We could use one more defenseman and we could add one more top six forward. Ideally, we would like to get some size up there in our top six guy. If we could do that and bring back pretty much all the guys--we've got a couple of decisions to make there--but I think we would be a better team. [Editorial note: After the interview Waddell clarified that he was looking to sign a top four defenseman to go with Enstrom-Bogosian and Hainsey]

BWA: From outside the organization it appears that you have three goalies and two spots for goalies. Is that a fair assessment?

DW: That's an accurate statement. I think there are three ways you can build a team: free agency, the draft and trades. I think we might have an asset there that could help our team immediately. Right now the player we draft probably is not going to help the team this year--and we're not a franchise that is going to go out and spend millions and millions on players. So the third avenue--other than the wavier wire--is making trades. To get what we need, we might have in our inventory right now something that gets us the best option for us.

BWA: Johan Hedberg--everyone on the team loves him--but he has one of the worst save percentages and worst goals against in the league.

DW: A bit unfair given our team, but I'll defend him this way. I think he's the perfect backup. I've witnessed and you've witnessed how many goalies we've gone through in this franchise. This guy has never been hurt in his life. He shows up every game. I've got these visions of the 5 or 6 goalies we have gone through. Now we have a guy who has won the player's player award--a favorite teammate of the players. He shows up every day for work and he practices hard, he works hard, he lays it all on the line. He's not a starting goalie--but we always hope our starting goalie can play 55-60 games--like most starting goalies do in the league--and he's the perfect guy to play the other 20-25. He can come in at any time and give everything that he's got. He can also get hot--he won four or five games in a row for us at the end.

BWA: Given [that Hedberg is a backup] how do Kari's month-long injuries figure into your decision making process this summer?

DW: Well you have to consider it--if I ignore it then next year you'll say--"well you knew he would get hurt." [I chuckled here.] It is interesting that last year he got hurt in New York. He got run into in OT in a  loss to the Rangers and he hurt his back--it was the first time he'd ever hurt his back and missed pretty much the whole month of November.

Each year he makes it through training camp and then we get to the month of November and [he goes down]. So we're aware of that because there is some sort of trend there--it seems to happen every year. So if I'm going to trade a goalie, I have to make sure we add another guy. Regardless of who we trade, we have to get a third guy in that mix--we can't assume that we will be injury free--we just can't look at it that way.

BWA: Looking ahead to the draft you will either pick 1st, 4th or 5th. Do you know who you take if you get that 1st overall pick tomorrow?

DW: Yes. I know for sure.

BWA: Would you still be excited if you end up with the 4th or 5th pick?

DW: Well we're going to get a good player there. There are some guys that jump out a little bit more...

BWA: Care to name any?

DW: Well assuming that Tavares and Hedman are gone, then you're got a crew of guys right there. You have Schenn's brother, you have Duchense, you're got Evander Kane, you're got Cowan the big defenseman who got hurt out in Spokane and then throw the two Swedes in there. We're going to get a good player. [edit: I assume the two non-Hedman Swedes would be Magnus Svensson-Paajarvi and Oliver Ekman-Larsson]

BWA: Do you have a favorite in that group?

DW: I've seen them all--and absolutely we do--or at least I do. We will have our scouting staff final meetings and make our list. Whether we pick at 4 or 5 we're going to get a good player there.

BWA: Will that player you get at 4 or 5 be a year or two away from playing [in the NHL]?

DW: Probably. There is one guy that I can see fitting him into our lineup and giving him a chance. There's a difference too between a junior player and a European player--a junior guy you can play some games before you make a decision on him, while a European player you don't have that luxury. [Editorial note: junior players can play up to 10 NHL games and still be returned to their junior clubs]

BWA: Everyone knows you have the Kovalchuk contract coming up and July 1st is th key date. Do you anticipate that you will have a deal in place or not--a quick resolution--or will it last all season like Hossa?

DW: I don't think it will last all season. I think it will be pretty quick. For me the decision is "does Kovalchuk want to stay?" and if he wants to stay the money--we can pay it or we can't. I think before the start of the year we will have this thing done, one way or the other--hopefully with him re-signed.

It is a whole different situation than Hossa. Remember that Marian Hossa signed his deal with Ottawa and 5 minutes later he got traded. Regardless of where he got traded to, he signed with Ottawa--and that always stuck in that player's mind. With Kovlahcuk it is totally different set of circumstances with Kovalchuk. He has been here from day one, he is the face of our franchise and he wants to be the guy to lead our franchise--but he also wants to win. So we'll sit and talk and hopefully we get to the point where we exchange numbers.

Conclusion: Some interesting stuff in there. I want to thank Don Waddell for answering every question and giving candid answers rather than canned cliches. Ten minutes after we were finished I thought of about five more questions I wished that I had asked, but perhaps we will have a chance to talk again at the NHL Draft this summer.

For me the highlights were as follows. He noted that not every player bought into Anderson's system early on (but resisted the urge to throw anyone "under the bus" even as I nudged Jason Williams name at him). He was pretty up front about the chances of trading a goalie for a NHL player, the fact that he mentioned a "large top six" guy will likely only encourage those HF Trade Board folks who keep suggesting a Lupul-to-the-Thrashers trade. He indicated that the amount of money might be the biggest issue in Kovalchuk situation--something he also mentioned at the townhall meeting but few picked up on it. And he listed off the top eight players eligible for the NHL draft. I couldn't help but notice that Waddell only dropped the first name of one player--was that just random, or was it an indicator of who is on his mind? I'll let you decide.

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