If the tenure of Don Waddell ended tomorrow, he would go down in the history of the NHL as another Phil Esposito. That is not a compliment.
Esposito was the first GM on a southern expansion team that had many high draft picks, many low finishes and just one playoff appearance in the team's first decade. Sound familiar Thrasher fans? Compare for a moment the early years of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the early years of the Atlanta Thrashers.
|GM Esposito||Tampa's Finish||GM Waddell||Atlanta's Finish|
|1992-93||Out of Playoffs||1999-2000||Out of Playoffs|
|1993-94||Out of Playoffs||2000-2001||Out of Playoffs|
|1994-95||Out of Playoffs||2001-02||Out of Playoffs|
|1995-96||Playoffs||2002-03||Out of Playoffs|
|1996-97||Out of Playoffs||2003-04||Out of Playoffs|
|1997-98||Out of Playoffs||2005-06||Out of Playoffs|
|2007-08||Out of Playoffs|
|2008-09||Out of Playoffs|
My belief is that Don Waddell is a caretaker GM who will be replaced by whichever party wins the lawsuit for ownership of the teams. I suspect that he is charged with doing the best he can without spending much above the salary floor.Given the salary constraints and talent deficit within the organization, It is very unlikely that Don Waddell will still be GM the next time the Thrashers qualify for the playoffs.
However, Don Waddell has an enormous opportunity to construct the talent base that will be the foundation of a contending Thrashers team. There are many important decisions to be made between now and the start of the next NHL season. We have the trade deadline on March 4th, a contract offer to Kovalchuk in this summer, free agency in July, the NHL draft in June and the organizational decision about their goalie of the future. Waddell can either speed or retard progress toward contention depending upon his decisions.
The first big test will be this trade deadline. The Thrashers have already moved Mathieu Schneider for a 2nd round pick (and other conditional picks) which strikes me as a fair return. Pending UFAs Perrin, Havelid and Reasoner could bring needed prospects, draft picks or NHL players.
The key is acquiring young talent that will have an IMPACT at the NHL level. Last year the Thrashers got a mixed bag for Marian Hossa. Colby Armstrong is a great addition and brings much needed grit and leadership. Eric Christensen has been a total bust and occupies a roster spot that could be used to develop a player who has a future in the NHL. The Pittsburgh 1st round pick was used on a player who is a big question mark. Angelo Esposito has had another mixed year in which he struggled with consistency. He has obvious talent, but does he have the hockey sense and determination to be a NHL player? Nobody knows yet.
A year ago Don Waddell retarded the progress of this franchise by failing to auction off veterans like Bobby Holik who could have brought needed draft picks. In the Hossa trade he acquired one quality NHL player, one NHL bust and two question marks who have some upside but are far from a sure thing.
Can the team do better this year? Can Don Waddell find the pieces that will compose the base of the next Thrashers playoff team? Can he rescue his reputation at this late hour? Much of the book on Don Waddell has already been written but the final chapter is still incomplete.
Conclusion: Many things are on the line at the trade deadline. Individual players lives are changed, Stanley Cup contenders are completed, and GMs can make or repair their reputation.