The drama, as Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon referred to it Monday, over Don Waddell’s contract has ended.
Waddell will continue as president and general manager of the Hurricanes, the organization announced. Dundon said Waddell, 60, had been given a three-year contract extension.
Neither Dundon nor Waddell seemed overly concerned about the contract -- or a lack of one since June -- during a media conference call on Monday. Both again indicated they always believed Waddell, a finalist for the NHL’s general manager of the year award after the Canes’ 2018-19 season, would continue in his dual role with the team.
“Tom and I have talked and it’s not like this has been a mystery to either one of us,” Waddell said in the conference call. “My feeling was I didn’t want to leave here. I think it got blown out of proportion after the contract expired. I knew in time we’d work it out.
“I’ve been through this before, with other opportunities and so forth, but at the end of the day I’m right where I belong and right where I should be.”
One opportunity was an opening with the Minnesota Wild, which began the search for a general manager after Paul Fenton was fired July 30 after just one year. Waddell interviewed for the Wild job with approval from Dundon.
“Tom and I talked about it when the job opened up and we talked about me exploring it and Tom was OK with that,” Waddell said. “I felt at that point I should probably do it.”
Word of Waddell’s interest caused a stir in the NHL -- a sitting GM, albeit without a contract, interviewing for another position was a rarity. The Wild’s interest in Waddell was understandable, coming after a season in which the Canes reached the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009 and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
The Canes’ surge into the playoffs was spurred, in part, by Waddell’s trade with Minnesota in January that brought forward Nino Niederreiter to Carolina, infusing some need offensive production.
“For me, I told Don he had a job as long as he wanted it,” Dundon said Monday. “I’m comfortable with what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and I thought it would take something extremely compelling for him to leave, but if there was something better for him in this world that was that much better than our situation, whether we had a contract or not, I’d be rooting for him.
“A contract doesn’t help me that much, candidly. But given the situation we were in and it made everybody more comfortable, then we did it. ... I’m glad this makes everybody feel better.”
Since the season ended, the Canes have had assistant general manager Mike Vellucci and goaltending coach Mike Bales leave the organization for other hockey jobs -- Vellucci after coaching the Charlotte Checkers to a Calder Cup title in the American Hockey League. Assistant general manager Brian Tatum also left.
But as Waddell said Monday, the Canes continued “business as usual” although handling the Montreal Canadiens’ offer sheet to center Sebastian Aho as free agency began wasn’t a usual GM task. The Canes quickly matched the offer sheet, giving Aho a five-year contract worth an average of $8.454 million a year.
Waddell has traded defenseman Calvin de Haan while trading for forward Erik Haula and goalie James Reimer and signing forward Ryan Dzingel as a free agent.
The biggest question mark remains Justin Williams, the Canes captain who will turn 38 in early October. Waddell said he and Dundon have talked to Williams but said Williams, an unrestricted free agent, remains undecided about whether to return or retire.
“The feeling is he’s still debating it,” Waddell said. “I’m not sure which way. If you asked me a while back I’d said he’d probably be playing, but we’re still in contact with Justin and he’s trying to make a decision on what’s best for him and his family.”
As for Waddell, he decided staying with the Canes was best for him. NHL bylaws require teams to have a general manager under contract on Sept. 1. Waddell has one.
“We’re doing this because we want to do this, not because of that rule,” Dundon said.