Last weekend a group of 100 Thrashers fans gathered at a local restaurant to watch Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The occasion also served as a chance to mark the first anniversary of the sale and relocation of their NHL franchise to Winnipeg, Canada, ending 11 years of hockey in Atlanta.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently caught up with Don Waddell, the organization’s president and long-time general manager. In the year since the Thrashers left, Waddell has continued his work with USA Hockey and served as a pro scout for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He continues to have a role with the Atlanta Spirit, including maintaining an office at Philips Arena, but expects that to end this month. His Atlanta home is up for sale, and Waddell is looking for his next job.
Here are five questions and answers with Waddell about the past year.
Q: Saturday was the one-year anniversary of the sale and relocation of the Thrashers. How do you reflect back on everything that happened?
A: It’s still hard to comprehend sometimes everything that happened. We’ve all learned to accept it now and we have to move on and face new challenges. I followed Winnipeg, obviously, very closely this year particularly most of the guys that we either drafted or signed. I was disappointed they missed the playoffs this year, but I know they are headed in the right direction. ...
Q: So you did pay attention to what Winnipeg did?
A: Oh, yes. When you have a personal relationship with probably 90 percent of that team, because they only made a few changes, I think you always have an interest. You pull for the guys. We had such a good group of guys who had nothing to do with the move. It wasn’t there responsibility or fault. I don’t know why I would not still care about them and want to see how they are doing.
Q: Have you had much contact with former players and staff and can you give any insight on their perspective of what happened?
A: From time to time, I get a phone call from a few of the guys who I had a real good relationship with and I got to catch up with some of the guys at the World Championships. We had Jim Slater there. Evander Kane was there. Andrew Ladd was there. Through the year, I got to see them play a few times. Winnipeg invited me up there. I went up right after Christmas and watched a game and went down to the locker room after and saw all the guys. ...
Q: Do you still have a role with the Atlanta Spirit?
A: Yes. It’s pretty much winding down. I was around a lot the first half of the year when I was doing stuff for USA Hockey. The second half of the year I’ve really been traveling. From January 15, when I started with Pittsburgh, until May 19 when the World Championships ended, there were a hundred and fifty-something days in there, and I spent 132 days in hotel rooms. I was pretty much on the road the second half of the year. ...
Q: Have you had any contact with Thrashers fans and what do they say to you?
A: There is a group of fans, maybe a dozen, that I communicate with via email. They are always asking me about the playoffs and what’s going on. When I’m in town, in the neighborhood I live in we probably had 50 or 60 season-ticket holders, I run into them all the time. When you are out and about, being in the city since 1998, you get to know a lot of people. ...
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