Don Waddell, the man who wears two hats for the Carolina Hurricanes, has little down time these days.
Waddell, as president and general manager, has a lengthy to-do list that includes:
▪ Resolving a goaltending situation that feels like a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
▪ Taking calls from GMs interested in trades.
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▪ Preparing for the NHL Draft next month in Dallas and deciding whether to use the No. 2 pick. or trade it.
▪ Deciding who that No. 2 pick will be, if used.
▪ Making decisions on re-signing goalie Cam Ward and forwards Derek Ryan and Lee Stempniak, who become unrestricted free agents July 1.
▪ Negotiating new contracts for players such as forward Elias Lindholm and defensemen Noah Hanifin and Trevor van Riemsdyk.
▪ Hiring an assistant coach to complete Rod Brind’Amour’s coaching staff.
▪ And, on the business side, finding ways to sell more tickets for the 2018-19 season after missing the playoffs for the past nine years.
All that is being done in collaboration with owner Tom Dundon, whose eyes and hands are on everything.
The Hurricanes have made it clear they want a different goaltending look in the 2018-19 season, saying they will not have Scott Darling and Ward back as their goalie tandem. But it’s problematic.
Darling, coming off a mostly miserable first season with Carolina, probably can’t be traded given what’s left on his contract: three years, $12.45 million. Not unless they retain a big chunk of it, which Dundon may be loathe to do.
Ward, 34, wants to return to a team he has played for the past 13 seasons, winning 318 games, winning a Stanley Cup, but that would mean Darling-Ward again.
Alex Nedeljkovic had a breakout season for the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ AHL affiliate, but might need another year of development in the minors.
What to do?
“We’re talking to teams and looking at the market and seeing what’s out there,” Waddell said. “We’re going to turn over every stone to see what’s available. You can’t make a change for the sake of making a change.”
Waddell was asked if he anticipated Darling being back with the team.
“As of now, yes,” he said.
Which then means Ward leaving?
“I don’t want to close any doors yet,” Waddell said. “I want to keep all my options. We don’t have to make a decision yet. We have some time on this.”
A year ago, former general manager Ron Francis was able to deal goalie Eddie Lack, finding a taker in the Calgary Flames. That came after Francis had traded for Darling, the former Chicago Blackhawks backup, who was signed to a four-year, $16.6 million deal.
Ward had one year left on an extension that paid him $3.1 million last season. Everything seemed set — Darling and Ward.
But Darling, asked to be a No. 1 goalie for the first time, struggled from the start. He finished with a 13-21-7 record, a 3.18 goals-allowed average and an .888 save percentage. Ward was better, steadier, finishing with a 23-14-4 record, 2.73 goals-allowed average and .906 save percentage. He picked up his 300th career victory against the Vegas Golden Knights, and in Las Vegas.
“Cam would very much like to stay, as everyone knows,” Rick Curran, Ward’s agent, said this week. “But given the current situation, recognizing they’ve already made a commitment not to having the same goaltending duo, I guess our options are limited.”
Before leaving for Toronto and the NHL Draft Lottery, before the Canes won the No. 2 overall pick, Waddell said he was a “lucky man.” Now, the Canes need to be lucky again — with the No. 2 pick.
Most mock drafts have the Canes taking Russian forward Andrei Svechnikov, a 6-2, 188-pound power winger who played last season with Barrie in the Ontario Hockey League and scored 40 goals in 44 games.
While several GMs have called about obtaining the pick, Waddell said the Canes remain committed to making it in Dallas.
“I’ve told teams it’s my job to listen and I won’t hang up on someone if they want to make me an offer,” Waddell said. “We think whatever direction we go we’re going to get a heck of a player. If somebody is going to make an offer they’re probably going to overpay for the pick.”