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Waddell to work for "wonderful" owner Levenson, Spirit even after Thrashers sale

Thrashers fans may have lost their team to Winnipeg, but Hawks fans got a gift in return: former Thrashers President Don Waddell is working on the Hawks sale.
Thrashers fans may have lost their team to Winnipeg, but Hawks fans got a gift in return: former Thrashers President Don Waddell is working on the Hawks sale.
(Getty Images/Kevin C. Cox)

Sometimes it pays to be a company man.

If running the Atlanta Thrashers was a game of “Survivor” former team president Don Waddell would have “outwitted, outplayed and outlasted” all of the other potential employees to remain on Thrashers island, despite a terrible track record as both the general manager and the president of the team.

Now it looks like the George Costanza-like architect of Atlanta’s relocated hockey team will get a crack at putting his fingerprints all over the Atlanta Hawks.

Waddell gave a wide-ranging interview to CBC radio’s HNIC show this week and some of the revelations just plain on boggled the mind of most fans that witness the disintegration of hockey in Atlanta – a striving the metropolis of 5.6 million.

But the biggest bombshell was perhaps how the former Atlanta GM described his working relationship with Thrashers owner Bruce Levenson.

“What's important for me is working with good people and for good people,” Waddell said. "Putting myself in a good situation. My boss Bruce Levenson is a wonderful person and treated me very well.”

“Wonderful” is the last word used by Thrashers fans to describe Levenson, who is usually reviled with four-letter words as the one most responsible for dumping their hockey team to Winnipeg at the first opportunity. That sale came as a shock to a lot of fans, who were reassured time and time again by Waddell that the Thrashers were not leaving town.

Unfortunately for fans of Atlanta sports, the only ones in the Thrashers organization not leaving town right now are Spirit owners Bruce Levenson and Michael Gearon and their minister of propaganda Don Waddell. They will remain until the Hawks are sold, with Waddell taking a greater role in the Hawks sale process.

“I really enjoy the business side of the sport,” Waddell said. “And I think there's a big need for that. In the meantime, I'm still currently employed by our owners because we're trying to sell our basketball team and I've been in trying to assist that in the process.”

Well isn’t that special?

This is the same Waddell who flatly denied handling any sale dealing with the Hawks during the dump-the-Thrashers process is now working on disposing of the Atlanta Spirit’s other main asset. Despite the denials at the time and the convenient paradigm set up by Waddell, sources told Examiner.com that the former Thrashers GM was also working on the Hawks sale well before the hockey team left town.

One would presume that without a hockey team, Waddell’s job would be over, especially after what amounted to a short sale of a Thrashers team that resulted in the firing of 75 long-time Spirit employees, many of whom are still looking for work.

But not Waddell.

After wrecking one franchise and sending it to a Canadian city 1/7th the size, he has his eyes set on finishing off the basketball team, too.

Of course, if you believe the longest tenured Thrashers employee, the organization did everything it could to keep the Thrashers here in Atlanta and it was merely coincidental that his buddy Bruce Levenson jumped at the first opportunity to move the hockey team out of town.

“Well the one thing is we desperately and we did everything we possibly could to try to find a local buyer,” Waddell said. I feel good about that. It wasn't like that we didn't put our efforts forward.

"We always knew that the Winnipeg thing was sitting out there because of what was going on in Phoenix. We were following that. We thought we were out of the woods because Phoenix was done and they got saved again.”

While the party line is that the Phoenix Coyotes’ gain was the Thrashers loss, folks like Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz candidly admitted that True North Sports and Entertainment had their sights set on the Thrashers all along. TNSE also candidly admitted that they first made contact with the Thrashers about a possible sale two years ago.

A convenient quick sale was consummated 10 days after the Phoenix deal fell through, paperwork was finalized 11 days later and the team was officially moved after a Board of Governors vote on June 21. The sale went through despite admissions in legal documents that the Thrashers were only able to be sold after the team’s intra-partnership lawsuit was “settled” in December 2010, giving the team only six months to legitimately find a buyer.

According to Waddell, buyers were knocking on the door in droves to purchase the hockey team.

“We had 20-some groups that we were in contact with. Probably three that were fully vetted legitimate buyers that could afford to buy it,” he said. “We were down the path with one, way down the road, I actually thought it was going to happen. At the last moment, a couple things happened and it fell apart.

“We had a lot of phone calls and a lot of meetings, but at truly there (were) about three potential buyers at the end.”

Thrashers fans could only sit back and wonder what would have happened if the Spirit and a callous NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman actually had patience and allowed a local market to develop for the Thrashers. Instead, the Spirit got their $110 million to $130 million payday, while the league pocketed a $60 million “relocation” or “breakup” fee ($20 million of which may have lined “wonderful” Bruce Levenson’s pockets).

But don’t worry about Waddell. He’s going to be OK after all of this. He after all expects to be involved in the league long after his Thrashers fade into history as one of the most ineptly run franchises in all of professional sports.

“The good thing is that I have a lot of strong relationships in the National Hockey League not only from owners, but from Presidents and General Managers,” Waddell said. “A lot of those people have reached out. It's nice to know that your peers respect things. People in the business know what we went through with all of our different elements. It's nice to get those phone calls.

“It is what it is. It's been a great run here. I've been here 13 years, which in this business is a long time. There are a lot of sad parts about it, but now we have to look forward to our next challenge.”

Yep, folks, it is what it is alright. It’s comforting to know that it still pays to be a company’s “yes” man. You get rewarded even if the company you work for goes down in flames.

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