Editor’s Note: We are very excited to welcome Sarah Avampato to the Canes Country team. Sarah is based in Chicago and has covered the Wolves the past couple seasons, for Vegas Golden Knights SB Nation site Knights on Ice last year and Inside AHL Hockey the year before, and we’re excited to announce she’ll be doing the same for us this season.
Sarah also hosts the Monday and Wednesday editions of the Locked on NHL Podcast. Stay tuned for more coverage of the Canes’ new AHL affiliate, including a look at what the Wolves bring as a partner early next week.
Following Thursday’s announcement that the Chicago Wolves and Carolina Hurricanes have entered into a three-year partnership, Don Waddell, president and general manager of the Hurricanes, and Wolves chairman Don Levin sat down with the media to shed some more light on the new affiliation — over Zoom, of course.
The virtual nature of current events was actually one of the more challenging parts of hammering out the agreement, Waddell admitted. “The only difficult thing is, you know, everything’s been done by Zoom calls. We haven’t been able to get together,” he said, before launching into a more serious discussion about the partnership.
The long-standing professional relationship between Waddell and Levin stretches back decades and certainly helped pave the way for the two teams to connect. Levin said Waddell helped guide him when he was new to the hockey business. The two also previously worked together when the Wolves were affiliated with the Atlanta Thrashers, where Waddell served as general manager, and later, team president.
“This was an easy deal,” Waddell said, “because there’s a relationship here between Don and Wendell [Young, the Wolves’ general manager] and myself. I know the organization very well there, I know all the people there. Like we said, we had great success together.”
Levin echoed that sentiment when asked about the importance of building a long-term relationship with an NHL club. “It’s the most important thing. I mean, we worked with Don for 10 years. And we were very, very happy. We never had a problem ever.”
Both men spoke of the importance of winning championships and developing young players. Levin spoke proudly of the 13 former Wolves players who are in the playoffs, including Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Zach Whitecloud, who developed into an NHL defenseman with the Wolves after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of the NCAA.
“We’re able to accomplish two goals. One is develop players and two, win championships. I truly believe when you win, you help develop players,” Waddell said.
He pointed to the many NHL-level amenities the Wolves have for their players, including a dedicated practice facility, as well as being the primary tenant of Rosemont’s Allstate Arena, as positive assets both for the Hurricanes organization as a whole, as well as for the types of experienced veteran players that he hopes to attract to the team.
Of course, with player development and dedicated facilities comes the issue of money — something that could have been a motivating factor for the Hurricanes’ split with the Charlotte Checkers. Waddell, speaking of the need to attract veteran players to take a role on an AHL team, discussed the Wolves’ willingness to share some of the financial burden of bringing on experienced players.
“Financially, you know, the Wolves have stepped up and they share in those costs of the veteran players with us and you know, that’s big for us,” Waddell said. “We spend a lot of money at the National League level and if we can save a little money and make it a better relationship and get better players, it’s only going to help us overall, because younger players need direction, they need veteran leadership, and to be able to have veterans that want to play in Chicago and have the financial arrangement we do with them? I think it is great for both of us.”
Neither Levin nor Waddell had any concerns about the distance between Chicago and Raleigh, citing the close proximity to an airport and the many daily flights available between the two cities.
Both men are excited about the chance to work together again, even though no one quite knows what the 2020-21 AHL season is going to look like.
From Levin’s perspective, the ball is in the AHL’s court; meanwhile, he’s going to focus on making sure the Wolves develop the best team possible.
“Our responsibility is to develop the players, irrespective of if we’re playing games in the Allstate Arena,” Levin said. “If we have to just train players and have games at the practice facility, we can do that.”
With the Wolves’ willingness to do whatever it takes to provide a world-class, winning atmosphere for their players, it seems like it won’t matter what restrictions, if any, come with next season’s return to play. The Wolves and Hurricanes are intent on delivering a high-caliber team with their sights set on another championship.