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Waddell signs on for sixth season, more

4/29/2004 - Atlanta Thrashers

ATLANTA -- Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk, Kari Lehtonen --
with so much young talent already in place, Thrashers general
manager Don Waddell never thought of leaving Atlanta.

The team's new owners had no intentions of letting him go.

Waddell agreed to a new multiyear contract Thursday and will be back for
his sixth season with the team, hoping to finally lead the
Thrashers to the playoffs.

"The best thing is that our best players are our youngest
players," Waddell said. "To able to draft these players and watch
their development, that's exciting and I want to be a part of
that."

The sale of the Thrashers and the NBA's Atlanta Hawks to a
nine-man group of investors was completed in March, and longtime
sports executive Bernie Mullin was selected chief of operations for
both teams.

A friend of Waddell's for more than 10 years, Mullin made
keeping Waddell a priority.

"He's been the architect of this team from the beginning, and
he's going to be the architect for the foreseeable future," Mullin
said. "He's built what we feel is the best young team in the NHL,
and it's very, very, very deep with prospects in the minor leagues.

"We've put our faith in Don for the future."

During his tenure, Waddell has acquired most of those players
through the draft, including former rookie of the year Heatley and
Kovalchuk, who tied for the NHL lead with 41 goals this season.
Lehtonen, a goaltender and another draft pick by Waddell, finished
4-0 in four starts after he was called up late in the season.

But Atlanta has yet to reach the postseason. After a 19-14-3-1
start, the Thrashers slumped badly in January and won only two of
14 games to drop out of contention.

Still, they finished with franchise highs in wins (33) and
points (78).

Before the season, the Thrashers had to deal with the death of
center Dan Snyder, who was killed in a car accident during training
camp. Heatley was driving and missed the first 51 games with his
own injuries.

"I've got to tell you, reflecting back on this year, this is
the proudest I've ever been to be associated with our players and
our organization," Waddell said. "It would have been an easy time
to pack it in, but the players battled right through to the end. It
was another huge step in the process."

Waddell also selected coach Bob Hartley, who joined the team in
January 2003 after Curt Fraser was fired. In about 1{ seasons with
Atlanta, Hartley is 52-56-13.

But Waddell often has been criticized for not improving the team
through a trade or free agency. He hopes this offseason might be
different.

"We've never been a team that's been in the free agent market,
but this summer might be an opportunity that we get into that,"
Waddell said. "As you look at our team, we really need a key,
veteran defenseman, and we might be able to fill that this
offseason."