When Wendell Young was named general manager of the Chicago Wolves on August 6, 2009, he hit the ground running. He had to make a coaching change six games into the 2009-10 season, brought in future hall-of-famer Chris Chelios, made a handful of moves that impacted the clear day roster, and saw the Wolves win their third West Division title before suffering a Game 7 overtime defeat in the second round of the playoffs.
Those are just a few of the things that shaped Young’s rookie season as a general manager, and he hasn’t even been on the job for a full calendar year. We caught up with Young to get his evaluation of his first year at the helm of the Wolves hockey operations department and a glimpse into his preparations for next season.
Q: How did you think your first year as general manager of the Chicago Wolves went?
A: Well, it was an interesting year, first of all. With us not making the playoffs last year and the team starting off slow, I had to make a coaching change six games into the season, which made it an interesting and eventful start. But, I was proud that we were able to rally the team and win the West Division. I think we were successful from that avenue, but overall we are about winning championships, so losing in Game 7 of the West Division Finals to Texas made it a disappointing year.
Q: How would you evaluate your transition from coach to general manager?
A: I would say it went pretty smoothly. I think I understand the game of hockey and I am an organized guy, but I think the biggest part that made my transition so much easier was having (Assistant General Manager) Bill Bentley and (Director of Hockey Operations and Senior Advisor) Gene Ubriaco on my staff. I really didn’t go into the job blind. I knew a lot about what went on, but a lot of technical stuff and the procedures you have to do with the league, Bill and Gene basically held my hand and walked me through my first year. So, I had the benefit of those two guys and I think the transition of my first year as general manager was easier because of them.
Q: Did anything take you by surprise or did you encounter any obstacles you didn’t expect during your first year?
A: I never expected the start that our team got off to and having to relieve two coaches after six games was the biggest thing I didn’t see coming. I would never wish that on anybody, having to make a coaching change in season. I think that was a massive obstacle for me to handle and it was a personal thing as well, so that was really tough. Behind the scenes, I don’t think people realize the amount of time that goes into putting a team together, from scheduling, to what hotels we stay at and busses we use. All those kinds of things are just a consistent thing on an every day basis. You think you are getting ahead sometimes and all of a sudden, this and that gets put on the plate, and you aren’t ahead anymore. There is a lot of administrative stuff that a lot of people don’t see or know about because it is behind the scenes, but in my position the umbrella you have to handle is very large.
Q: Do you think having to face some adversity and making player moves right at the beginning of your tenure will benefit you in the years ahead?
A: I think so. I had the benefit of the majority of the team being in place when I took over for (former Wolves General Manager) Kevin Cheveldayoff in August 2009. Chevy and Gene had the structure of the team pretty well put together when I was hired, so I just put a couple tweaks on it. I brought in Chris Chelios and made a few moves here and there, but the roster was already mostly done when I got there. This year, going forward, it will be more of my stamp on the team. But again, it was an eventful year, even without having to form a team from scratch.
Q: This summer, you will have your first chance to put together your team. Is that something that you are excited for?
A: Absolutely. Not even 30 minutes after we lost Game 7 to Texas, (Wolves Chairman of the Board) Don Levin told me to get to work on next year’s team. Gene and I have already had some long days going over and scanning lists for potential free agents and discussing the direction we want our team to go in next year. It has kind of been busier now than it was during the playoffs.
Q: Times have changed up in Atlanta. Rick Dudley took over for Don Waddell as general manager and the team hasn’t hired a new coach. How has that impacted the way you are going about your business this summer?
A: I have had talks with Atlanta and Rick. The relationship hasn’t changed. I am trying to get everything together on my side so I can make my presentation to them and hopefully highlight some players that would be beneficial to them, whether it’s a player that can make the Thrashers roster or be a really good call up. Most teams that are successful have really good depth on their NHL team and really good depth in the minors that they can call up any time to step in and play. I think that is the way we are trying to look at our team now; that we are trying to make Atlanta stronger with the depth that we will have on the Wolves.
Q: What role do you play in the Atlanta Thrashers’ plans for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft in June?
A: I won’t really play into their draft plans unless they make a trade. The players that Atlanta is going to take won’t be able to play in Chicago for at least two or three years. The draft is going to affect us down the line unless they trade players for draft picks or trade picks for players that can help us. That is the only way the draft will affect us for the 2010-11 season. Our big thing is when free agency starts on July 1. That is the key time for me and right after the draft is when I will have my major meetings with the Atlanta Thrashers. That is when I will put in my wish list so I can start forming our team with their help.
Q: What are you looking for from a player standpoint for the 2010-11 season?
A: It will depend what players Atlanta re-signs. We have the potential of losing some key components of this year’s team so we kind of have to wait and see. We have begun to put our plan in place but with guys like Brett Sterling, Joey Crabb and Tim Stapleton, we have to wait and see what Atlanta does. We also have to wait to see who makes Atlanta’s roster from our team last year. We are trying to cover ourselves and say if the Thrashers don’t sign any of these guys, here is my presentation of who I think you should sign in their place. It is a waiting game. We have to just wait and see who Atlanta re-signs and what players other NHL teams don’t re-sign. There are a lot of unknowns out there right now but that is the way it always is. You always have to be ready with options.
Q: What are your expectations for next season?
A: We expect to win the Calder Cup. We are not forming a team to just make the playoffs. We are forming a team to win a championship. Some teams measure success by making the playoffs but we don’t shoot that low. Our goal is to win the Calder Cup every year and if we don’t, it is not a good season for us. We expect to win and we want to win and I think that distinguishes our franchise from a lot of others.