Current Minnesota Wild Leadership is Formed
When Craig Leipold agreed to purchase the Minnesota Wild in 2008 from the founding ownership group headed by Jac Sperling, it was clear major changes were in store for the organization. With the return of the NHL to Minnesota and construction of the Xcel Energy Center, the center of the universe for hockey in Minnesota was reestablished on Kellogg Avenue in Saint Paul. Leipold tabbed Chuck Fletcher to steer the Wild’s hockey decision as general manager of the club. The young Fletcher at the time of his hire was a bit of an educated gamble, although he was considered to be hockey personnel decision making royalty as the prince to his legendary father Cliff Fletcher.
Fletcher inherited what can best be described as fallout from a nuclear meltdown in his first weeks on the job as the Wild’s top personnel man. The previous regime of general manager Doug Risebrough and head coach Jacques Lemaire has been in place since the franchise first came into existence. Risebrough can be credited for his ability to identify and acquire players that Lemaire was able to maximize in his system during their tenure here with the Wild. Lemaire’s coaching style and system specifically created a unique brand of hockey and in turn provided the driving force for the organizations draft perspective and NHL roster.
Fletcher in his first few months on the job was losing his franchise player Marian Gaborik despite having offered him a reported 10 year contract worth $80 Million dollars. Losing a player the caliber of Gaborik with no compensation is inexcusable and most likely the tipping point for Risebrough’s removal as general manager in Minnesota. Fletcher hired Minnesota native and former Gopher Todd Richards to be the head coach of the Wild. The hiring was a bit curious given that Richards although highly thought of as an assistant coach in San Jose, had no NHL head coaching experience.
Trader Chuck Earns Reputation With Aggressive Dealing
Fletcher immediately gained points with the Minnesota faithful when he selected Nick Leddy of Eden Praire in the first round of the 2009 NHL draft. In drafting a Minnesota native it was huge departure from the previous regime and a breath of fresh air in the state of hockey. Fletcher also was able to maneuver in that draft before selecting Leddy at #16 overall, trading down from the #12 overall spot(Calvin De Haan) and adding a #77 overall(Matt Hackett) and #182 overall(Erik Haula) in a swap with the New York islanders. It was a very positively viewed start for the young general manger and earned some of the trust back from a fan base fed up with the previous regime.
With Fletcher at the helm of the Wild’s hockey personnel department the quality and quantity of young players in the organizational pipeline that was promised upon his arrival has been achieved. Fletcher has leaned heavily on his assistant general manager Brent Flahr to rebuild a near bare prospect cupboard for the Wild. Through several trades to stockpile picks and 5 drafts as the top personnel decision maker for the Wild has built true depth of younger players and graduated their top prospects to the NHL. Maybe the greatest flaw of the previous regime was an inability to develop their draft picks and instead choosing to trade young assets for bottom of the roster NHLers that fit Lemaire’s system.
Chuck Fletcher’s Cultivation of the Wild in Full Bloom
You have to look no further than the free agent signings of Zack Parise and Ryan Suter to find proof positive of Fletcher’s ability to not only improve the Wild’s talent base at the NHL level but for years to come. Both Parise and Suter were drawn to playing Minnesota for geographic personal reasons of course but a powerful selling point to both had been the Wild’s pipeline of young talented amassed by Fletcher. It is hard to argue with how many on the cusp young talented hockey players the Wild currently has at their disposal.
At current the Wild is a team that has yet to break through and surpass the elevated expectations created by the arrival of their young talent to the NHL and the high profile signings of Parise and Suter. There are many different avenues to pursue in trying to identify why the Wild have yet to fulfill their promise as one of the NHL’s most talented young teams. Although the Wild made the playoffs last season for the first time since the 2007-08 season, they did so in less than celebratory fashion needing a win in Colorado on the last day of the shortened NHL season to capture the 8th spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
Fletcher Protects his Vision Hiring First Time Bench Bosses
Fletcher and Leipold when pressed on the future of current Head Coach Mike Yeo, expressed confidence that he was the right man to be the Wild’s bench boss for the 2013-14 season. Under Yeo the Wild has a documented history of successful productive hockey only to fall victim to devastating collapse and plummeting in the standings and relevance. During his first season on the job during the 2011-12 season, Yeo saw his Wild team enter December with the best record in hockey only to finish with a final record of 35-36-11 81 points last in the North West Division.
In hiring Richards and then Yeo, Fletcher choose to entrust his teams to coaches that had no head coaching experience when experienced NHL coaching candidates were available and seemingly interested. It is my contention that Fletcher specifically chose each to insulate and safe guard his personnel vision for the Wild. Being that Fletcher is in his first official opportunity at being the top personnel decision maker, I don’t believe he wanted to risk having to deviate from his vision to satisfy a veteran bench boss with clout to influence the roster. Obviously I am not in Fletcher’s head and I haven’t been in the room with him and Leipold but that theory is the best I can figure to explain why some of the more accomplished and qualified NHL coaches have never materialized as an option for the Wild.
The Wild’s 2013-14 NHL season should be viewed as the proving ground of the last 5 years with Fletcher at the helm as well as what his future with the franchise will entail. Fletcher’s major missteps on the job at present are clearly the Nick Leddy trade, the Martin Havlat free agent signing, and although it is still early the resigning of Niklas Backstrom. Fletcher’s major victories include Parise and Suter signings, drafting and developing prospects and having them graduate to the NHL, and the Jason Pominville trade. I believe at this point the organization over five years removed from Risebrough and Lemaire has been healed and replenish with talented young players at every level of hockey and currently features its most talented NHL in team history.
Wild Needs Young Core to Produce NOW
Fletcher and his scouting staff have done very well to identify players in the draft and in trade that will form the core of the franchise and supplement its veteran foundation of Parise, Suter, and Mikko Koivu. In drafting Mikael Granlund of Finland 9th overall in the 2010 NHL draft, the franchise secured a future superstar who at different points in the past 3 seasons he has been viewed as the most talented prospect in the world. The additions of Nino Niederreiter 5th overall pick and Charlie Coyle 28th overall also in the 2010 NHL draft has provided the Wild with the size and skill combination the organization had lacked. Coyle was acquired in the 2011 draft day trade of Brent Burns to the San Jose Sharks. Also in 2011 Fletcher and Flahr were able to find a hidden gem drafting Jonas Brodin 10th overall. Brodin was arguably the best first year player last year in the NHL as a 19 year old defensemen playing top line minutes for the Wild.
Fletcher has been very aggressive in his vision and molding of what he believes the winning formula will be for the Minnesota Wild. The current depth of the talent amassed during Fletcher’s current run as the top personnel decision maker for the organization has them positioned in my opinion to not only compete for the Stanley Cup this season but also for the next decade. In making his vision a reality I believe Fletcher has completely changed the brand of NHL hockey in Minnesota. The evolution of his personnel moves has forced the rest of the hockey world to acknowledge the Wild as franchise built to compete with the best the NHL has to offer this season and beyond.
Just Giving My Take,
My name is Tony Dean, I am from Saint Paul, Minnesota and currently work in Law Enforcement. I have been writing about the Minnesota Wild for nearly four years now. I am also a United States Marine. I can be followed on Twitter @TonyDeanTHW
Please track me down to provide feeback and talk hockey I appreciate every read of my content and welcome your thoughts!