Points from the Point: Salvation Edition
By: Bryan Vickroy
When the Minnesota Wild’s season prematurely ended without a playoff appearance, two major milestones occurred for the first time in franchise history: coach Jaques Lemaire retired and owner Craig Leipold declined to pick up GM Doug Risebrough’s contract. These two moves left the franchise in a position to lose the three assets the team had ever had, including Marian Gaborik’s impending free agency. Today the team started the task of building its new identity by hiring Chuck Fletcher as the new general manager. The team plans to officially announce it at a Friday 4:00pm press conference.
During the second period of a mid winter game, after the Wild choked away a three goal lead, after not doing anything at the trade deadline, I texted David Palmer. I told him at that moment the Wild’s season was over. I was right. Risebrough did nothing to help the team offensively, and they failed to score enough down the stretch. I started a campaign calling for the head of Risebrough, which Peter Christian gladly got behind. When I heard Risebrough had finally been ousted, it felt like Christmas.
Fletcher comes over from the Penguins, where he recently served as assistant GM for the last couple years, overseeing the player development and shaping a team that is working towards a second consecutive Stanley Cup berth. Before that he spent four years in Anaheim as director of hockey operations, loading up a minor league system that showed its depth after this year’s trade deadline to beat San Jose and pushed Detroit to the limit. He spent some time as an interim GM in Florida during his early years, cutting his team with a truly disorganized franchise. Fletcher is a Harvard grad, and also brings some marketing experience during a stint working for Hockey Canada.
What does this mean for a team whose player seemed to bristle at the style of play and attitude of management in recent years? Even Lemaire hinted at this during his retirement press conference. Risebrough was seen as passive among the hockey circles, and never seemed willing to strike a deal to help a team that badly needed an injection of offense into the lineup. Injuries and poor play doomed the team this year, although the results wouldn’t have been much different. The style is defense first, and players weren’t given the space to achieve the offensive brilliance that players like Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen, and the brittle Marian Gaborik, posses.
Fletcher’s first task is to dance with the devil and talk to Gaborik about a new contract. His agent has stated publicly that the new GM would get a shot to resign the oft injured forward before he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. For the sake of both, they need to get a deal done, if even for only one year. Gaborik still needs to prove himself and the rest of the league that he can make it through an entire season healthy. The Wild need the scoring punch that Gaborik showed he had in the last couple weeks of the season. Without Gaborik the Wild have little to no scoring left on the team.
A second immediate task of hiring a coach isn’t far behind. The team needs someone who will let them run a little more offensively. The team has speed and shooters, but being bridled with such a heavy defensive scheme hurt many players offensive abilities. A coach who will let them be more creative will greatly help. This roster knows how to play defense, and has stellar goaltending behind it every game. Unfortunately, two coaches who I feel would have been perfect fits (Andy McDonald and John Tortorella) were both hired midseason. I have now fallen behind on of Peter Christian’s movements: Hire Wes Walz as the new coach of the Wild. Walz has been coaching in Tampa since his concussion induced retirement. A friendly face, and teammate of many on the roster, will help keep those core defensive principles together, while allowing the freedom to create goals. Fletcher/Walz ’09 has a good ring to it.
Fletcher is a great hire by Leipold. The 41 year old is the son of Cliff Fletcher, a former hockey exec who ran the Flames and Maple Leafs during Chuck’s youth. He is considered one of the brightest minds in hockey, and will take the foundation that the Team of 18,000 has built.
Keep it real, and as the great woodsman Red Green says, “Keep your stick on the ice.”
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