The Wild state their organizational values are team, preparation, honesty and passion. The issue this season, however, seemed to be leadership.
Multiple leadership issue were a factor this year:
- The Wes Walz retirement.
- Mid-season change in ownership.
- Lack of trade deadline moves.
- Noticeable frustration from the coaching staff.
Instead of lingering on this season (which the marketing department likes to do), let’s look at what the future holds for the Wild.
Craig Leipold brings hope to the Wild faithful, but his initial comments (“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”) and the restrictions of the salary cap don’t paint a great picture. His open letter to fans also makes one wonder:
And I pledge to do my part to keep making this team even better. Because as great as you make the atmosphere off the ice, it is my duty to make the team on the ice the very best it can be. I believe in the system that Doug Risebrough and his hockey staff have built here, and I support them 100%. My goal is winning; not to tinker with success. I just want to give them the tools they need to carry out their plan as best they can.
We’ll come back to Doug Risebough and his hockey staff in a minute, but Mr. Leipold finishes up his letter with the following:
Now, we’re beginning the Stanley Cup playoffs; one of 16 teams with a shot at a championship. I look forward to seeing you at each and every game. And I make no secret of hoping, one day soon, that I’ll see you at the parade the State of Hockey so richly deserves, and the Stanley Cup finally comes to where it belongs.
Part of leadership involves setting goals and expectations and I’m glad to see someone at the Wild mention the Cup. As a season ticket holder, I’m looking for two things: entertainment and a championship. If the team wasn’t fun to watch, they wouldn’t sell out every game.
The previous ownership never seemed to focus on winning the Cup (too Minnesota Nice to say what we want?). Enough talk about good effort, fight to the end, etc. The goal is the Cup!
Wes Walz and Doug Risebrough
I said I wasn’t going to linger on the past season, but I can’t start to talk about Doug Risebrough without talking about Wes Walz.
We’ll never know if there was more to the story or not, but retiring in the middle of the season was not a move a good leader makes. And Walz was apparently the leader on the team, as no one else seemed to step up to take on that role as the season continued. I appreciate what Walz meant to the team over the years, but his decision mid-season really hurt the team.
As for Risebrough, I’m sure there is plenty we don’t know about the trade deadline and what went on behind the scenes. But the fact of the matter is that with Walz leaving, the Wild were short at center and there was plenty of time to look for a replacement before the trade deadline. The market for big-name centers wasn’t huge, but other teams were able to make deals that didn’t mortgage their future. Then again, with the change in ownership hanging over the trade deadline, maybe the plan was to stand still for now and wait until Mr. Leipold took over. And there is the possibility that Risebrough was coasting anyway–uncertainty with a new owner, opportunities with other teams, etc.
It seems that Wild hockey operations didn’t have the greatest of years this season. In addition to Walz and the trade deadline, there were several instances when the Wild seemed to mishandle the mundane (filing paperwork with the league to make players eligible, roster move issues with Houston bringing players up and down, customs issues when Sheppard signed, etc.). I don’t know enough about what Tom Lynn (Assistant General Manager/Hockey Operations) and Tom Thompson (Assistant General Manager/Player Personnel) do, but you have to wonder if the new owner truly believes the hockey operations employees are the best in the league.
Jacques Lemaire appears ready to walk away. His team seemed to stopped listening to him half-way through the season and the disdain between him and Gaborik was not a big secret. Lemaire’s post-game comments after each game are one of my favorite things to listen to and we all know his history of achievement in the NHL. His style of hockey doesn’t appeal to all players (and fans), but I disagree with anyone who says that Wild games are boring to watch because of the coach.
That said, it may be time for a change. If the new owner ends up having to shake things up everywhere else, why not at least consider a new coach? Rumors earlier in the year pointed to the hiring of Kevin Constantine in Houston as the heir-apparent to Lemaire and a season ticket holder in San Jose that I know had nothing but praise for him when he coached there. Aside from him being a Minnesotan and having lots of NHL experience, I don’t know enough about him to lean one way or another.
Those calling for Mike Ramsey have some valid points, but he seems like a wild card to me. The hockey background is great: Gopher, 1980 Miracle on Ice player, Sabres defenseman and Wild assistant since the beginning. No head coaching experience and perhaps too close to status quo for the new owner, though.
All that said, having Lemaire back with a new supporting cast would not be a bad thing either.
As reported all over, the Wild have a lot of roster decisions to make this summer. According to NHL Numbers, the Wild have ten unrestricted free agents and four restricted free agents to deal with. Add to that the Gaborik situation and this team will look very different next fall.
Let’s start with who we have locked up longer term: Schultz for six more years, Burns for four, Koivu and Parrish for three and Belanger, Sheppard, Boogaard and Johnsson for two. The first three are awesome. Belanger flamed out early this year and I really hope that Parrish just had the wrong partners this season.
Sheppard is a work in progress that hopefully will benefit from the forced big-time experience. The marketing department (and a lot of fans) love Boogaard, but his days may be numbered by health issues and a changing game. Johnsson is usually solid when he doesn’t have to play 30 minutes a game for weeks on end (but probably not $5 million solid).
As for the free agents, let’s look at the RFA’s first. Pierre-Marc Bouchard is small and likes to go for the fancy pants play more than I like, but if the price is right, I’ll take his 50 assists again next year. Nice guy too–drove through a blizzard two years ago to sign autographs for the fans.
Stephane Veilleux – ginger boy is aggressive, gritty and plays with determination and emotion. Need his fire and the price is right. Should sign an endorsement deal with the Gophers.
Aaron Voros – same type of character as Veilleux without the red hair. Needs to calm down and not take stupid penalties. Bring him back.
Kurtis Foster – supposedly already re-signed, but who knows if Risebrough will be around to honor his verbal commitment. Wild will be short on the blue line and need a healthy Foster back on the point, especially during the power play. We used to joke that Foster was Australian for Skoula, but that joke isn’t funny any more.
On the UFA side of things, the two big ones are of course Rolston and Demitra. My feelings on these two have reversed over the course of the year. I bought one of the first Demitra jerseys in town, but feel a bit let down. There is still nothing like watching Demitra feed Gabby on a breakaway, but it didn’t happen enough for how much that duo would cost next year. Of course if Demo goes, you need to deal with Gaborik, but I’ll leave that conversation for another day.
As for Rolston, I thought he was sort of a one-shot wonder who didn’t play at 100% all the time. My opinion has changed, as he seemed to step into a leader role and really played his butt off at the end of the year (he’s still a one-shot wonder, but it’s a damn good shot). Mixed reports in the news about his intentions, but I’d try to get him back if the money isn’t insane.
This post is getting way longer than I intended, so here’s a summary of the rest:
Keepers: Radivojevic, Fedoruk
Drop: Foy, Simon, Kelly, Carney, Nummelin, Hill
I’ll leave goaltending and a review of “in the system” players for another day as well.
The 2008-09 NHL season will be a fun one no matter what happens, as we get to play every team (hurray!) and the All-Star Game will be in Montreal to celebrate the Canadiens’ 100th Anniversary. Also looking forward to June 20-21 in Ottawa for the 46th NHL Entry Draft. And just a reminder about the draft from Wikipedia:
The Minnesota Wild’s sixth round pick will go to the New York Islanders due to a trade on February 26, 2008 that sent Chris Simon to Minnesota in exchange for this pick. The Minnesota Wild’s seventh round pick will go to the New Jersey Devils due to a trade on February 27, 2007 that sent Aaron Voros to Minnesota in exchange for this pick.
Will Mr. Risebrough be in Ottawa spending Mr. Leipold’s money or someone else’s?
Originally published by DK on April 20, 2008 at 9:10 pm