Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

Also find Russo on Facebook.

Email Michael to talk about hockey.

Posts about Wild management

Richards an NHL coach again

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: January 9, 2012 - 10:29 AM

Todd Richards is the new coach of the Columbus Bluejackets.

Richards, fired as coach of the Wild after last season, takes over on an interim basis after Scott Arniel was fired this morning.  Richards had been Arniel's top assistant.

Columbus has the worst record (11-25-5) in the NHL. Richards' appointment will last the remainder of the season; he was 77-71-16 with the Wild from 2009-11.

The Bluejackets' next game is Tuesday night in Chicago.

Arniel was 45-60-18 since starting the 2010 season as head coach.

Richards, 45, was 38-36-8 in 2009-10 with the Wild and 39-35-8 last season.

Chuck Fletcher's vision being accepted by the masses?; Tons of Wild smatterings

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: July 1, 2011 - 11:49 PM


Here's the main Wild story for Saturday on the Wild re-signing Josh Harding and not signing any external free agents on Day 1

Here's the sidebar of Andrew Brunette, talking from London, signing with the Chicago Blackhawks after three missed postseasons in Minnesota

All day, as I sat in this very spot not burning calories and consuming coffee, I was looking forward to going out tonight. But the weather stinks and I've got no life anyway.

So I'll blog.

I'll do my best to not make this a long, convoluted blog because I do want to get out of here, but it may be a bit all over the place because I have some leftovers that I couldn't squeeze into the paper, such as quotes from Cam Barker and Josh Harding and Jose Theodore and Chuck Fletcher.

But I'll start with this. I love Twitter (follow me at www.twitter.com/russostrib  ) because it's obviously a great means of information, but it also gives me a great gauge of what Wild fans are thinking in real-time.

Unfortunately, on the day it was revealed Mike Yeo was the next Wild coach, and on the day of Yeo's news conference, and on draft night when the Wild took Jonas Brodin, traded Brent Burns an hour before deadline (thanks Chuck) and drafted Zack Phillips right at deadline, I didn't get to read a single tweet the fan base sent me. (Sorry, but all your comments that I'm certain were brilliant and witty and thought-provoking went for naught because I was just swamped).

Today, because frankly I wasn't manic dealing with, say, the six signings and one trade my colleagues in Florida had to deal with, I got to read every word you wrote me.

And as I was writing my stories tonight for Saturday's Star Tribune that you plan to purchase, I began to wonder: How come very few people ranted to me throughout the day that the %$@!^#& Wild didn't sign a single %&$*%I@! sole (other than re-signing Josh Harding and signing draft pick Kyle Medvec to an entry-level deal)?

I started wondering, "Is this apathy setting in, did folks just get out of here for the long weekend or are fans starting to buy what Chuck Fletcher's selling?"

So instead of wondering, I took the question to the masses. Yes, of course, I got the few with a couple choice things to say back about the Wild, but take a look at a sampling at the majority of responses:

@russotrib Happy Wild showed restraint. My fellow season ticket holders may disagree

@Russostrib I think the Wild have all their ducks in a row and are smart to build through the draft and trading for a while

@Russostrib The last two drafts have been good/great IMO, along with failed FAs means I'm ready be patient for once.

@Russostrib I'm glad we're not overpaying for second tier players. #stillwantMaddenback

@Russostrib I think we all kind of expected it. Atleast Fletcher has a clear vision for this team now. If he can keep drafting well, I'm in!

@Russostrib we are quiet. why? It is amazing what honesty from a GM and management team can do for fans.

@Russostrib i like the youth movement, keep cleaning.

@Russostrib Harding will be back in a Wild sweater, Fletcher has a good plan, Yeo has the reins. I'm good :) Will miss Bruno though (:

@Russostrib I think we're buying into the formula. In two years I hope to see a @mnwild free agent FRENZY to setup for our REAL Cup run!

@Russostrib maybe it's cuz many of us see that fletch has a plan and we see the future as u pointed out in ur post-draft write up?

@Russostrib Nope. Reality has set in Mike. Build from within. I'm excited!


@Russostrib They see how overpriced all the deals are. Best deals this year are the ones not being made.

@Russostrib besides Richards there hasn't been anyone I would break the bank for, lots of average players getting big deals today.

@Russostrib maybe Fletcher managing expectations in his post-draft presser worked? Maybe they realize these are ridiculous deals?

@Russostrib prices are high, and I think most are satisfied with the direction they are headed

@Russostrib We're getting smarter. Subpar UFA class and losing Barker keep us quiet.

@Russostrib cause fans know they actually have enough guys after harding signed, in chuck we trust

@Russostrib I think this is the right approach; allowing the younger players to compete for the open spots instead of overpaying for vets.

Obviously this small sample doesn't express the opinion of every Wild fan, but these were the majority of the tweets I got back. Now, I don't know if the article/blog comments are vastly different, and I'm not naive enough to believe every Wild fan is jovial with the direction of the Wild, but all these responses did get me thinking.

As one of the fans alluded to above, Doug Risebrough was derided for his "manage expectations" line in the news conference before he was fired.

But sometimes as a GM, it's imperative to clearly, succinctly get your message out there, explain to the fans who invest so much into your product what your vision is for the future.

Fletcher's done that the past couple months, but especially weeks. Everybody's not going to buy into it, but you've got to convey it nonetheless.

Some want to use the negative connotation that the Wild's "rebuilding." Chuck Fletcher would rather use the term "building."  

Whatever it is, if Fletcher doesn't make it abundantly clear that the Wild's going the draft and development model, that they're going to fill the majority -- not all, but the majority -- of its holes from within, Wild fans perhaps storm the gates today.

But I do think a lot of Wild fans are tired of the losing, are tired of a franchise stuck in mud, see the fact that the Wild hasn't drafted and developed players nearly as well as other franchises, see the fact that the stars on most other teams are homegrown, and these fans are at the point where they just want to see a clear vision of how the Wild gets from Point A to Point B.

As I wrote in that Sunday Insider, there are no short cuts to success, and for too long, the Wild tried to do two things at once -- draft and develop, while signing expensive free agents and trying to accelerate the process through trades like Cam Barker and Chuck Kobasew. It didn't work.

Now, this could take awhile. There's going to be growing pains. Trust me on that. I'm not going to sit here right now and tell you I believe this team will be better next year. The first wave of kids are coming now, and they're not the top-end of the Wild's growing prospect pool. But it's the next wave of kids where I think you'll start to see some skill in the development pipeline -- guys like Granlund and Larsson, who I'm telling you I keep hearing incredible things about, and Coyle, who was San Jose's No. 1 guy on its reserve list and San Jose's No. 1 guy on last season's Hockey News Future Watch edition.

And then these kids need to, well, develop.

So like I've said for awhile, it may take patience. There could be tough times ahead where we all need a reminder when we snap what the larger picture is. But as long as the Wild brass is right about these kids -- not every one will make it, but the more kids you stockpile, the better the likelihood that you'll find some real deals -- this should prove worth it.

We shall see.

But at the very least, we know what the path is now. The goal of this team is to build from within, keep cap flexibility, fill holes internally, and when the time is right to hit that home-run with a truly top-end player via free agency or trade, pounce. When that is, we'll have to stay tuned. But I'd think that's at least a summer away.

We continue, and since this blog's gone longer than expected like most my late-night blogs, I'll try to make it snappy:

-- Now with all that said, that doesn't mean the Wild will be completely silent the rest of the summer. It just didn't sign anybody on Day One during a crazy, spendy day. As I mentioned on one of the blogs today, I personally see holes and think they could use at least one more NHL-experienced defenseman. They made some calls today, but I think they'll let the dust settle a little bit and then revisit whether there are some fits out there.

Fletcher said he's had a lot of conversations with agents for signings and teams for trades, and he'll see if he can make something happen.

Here's Fletcher on some subjects:

On depth because I keep harping to him 'What if you have injuries????': "I really believe we have a lot of depth. The depth is the best it’s been since I have been here. It’s not to say you can't continue to improve. But we've mentioned we’re transitioning to a younger team and it's very important we give some of these players an opportunity to show they can make it. We’ll see what happens in training camp. But it’s going to be a very competitive camp. That’s how you get better -- as players make our team and gain some experience and bring energy and speed and some cases skill to the lineup."
Do you lose veteran presence with no Brunette and Madden?: "I think have good veteran presence still in our group. We'll see. I've had conversations, we'll see what transpires the next couple weeks. Nothing may happen, but there may be the potential opportunity to make another change or two. We'll see if we can make it happen."

On today in the NHL: "There’s been a lot of money spent today. It’s been an interesting day. We’ve been watching it. We’re in our warrom and looking at everybody’s cap situations and rosters, and a lot of big contractual commitments were made. It’ll be interesting to see how some of these things work out over the next season or two, or 10."

-- Cam Barker talked to the Edmonton media today:

How disappointing was it in Minny: "Toughest year of my life, no question. Everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong. I had a couple of injuries. It was extremely frustrating. I'm glad to move on, I'm really motivated and I want to prove people wrong. That's going to drive me to training camp and into next season."

Being bought out? "I didn't look at it as such a bad thing. Obviously it's not the best circumstance. In terms of your career, you don't wish for this. But it's worked out for the best. I wish those guys in Minnesota the best. No hard feelings."

Proving a point now: "There's always the pressure to be that player (third pick overall) and I put it on myself. I want to learn from my time in Minnesota and move on. I want to be the player I was two and three years ago and build on that. I know Mr. Renney is a great teacher."
"Glad to be joining a team with fresh talent. I'm a young guy too."
See self as top 4 guy? "For sure, top 4 and powerplay. But everybody has to earn their ice-time."
Being hurt in Minny: "Back injury for the better part of three months. Nothing more frustrating than a nagging injury, especially in your back. It just didn't get better. It wasn't a herniated disc, nothing that needed surgery. I saw a different specialist outside the organization and he said to rest it for a month. That month was up a couple of weeks after the season. I've got a clean bill of health now. I've been skating, working out."
GM Steve Tambellini: "No risk for us. One year contract. he's only 25. I think he can be a top 4 guy."
-- Josh Harding Extra: 

It’ll be interesting to watch Harding in training camp to see his comfort level dropping on his right knee again.
But he said, “I think it’s going to be fine. I’ve skated here for awhile now. I’ve had no setback. I don’t think it’ll change me as a goalie. I don’t know I really had a style before anyway. I kind of just try to put myself in front of the puck.
“I guess we’ll see. As for now, I’m pretty sure it won’t hinder me.”

He said, "It’s going to be exciting. Just to get back to the team I started with. Me and Backy (Niklas Backstrom) have had a lot of years together now. We know each other well. I know what he wants of me. I know his routine and when to stay out of his way in a couple situations (laughs). I’m just proud to be a Wild and honored to be with Nik again."

He said Kyle Brodziak will continue to run the music in the locker room even though that was Harding's old job. "I like Brodzy's music. One less thing for me to worry about in my book."

--Jose Theodore extra:
Theodore was great talking about Harding as you can see in the main story, but he loved his one year in Minnesota. After not signing until Oct. 1 a year ago despite a successful regular season in Washington, Theodore wasn't messing around this time.
He knows how easy it is to get shut out of the NHL as a goalie. Only 60 jobs, and a few openings. So when six calls came from teams early Friday, he pounced. In January, before his shutout against Pittsburgh, Theodore called me over for a long conversation about Florida. He asked me about the neighborhoods in Boca Raton -- my hometown -- and every single detail about the organization.
You could see the wheels were churning in his head. He wanted to still be a No. 1 and he knew Tomas Vokoun may very well be gone. So that's why I had been predicting for some time Theodore to Florida. It was "tops on my list, so when they called, it happened quick. It was an easy decision.
"I think it'll be pretty easy to adjust to going to practice in shorts in December. Enjoy your fur coats and parkas," he said with a laugh.
-- Andrew Brunette extra:
Don't really have too much more to say from what I wrote in the article other than I'll miss the old-timer. I've covered some great people here, from Brian Rolston to Kurtis Foster to so many others, and Brunette's right up there.
Just a very good dude, and a great player.
The Wild didn't try to bring him back. The team's direction was obvious, so I didn't think they would. They're clearly going younger, and after three years of not making the playoffs, they probably figured it needed to start fresh without Brunette.
But deep down, you could tell Brunette was hurt they didn't attempt an overture.
He talked about that but then said, "You know what though, it would have been a tough decision if anything was brought in by them to make it close. In a way, it's probably the best thing hopefully that I didn’t have to make a gut-wrenching decision."
Like I said, I've got great respect for Brunette and can't wait to watch him play with the so-many stars in Chicago.
--Lastly, this got overshadowed today, but the Wild did sign former University of Vermont defenseman Kyle Medvec, 23, the 6-6 former Apple Valley player. He'll start his pro career in Houston, and we'll be part of the new wave of blue-liners down there (Chay Genoway, Tyler Cuma coming back from surgery, Jeff Penner, etc) with so many like Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Nate Prosser, maybe Justin Falk, getting looks up here. He recorded six points and 28 penalty minutes in 29 games during his senior season at Vermont. He had 38 points (10-28=38) in 139 games in four seasons with the Catamounts. Medvec served as an assistant captain this season and was named to the 2008-09 Hockey East All-Academic Team. He helped lead the Catamounts to the 2009 Frozen Four. Born in Westminster, Colo., and raised in Burnsville, Minn., he played at Apple Valley High School and was a finalist for the 2006 Mr. Hockey Award. He was originally selected by the Wild in the fourth round (No. 102 overall) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
OK, that's it. Finally.
That was a very, very long blog. Imagine how long it would be if they signed a player outside the organization!!!
Good night folks and if I don't talk to you this weekend, have an awesome 4th!

Final Wild draft thoughts; A look ahead; 2011-12 Wild depth chart

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 26, 2011 - 10:47 AM

Morning to you. I'll be on Joe Schmit's Sports Wrap on Channel 5 tonight, I think around 10:30 p.m.

NHL Draft is over. Only business yet to come: Qualifying offers must be tendered by 4 p.m. CT Monday; First buyout period ends Thursday and free agency begins Friday.

I'll write more about free agency as we get closer, but with the Wild in draft and development mode, the Wild trying to get out of the habit of overpaying for veteran free agents, the fact this free-agent class is below average, the fact that next year's free-agent class is potentially star-studded by free-agent class standards and the fact that most teams are trying to create cap flexibility due to the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations that will almost certainly result in a restructured (lower) cap ceiling, I wouldn't expect a splash from the Wild.

As has been reported many times the last month, the Wild is going to leave openings for players like Colton Gillies, Cody Almond, Casey Wellman, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser and others to try to challenge for spots. If they come to camp and don't earn spots, the Wild would react then to find players.

The Wild will sign one backup goalie this summer, whether that be Jose Theodore, Josh Harding or another. I'd think they'd have to sign at least one defenseman and I think they'd like to add maybe one character forward, prefarably via trade. You can see the depth chart below to see the open spots (as they stand this very moment at least; this could change).

Here's the coverage from today's paper:

My Insider on the fact that Chuck Fletcher's plan is clear to see now. May require patience, but the Wild's been spinning its wheels the last 3 years. The team has been trying to take short cuts with trades and some free-agent pickups, but most have been disappointing. This path just hasn't worked.

I've been preaching for years that this team was way behind the majority of teams in this league in terms of young talent. Well, it's clear they are now completely investing into trying to stockpile young talent. Now the hope is that many of these kids pay off and the team can build internally like most the great teams in this league did (Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, etc).

This above fact is not hard to see, by the way. Somebody wrote me today, saying "Name one!" I mean, are you serious? Just peruse the rosters of most the top or up-and-coming teams in the league. Most their stars/quality, impact players are homegrown talent. The Wild hasn't developed a top-6 forward since the 2002 draft (Bouchard). The Wild hasn't developed a top-4 defenseman since the 2003 draft (Burns).

You want to know why your favorite franchise is stuck in mud. Look no further than those harsh facts. If you've read me for awhile, you know my opinion has long been that building through youth the way those other teams do is the way to go. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that I endorse this path now.

Once you build a strong number of assets, that's when those players either impact your lineup or that's when you can maybe swing for the big trade or the big free agent.


Wild notebook on drafting locals, Craig Leipold's delight when Mario Lucia was drafted, update on assistant coaching situation, update on Houston Aeros coach finalists, Charlie Coyle note, Big Buff update and Markus Granlund draft note

Mario Lucia, hometown team, feelgood story, by Roman Augustoviz

Good stuff on the anxiety of the draft by David LaVaque, highlighting especially Seth Ambroz's long wait

Brian Stensaas on Stevan Fogarty jumping up the draft board, and other Minnesotans; As an aside, here's the Minnesotans drafted with video

Wild's Day 2 picks

Kelly Smith on the sights and sounds of hockey heaven in St. Paul

Here is the 2011-12 depth chart as it stands this moment

Here's the text from the link:

Here's a look at the Wild's depth chart for next season as it stands today. The TBDs indicate open spots that either need to be filled through the promotion of Wild prospects or external acquisitions (free agency or trades). Below each player are his 2011-12 salary and 2011-12 salary-cap hit. The salary-cap ceiling for next season is $64.3 million.

Line 1: Pierre-Marc Bouchard ($4.25 million salary, $4.08M salary cap hit); Mikko Koivu ($7.29M, $6.75M); Devin Setoguchi ($2.75M; $3M)

Line 2: Guillaume Latendresse ($2.6M, $2.5M); Kyle Brodziak ($1.3M, $1.15M); Martin Havlat ($5M, $5M)

Line 3: TBD; Matt Cullen ($3.5M, $3.5M); Cal Clutterbuck ($1.5M, $1.4M)

Line 4: Eric Nystrom ($1.4M, $1.4M); TBD; Brad Staubitz ($600K, $575K)

Note: Three or four spots are open depending on if the Wild keeps 13 or 14 forwards, seven or eight defensemen and two goalies make the team.

Vying for spots: Colton Gillies, Casey Wellman, Cody Almond, James Sheppard, Patrick O'Sullivan, Carson McMillan, Matt Kassian.

Unrestricted free agents: Andrew Brunette, John Madden, Antti Miettinen, Chuck Kobasew

Restricted free agents: Wellman, Sheppard, Gillies, O'Sullivan

Minor league unrestricted free agents: Robbie Earl, Jed Ortmeyer.

Line 1: Nick Schultz ($3.6 million salary, $3.5M salary cap hit); Marek Zidlicky ($4M, $4M)

Line 2: Greg Zanon ($2.1M, $1.933M); Jared Spurgeon ($535K, $527K)
Line 3: Clayton Stoner ($575K, $550K); Cam Barker* ($3.25M, $3.08M)

Note: One or two spots are open depending on if the Wild keeps 13 or 14 forwards.
* The Wild is considering buying out Barker by Thursday's deadline.

Vying for spots: Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk.

Restricted free agents: Falk.

Unrestricted free agent: Drew Bagnall.

Starter: Niklas Backstrom ($6 million salary, $6M salary cap hit)

Backup: TBD

Note: One spot is open.

Vying for spots: Dennis Endras.

Unrestricted free agents: Jose Theodore, Josh Harding.

• Actual 2011-12 payroll (as of today): $50,250,000

• Salary cap hit: $49,876,110

Notes: Includes bought-out Mark Parrish's $927,778 payoff and cap hit. ... This total also includes the 17 of a possible 23 players.


Wild owner Craig Leipold speaks: The Extras

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 14, 2011 - 5:23 PM
Good evening.
I had lunch with Wild owner Craig Leipold today for an interview, and we hit on a variety of subjects that you can see by clicking this link right here.
But as a supplement, here is Leipold on a few more subjects that didn’t make Friday's newspaper:
--On his frustration: “Can you print the word, ‘Uhhhhhhhh?’ It was a very frustrating year. It was really disappointing for everybody how we ended the year. In March, we thought we were in the playoffs. … It was just a really, really disappointing year.”
--On hearing the fans jeering: “It’s painful to experience it as a fan. The last three weeks, things just cratered for us. These fans are smart. And they are passionate. And they love their teams. And they love winners. And they know when the team is not performing up to the level they should be performing. And they’ll let the team know. And they have the right to do that. It’s hard to sit through it.”
--On if he had the right read on how difficult this would be: “No. I did not. I did not. Even if I had known, I still would have bought the team. I’m not the hockey mind or the hockey guru that I can look into the Houston Aeros and determine when is that player going to be ready to come up or how strong is the potential of this player. I don’t know if anybody can buy a team and hit it right anyway. I would have hoped that we’d be further along than we are. When I bought the Minnesota Wild, we were a really strong team, won the division that year. It was really the next year when things just didn’t work out for us. The whole Marian Gaborik problem, he was hurt the whole year, got no value for him. You’re losing a marquee player and it’s not something that’s going to take one year to make up. Did I expect to be in this situation, missing the playoffs three years? Absolutely not.”
--On the need for a star player: “We’re working very hard to get that marquee player and you want to get the marquee player. And we may have the marquee player in our system right now. Who knows? Everybody wants to get that player and we’re willing to spend to get it. We’ve got to get the right guy.”
--Since you’re at the cap, does it have to be through development or trade? “For right now. But unrestricted free agency a couple years from now, we may be in that position. Nothing is off the table for us. We don’t have the financial constraints. We will spend to win. And if we decide not to spend, it’s because we’re waiting for the next one. If there’s something else down the road that you think you can get, you have to plan to make sure you have a hole available for that person. This is what Chuck does. He thinks two, three years down the road. So if we don’t make a trade at the deadline or sign a player in the summertime, these are the reasons.
--On if they can continue to be a cap team if they lose fans, and thus money? “Yes, we can continue to be a cap team. We’re committed to winning. We recognize that in order to maximize the financial aspects of this investment, you have to be in the playoffs and you have to get past the first round. You hold back $3 or $4 million in payroll, that can cost you just a whole lot more in ticket sales.”
--How much did the team lose this year? “Not going to say.”
--How about last year? “Not going to say that either.”
--You run a complex business between operating the team, the arena, the concession business, the RiverCentre and the Aeros. When you say you’re losing money, is that just the hockey team or the whole entity? “Listen, there’s no question we’re losing money. But this is not about if you’re making money or losing money. If I wanted to make money, I’d go out and buy another business. This is what I want to do, and I think at the end of the day, I’m going to make money doing this. But that’s not why I make decisions based on if I make money or lose money. This is about winning because ultimately if your strategy is to win, you’re going to have a good business. Particularly in this market, it’s a guaranteed good business versus in non-traditional hockey markets where you could win and still be in trouble.”
--Now, most owners make their real money by selling the team. Do you still plan to own this team long-term? “Absolutely, nothing’s changed. Not selling the team. I’m in this. This is what I want to do and as painful as this year’s been, it’s still a lot of fun.”
--Do you regret going from the defensively responsible Jacques Lemaire system to up-tempo and need to be “entertaining?” “We’re not an up-tempo team, so that part didn’t work out. The issue of entertainment I still think is important. But as Jacques Lemaire would say, ‘Winning is entertainment,’ and I think that’s true. Now if you score more goals, is that more entertainment? Absolutely, as long as you can win. That’s our objective. We want to win.”
--On disappointment: “Everybody in this organization, when we come to work on a Monday morning and we played over the weekend, you know how we did over the weekend based on the mood of all of our employees. They are as engaged in this as any player. We’re all hurting right now.”
--On season-ticket sales for next year: “It’s way too early in the process. The Commissioner of the National Hockey League asked me the same question and I didn’t answer either. I’ll say this: we’re about where we were last year, within a percentage point, at this time.”
--Do you need to be a playoff team to land a Winter Classic? “It makes it harder that we’re not. The league loves this market. They were very clear with us. They want to have a game here. We’re going to have a game. But one thing that would help our position is to have a winning team.”

Todd Richards exclusive; Wild GM Chuck Fletcher transcript; Koivu talks

Posted by: Kent Youngblood Updated: April 11, 2011 - 3:13 PM

Mikko Koivu added

Here's a transcript of Chuck Fletcher from today. There may be a few typos, but just wanted to get this up for you. I got him one-on-one after and will toss stuff up later.

Also, here is an exclusive Todd Richards article from my phone conversation with him a little bit ago. More later


Told Richards this morning he's done.
"It's a very difficult decision and a very difficult day on many levels.
From the outset, I want to mention how hard Todd and his staff worked
this year, and I really want to thank him for his commitment and his
efforts in driving this team forward. His work ethic was unbelievable.
His passion to win was great. He's a good coach. He's a good hockey
coach, but ultimately it's my responsibility to make the right decision
for the organization and I felt going forward we needed a new voice and
a new direction, and I made the decision to let Todd go."
Toughest decision you've made here?
"Yeah. Professional sports is a great business to work in, and most days
are great days. This is not one of them. He's somebody I've worked with
in the past and certainly did not take this decision lightly. There's a
human side to this. He's got a family, and certainly it's not easy on
anybody. Again, we're in the business of winning and losing games, and
the results are what they are. Part of my decision was based on the
results of the past two seasons. Part of my decision was based on the
fact I thought we needed more from some players. And part of my decision
was based on the fact that going forward I thought we needed a new voice
to maximize production from this particular group of players. I will
point out: I really do believe in sports that not every coach is the
right fit for every team. Teams have different personalities. There's
different talent levels, and not every coach fits with every team. Just
like every player doesn't fit with every team. It comes down to a feel
and what you feel you need to do going forward, and I felt that to get
the most out of this group of players -- certainly the players that are
coming back -- we needed a new voice and a new direction. It's as simple
as that."
Need to make the playoffs, huh?
"Again, we're in a results-oriented business. We're all judged that way.
Results are a part of it, but there's also, as I mentioned, you want to
have the right fit for your particular team going forward, and this is
the decision I felt we had to make."
Why was Todd not the right fit?
"You know, it's a lot of different factors you have to contend with, and
it's just my judgment that we need a different voice and a different
When did you decide?
"It's been a fluid process, Bruce. Certainly it's not a knee-jerk
reaction. It's something I've been analyzing and looking through, and I
felt this was a change we needed to make, and once you make that
decision it's important in fairness to Todd and the organization to make
it as quickly as possible."
When did you let him know?
"I let him know this morning."
What was his reaction like?
"Heh, well, um, we talked. It was a brief conversation. I just want to
leave it at that. He's naturally disappointed, as was I, and it wasn't
easy. Our relationship goes back a few years, and we've been through a
lot of good times and good seasons and this did not end the way either
one of us wanted."
You assured by Leipold that your job and front office is safe?
"Ah, yes."
How much do ticket sales factor into this decision?
"My job is to put a winning hockey team on the ice and build a team that
ultimately gets to where we all want to get to. When we do that, the
season tickets will follow. This was not a reactionary move. It was a
move I put a lot of thought into, and Todd's a very good coach. He's
going to coach again in the NHL in my opinion, and he's going to do a
good job somewhere. Again, I felt for this particular team this was a
decision we needed to make."
You consulted with Craig on this?
"I spoke to Craig this morning and advised him of the decision I thought
we needed to make. Craig hired me to run the hockey team, and he's been
great. He's allowed me to make the decisions I feel I need to make.
Again, it's been a fluid process."
So this was your call, right? Not his? Not together?
"This was my decision. This was my decision."
So this is your roster and your hire. Did you mess up?
"I put pretty much all the responsibility on me. It's my job. It's
ultimately up to me to deliver a winning hockey team, and so far we've
had two non-playoff seasons. I do feel strongly in the direction we're
going with respect to the young players that are coming, and I do feel
we've had a couple good drafts now. I do feel we've developed players
thanks to the efforts of Brad Bombardir and Mike Yeo and many other
people in the organization, and we are going in the right direction. We
are going to add more talent, and we are going to get better, but
clearly the last two years we haven't made the playoffs so that speaks
to itself and ultimately we need to get better from here, and we'll
endeavor to do all that this summer."
A: “Not yet, no.’’
A: “As quickly as it takes to get the right guy. There are no artificial time frames or timetables. We’ll go through the process, and when we find the right guy then that will be the right time.”
A: “We’ll talk about that. We’ll see. But generally that’s what happens (bringing in a new staff) in this industry. And certainly the assistant coaches worked very hard and will have a chance to go down that path later on once we have a clear direction as to who the head coach is.”
A: “I don’t know that you have to. There has been a lot of rookie head coaches who have come in and done a great job. Lindy Ruff jumped into Buffalo without any head coaching experience and did very well. Everybody has to get their experience somewhere and somehow and you know, coaching is coaching. Most teams seem to play the same systems these days. There’s not a lot of stylistic differences between teams on the ice. You’re looking for accountability, you’re looking for structure, and you’re looking for somebody to motivate and push the group forward. So it has to be the right fit. Communication skills are a big part of it. And there… It’s a lot of different factors. But I don’t think we’re going to limit ourselves to experienced or inexperienced. Because I think there are a lot of experienced hockey people that may not have a lot of head coaching experience.
A: “I met with him in person. It’s not easy. It’s not.. as I said. There are a lot of great days in pro sports, and this isn’t one of them. You feel for Todd, for his family. Again, it’s a decision I felt I had to make.
A: “You know, I don’t think it’s fair to Todd to get into a lot of speculating. Todd is a good coach. He battled hard. The team had streaks where we were a very good hockey team. And unfortunately we came up short. He was disappointed by that. It wasn’t from lack of effort. And again, there were times we were a very good hockey team.
A: “Next we have the exit interviews. Certainly you have to sit with the players. There are a lot of dialog that needs to take place with our players right now. Certainly some expectations need to be set. Certainly there are some things, as a group, that the players need to do better. It’s up to me to put some demands on them and create some expectations for coming into next season. And I feel that there was more in the tank from some of them. We need to find a way to get that out of them. To me, that’s the critical next step. After that we proceed to scouting meetings, getting ready for the draft in the summer. There is a lot of time to deal with the pending free agents, and at this point it’s about dealing with the returning players. We have to raise the bar here, we have to raise the level of expectations. And there were some good things that happened this season. And I look at the growth of certain players. I look at the return of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and the way he played, in particular the last month, as he gained his confidence and his conditioning and his timing back. And you look at the emergence of Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon and you look at Kyle Brodziak continuing to get better and Cal Clutterbuck, netting 19 goals. Look at the work ethic of an Andrew Brunette and John Madden, some of those players. You certainly look at Jose Theodore and the games he gave us. Nick Backstrom, how well he played, particularly in that January-February stretch when we had the best January in team history and the best February in team history. So there are a lot of positive things this year. But we didn’t end the way we wanted to, that’s the focus of this summer.
A: “I think winning excites the fan base. And I think that is the focus. The players play, and they’re driving the entertainment quotient on the ice, and the fans pay to see them. The coach has to guide them and help us win. And that’s the mandate.
A: “Well, first of all, I gave consideration to a lot of different coaches. So I don’t think it would be accurate to say I didn’t give consideration to several other coaches. You can’t live in the past. We make decisions. Talking to Ray Shero the other day and, it’s funny. We make decisions. Not every trade we make works out. And not every hire we make works out. But again, I really believe in fits. And sometimes things don’t work out. And in this case, I think Todd worked hard and pushed this team. It’s just my opinion that we need a new direction to go forward. Again, once you make the decision, you have to move on. The good ones and the bad ones. You can’t look back.
Reaction: “Well, obviously I think it’s disappointing for all of us. And I think it’s part of the game. But at the end, it’s basically the guys on the ice who play the game. And it’s the coach’s job too, to be a part of it. Usually when there aren’t playoffs, the head coach is usually the guy who gets the blame. And not the 20 guys on the ice. That’s the thing you feel bad about. You feel disappointed as well. That’s something for all of us to realize as well. We’re all in this together, and everybody has to think about what to do better and how can we help this team.
Obviously disappointed and for Todd, it’s…It’s tough, I’m sure. He did a lot of good things here. He taught us a lot about the game, on and off the ice. But I’m sure he’ll still a young head coach, he knows the game very well. I’m sure he’ll be back sooner than we’d think.”
Did you play the way he wanted you to down the stretch: “Well I think everybody tries to play the way he’s hoping for. And the coaching staff, what they want. It’s always 20-plus guys on the ice. And obviously, there are a lot of things that are involved with the game. So I don’t think it’s about trying or the effort. It’s like I said, it’s a lot of things. Confidence, and things like that. So , of course, you feel bad for not only making the playoffs, but for letting him down. Not making the playoffs, not winning enough. We’re all responsible for that. 
Does this give you the first step towards turning team around, with a new coach, starting over: Well, I mean, first of all, individually, everyone in this locker room has to think about what we can do better. And it starts with the players, like I said, individually. Then it comes to be a better team. So of course, yeah. We want to get better. That’s obvious. But before you can look forward and think about next year, before that you have to think about what we did wrong, what we can do better. And make sure these mistakes don’t happen again.
Do you think Todd did a good job: “Yeah. I think personally I learned a lot in these two years. And I’m sure as a team as well. There are a lot of good moments, good periods of time, in these seasons. And I think Todd and the whole coaching staff did a lot of good things. But we just, as a team, came up short.
When things were coming unraveled, could he have done things differently: “I think he did it his way. Since day one. I always say I respect when a coach does it his way, and when he believes in the systems and everything. I think that’s the right way to do things, and that’s what I think he did. Since day 1 he did it his way, (to the end). I respect that. “
Was it always clear what the coaches wanted: Yeah, of course . The first year, the changes, is huge. After one coach being here for so long. Obviously that took some time for us to adjust on the systems and to learn to play with the new players. I think that will happen every time you have changes. It will take some time. But other than that, everybody knew what was going on. It was all clear for us. And so, yeah, I think that was all clear.
What sort of coach does this team need going forward: Well, that’s not really for me to comment on that. That’s not going to be the players’ decision. I’m sure they’re going to take a good look at it, obviously take some time to think about that. We’ll see when the time comes for that. I don’t feel that’s really my (place). Especially when we finished the season last night. So, I can’t think about that right now.
How was your personal relationship with Todd: Yeah, I think it was good. I mean, there are, during a long season, always things that you have to talk through and kind of see what everybody thinks, so we’re on the same page. But, I think we were… we had an honest relationship and I think both ways, I think we were both honest. And I think for the team, too, there are always ups and downs. That’s part of the game. That’s part of life. But yeah. I think everything went well. Like you said, there was a respect between each other. Honest as well.



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