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Continued: Two different stories on the two new GMs

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 21, 2009 - 11:13 PM

It's ironic that both the Wild, with Chuck Fletcher, and the Timberwolves, with David Kahn, will introduce new general managers today.

The one surprise is that the teams won't announce the hirings at the exact same time, since they're forever competing by having games on the same nights, forcing the local fans to choose between a hockey or basketball game.

Fletcher, assistant GM for the Pittsburgh Penguins, was the Wild's first choice from the word go. The son of longtime NHL executive Cliff Fletcher, one of the smartest men in the hockey business, the new Wild general manager was brought up in hockey and has done a excellent job wherever he has been employed.

Kahn, a former GM of the Indiana Pacers, is a different story.

Tom Penn, assistant general manager for the Portland Trail Blazers, had accepted the Wolves job, but apparently Tod Leiweke, the former Wild president who runs both the Trail Blazers and the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, made sure Penn didn't leave. Leiweke must have made some salary adjustments, among other things, to keep Penn in Portland. Kahn, 47, apparently was the Wolves' fourth choice and hasn't been a GM since 2002. Recently, he has owned National Basketball Development teams and led an unsuccessful effort to lure the Montreal Expos to Portland.

The challenge the Wolves presented was too great for those who turned down the job and who no doubt felt they were better off staying put and waiting for another opportunity.

Look for Kevin McHale to be offered the head-coaching job, since he and Kahn know each other and Wolves owner Glen Taylor would like to see McHale get the chance to continue as coach. But unless Taylor will pay McHale the going rate, I don't think he will return.

The only survivor in the front office likely will be assistant GM Fred Hoiberg, who is a real favorite of Taylor's. Kahn likely will bring in his own staff.

As for Fletcher, I've known his father for years and met him through former North Stars GM Lou Nanne. And if Nanne had his choice, there was no doubt that Fletcher would have been the man.

Ben Hankinson, the former Gopher and current agent, has followed Fletcher for years and said "the Wild didn't make a good choice, they made a great one."

Fletcher, 41, no doubt received assurances from owner Craig Leipold that every effort will be made to re-sign Marian Gaborik. Fletcher also has the experience of negotiating contracts, having done it for 10 years for the Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks and Penguins.

Look for Todd Richards, a former Gopher and now assistant coach of the San Jose Sharks, to be the leading choice for Fletcher to hire as the Wild's coach.

Richards coached Pittsburgh's AHL team, Wilkes- Barre/Scranton, before moving to San Jose. The word is that Richards is a favorite of Fletcher's.

The Wild has the nucleus to be a contender if it can re-sign Gaborik.

On the other hand, the Wolves have a rebuilding job and if Taylor won't go out and sign a free agent superstar, it won't make a difference who the general manager or coach is.

Orlando is no surprise

Flip Saunders, the former Wolves and Detroit Pistons coach who just took over the same post for the Washington Wizards, wasn't surprised to see the Orlando Magic beat Cleveland on the Cavaliers' home court in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday.

"They have the best chance against Cleveland, because in Orlando, with Dwight Howard, they have someone who can protect the rim and maybe make LeBron James more of a one-dimensional player," Saunders said.

Saunders ranks James "not only the best player [in the NBA], he's the most versatile player. Right now, he's the one guy that can do so many different things to impact a game, whether it's his defense, whether it's his rebounding, whether it's his scoring, assists. He pretty much is in a situation right now, where he can do anything.

"And the scary thing is he's only 24 years old.''

Jottings

Vikings wide receivers coach George Stewart was asked his impression of first-round draft pick Percy Harvin after watching the former Florida star for three days during Organized Team Activities this week.

"[Florida coach] Urban Meyer and his coaching staff really did a great job coaching him," Stewart said. "He is very smart kid, very evolved. I have faith. Our scouting department did a great job picking this young man up; he is still learning, but once he gets the opportunity to really learn what he is doing, he will be a force to be reckoned with. He is a good football player."

Former Gophers wrestler Cole Konrad participated in the team's rookie free agent camp May 1-3 but was not invited back to this week's OTAs. And to date no other NFL team has contacted him. Konrad, a two-time NCAA champion, said he will stick with his decision not to wrestle anymore.

The Gophers football team will stage a scrimmage at TCF Bank Stadium on Aug. 22. This will be a dry run from all aspects to give an impression what needs to be corrected before the regular season opens.

Athletic director Joel Maturi is optimistic about how the Gophers football team will fare this season.

"We are better athletically, there is just no question about it," he said. ". Coach [Tim] Brewster and his staff have done a wonderful job recruiting, and we are going to put a good product on the field."

"Now it's always a challenge with the teams we are going to play -- we have a very tough schedule, and those teams are going to work hard to get prepared as well -- but I think it's going to be entertaining football. I love the energy that our coaches bring to the field each day, and the kids had a good spring. They worked really hard, so we are excited about our future."

Although some Wild players were unhappy with the conservative style employed by Jacques Lemaire, defensman Nick Schultz like playing for the former coach.

"It was good coming in as a young player and learning from a coach like that," Schultz said. "It was pretty fortunate for all of us to have had him as a coach.''

Schultz appreciated that Lemaire's style of play kept the team in games.

"His style was effective," Schultz added. "With the competitors we have, I think we can play more offensive. Defense is still a big part of the game, too."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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