Wild GM Chuck Fletcher held his end-of-the-season news conference today. He addressed everything from questions about the upcoming coaching search (he says John Torchetti is a very serious candidate), the perceived chemistry issues in the locker room and odds and ends regarding injuries, unrestricted free agents, the offseason, the possibility of buying out Thomas Vanek and trading Darcy Kuemper, etc.
I will have a story in tomorrow's paper on what he said regarding the coach and the team and the locker-room stuff. But here are some quick hits from the sidebar he did after the presser, and I may update this as I delve into the news conference monstrosity of a transcript if there are some other interesting things you should know quickly:
"The last two months have been, I’ve called it, triage and I meant it sincerely. Everyday you wake up and how do we win a game today to get in the playoffs. After we went 1-11-2, we plummeted from a team that was competing for home ice, not only did Colorado and Nashville catch us, but Arizona, Winnipeg, teams were like one, two points behind us. At that point whether it was right or wrong, we just had to get in. and we did. Maybe it wasn’t always pretty, but we won a lot of games initially to get in. So that was the focus. I haven’t had time to really decompress and formulate all my thoughts. As remarkable as it sounds, Torch and I have never spoken about next year or the future or his vision. I know him so well, but it was all about who should we play tonight, what about the power play, how are we going to win this game? All our thoughts have been so incredibly short-term out of necessity that I think we both needed some time to decompress here. We have a good chance to talk soon and talk about the future and his vision and how he wants to push the team forward. So the process is taking shape and next week we’ll start to have better ideas about how it will go, but I’m not in any rush."
Need an experienced coach?
"Uh, ……….. I guess. They definitely have had to have been a head coach before. Whether in the NHL, I’m not sure. If they have experience elsewhere, that might be fine, too."
Iowa coaching search
"It’s too early to say (on Torch going back). That’ll be second after. From Dec. 13 on, so first 27 games in Iowa, we won four. We were the worst team in the league offensively and we were the worst team in the league defensively. From Dec. 13 on, we were in the 10th best team in the league defensively and we played .500 hockey. We were still worst offensively. That’s me. I’m responsible for bringing the talent in. But point being, I thought Torch and Cunny did a great job down there changing the culture, putting the structure in, we defended way better. we lost 29 one-goal games, which speaks more to our inability to score goals. I can tell you how many games I saw us lose 3-2 or 2-1. We didn’t have the firepower. So that’s why I’m excited about the group going into next year, the anas, tuch, Gilmour, all these kids with the Downings, Schroeders if he’s back here and the Bertschy’s, all these guys. It could be fun. They did a great job turning that around. But we have to get through the process here and then we’ll see."
How do you get back from being always against the wall
"That’s why I said this is not a character issue. Two years ago, it was a different problem, three years ago we had some injuries, two years ago we had a tough time getting a save for awhile, I thought we were playing hard. This year we just didn’t stick with it. I think during that 1-11-2 stretch, I’d have to look, my guess is we gave up the first goal most games and then we stopped playing patient, we stopped playing the way we should, we had a lot of guys during that stretch that were struggling to score. Individual confidence was at an all-time low. The message wasn’t getting through to the players and the players weren’t able to execute what the coaches wanted. And it got away from us. when I look at our team, I think we were tied with Dallas for the most 10-plus goal scorers in the league, our defense is around top-10 offensively in the league with more good young kids coming, we have depth of skill, we have good offensive production from our back end, which I think you have to have to win, we have a good goaltender, we have guys that care and I think you can see that in games we push back. We fight. I think we probably need another player or two to help up front. But it hasn’t been the same thing every year. But it’s a good group, it’s a good team, it’s a team that had a tough stretch, but if you look at us before and you look at us after, we played at pretty high level. You back out the 1-11-2 and it’s a pretty good hockey team. Record-wise and otherwise. I’ve asked every player their thoughts and why it happened. There was no [consensus]. The year before, it was an easy one. But this year, it hasn’t been and there’s no smoking gun, it’s not the old guys don’t like the young guys or vice versa. It was what it was. We’ll keep pushing."
We’ll get through the coaching situation first and see. I liked a lot of what they did. I think Dalpe and Schroeder, our RFA’s, I believe we’re going to qualify them. They both they showed they can play up here and they’re stars when they play in the American League. The UFA guys we’ll wait. I think it’s important that we have a good feel for how we’re going to play and how the coach wants to coach and then make the bottom six as strong as possible.
They’re both [centers and wings]. I think it’s great. It was funny. I talked to Granlund about playing wing. I said, ‘How do you like playing wing?’ He says, ‘God, it’s easy. You don’t have to play defense. All you do is have the puck, you make plays, you get points, everyone thinks you’re great.’ He was laughing. He played really well on the wing. I thought he was outstanding the last three months of the year. His growth in particular, the maturity. It was funny. I was talking to Brent Flahr yesterday. He said, ‘who was the best exit interview?’ I said, ‘Granlund by far.’ I said, ‘I remember him when he came in with acne and he was just a young kid.’ He’s a man now. He’s so in tune with who he is and what he needs to do and he’s intelligent and just a really mature kid. He can play both. I think if we put him on the wing, he would score more. He’s very good defensively, so it’s going to be up to the coach. Charlie plays center, he has the puck more coming through the middle of the ice. I think he utilizes his speed more, he can make more plays. Like most young guys, he’ll probably have to keep working on faceoffs. But that’s just a matter of experience. That’s an easy fix. When he plays the wall though, I would say he and Nino are probably our two best guys on the wall, two big, strong guys who can protect the puck. When we have him at center, we need a winger like him to replace him. When he plays the wing, we need a centerman like him to replace him. It’s a great luxury, a little bit like Backes with St. Louis. … Both those kids are two of the reasons why I am optimistic about our group because those are two good hockey players that play 200 feet and are team oriented and care and compete and are good offensive players who haven’t come close to getting to where they’re going to get to, yet play well defensively and give you that flexibility. Particular with Haula’s resurgence this year, which was remarkable. Pominville 22 points in 28 games games, and Haulzy, and how well he played and Niederreiter. That’s a pretty good looking group. We just have to find a way to get the right fit with the top two lines and we have a chance to become a pretty good three line team next year
Buying out Thomas Vanek?
"I think it’s way premature on that. I thought Thomas in October and November was arguably our best forward – or certainly played as well as any body on our team. He seemed to lose confidence. But I thought he really shot the puck well and did a lot of great things early. And there’s no question he pressed after that and then got banged up. He’s a goal scorer and we need to find a way to score more goals. Our cap situation is much better this year. We’re just looking to improve our team. Whatever we need to do to improve our team, we’ll do. But I’m probably a couple weeks away (from deciding that). It’d be great if we could figure out the cap and figure out that information to see exactly how much room we have. But I’m much more comfortable with our flexibility this year than last year. It’s going to give us more options.
Will you trade Darcy Kuemper?
"I don’t think the contract would have anything to do with it. I get along well with the agent, get along well with Darcy. We’ve signed Devan to a long term deal and Darcy is a year away from UFA. So from that standpoint, I think it would behoove us to look around and see what value we could find in him. If there’s a deal that makes sense for us and allows him to get a better opportunity, I think that would be good for both of us. But I also have no problem bringing him back. You probably are aware that we’ve had some goaltending difficulties the last few years with injuries and illnesses and crazy things. We definitely want to have two good goalies. But from Darcy’s standpoint, he’s been patient, he was a great teammate this year, so if there’s something that allows him to get in an expanded role and we can get a good asset or a good player, then I’ll definitely consider that. Otherwise, we’re very comfortable having him back and starting the year that way."
What is the status of the assistant coaches?
"I don’t want to comment on [whether they're all in the final year of their contracts] other than it’s probably important to have the head coaching situation figured out before we can determine their future. Regardless of contract, the head coach whoever it is is going to have to have some free reign in who his staff is."
Injuries besides the ones we know (Parise, Dubnyk, etc.)
"Scandella, there’s a chance he’ll need hernia surgery. We’ll find out. He’s been battling, really it goes back to the Philadelphia game in January. He went awkwardly into the boards and has kind of been dealing with a hip and abdominal issue all year. he was able to play, but I don’t think he was ever 100 percent. He’s something we’re looking into.
"Spurgeon I won’t really disclose the injury. But that kid is the toughest kid I’ve ever seen. He was probably 80 percent most of the year and played 25 minutes per night. I don’t think he’ll need surgery, but I’ll just call it upper body for now. But he’s going to need some time to get better. He wasn’t able to play for Canada – they asked for him and Scandy too. But neither guy was able to play.
"Haula is out. He’s got – it’s sort of in his hip area. I don’t know if you’d call it a hip pointer. Kind of in there. I don’t think it’s anything major. But it definitely impacted his speed, although that play he made to Brodin on that second goal the other night looked like he was shot out of a cannon. But he was good enough to play. He’ll probably need four weeks to clear everything up.
"Brodin had been battling a foot injury for a long time. He’s just not able to play. But again I think it impacted his mobility a bit there so he’s going to take some time."
Matt Dumba's season
"I’m obviously partial. I drafted Matt. He’s a 21-year-old kid. He is. Most 21-year-old kids some of them are freshman in college. … And he’s a third-year pro in the NHL. So he’s a really young guy. I thought at times this year, he was really good. At times this year, he lost his way. That’s normal for a 21-year-old. I don’t have any doubt that he’s going to become a very good player. To find that skillset, to find defenseman that can score goals – that’s the one knock on this franchise since before I was here and certainly after I’ve been here is how do you score more goals, how do you get more offense. Well, he’s a goal scoring defenseman. He had 10 this year. And he didn’t play maybe half the time on the first unit. This is a guy that will score goals in the league. How many? Time will tell. He competes, he cares. A couple times this year he stepped up fighting guys outside his weight class to spark the team. Does he have to get a little better defensively? Yeah. A 21-year-old kid, I’m sure he’ll mature. I think he’s more mature at 21 than I was. Certainly. But I think we’ve got to keep that in perspective. We’ve got to push him to get better, we can’t accept that he’s at this level. We’ve got to keep pushing him to be better. But when you really look at what he did for 21, it’s pretty remarkable. I mean, most of the defenseman in Iowa were older than him."
Jason Zucker's season
"I think if anything, I think he’s way too hard on himself. I think he definitely lost his confidence. He had a great start, came into camp in great shape. Had a great summer and a great start. I thought he was going to have a monster year the way he was scoring goals early. And he lost his way. I think the longer it went that he didn’t score, I think he got away from his game a little bit. I think he started to cheat a little bit. And it was harder for him to get the puck then. When you get away from how you’re supposed to play, when you don’t play the right way, you have the puck less. The better you defend, the more you have the puck. The more you have the puck, the more you score. He lost his way, there’s no question. But he’s a good player who scored 34 goals the last two years in 120 games and I think 31 of them were even strength. So considering we’re sitting here talking about how he gets better, he scores an even strength goal every four games, never plays on the power play and he had 34 goals in two years. So I think the bar that he set this year is going to be the lowest it's set for his career. He’s going to be much better than that. And we’re still talking about a guy with 31 even strength goals in two years. He’s disappointed. But that kid works. He’ll come back better."
"I just met with him an hour and a half ago. Based on what he's telling me, he feels great. Maybe he met with some of you yesterday, I apologize, I didn't read any of the articles, but I'm not sure what he said to you. But he feels much better. He's made significant progress. The hope is to avoid surgery. I believe that's a decent possibility, but it still remains a week-to-week thing. He's confident that he'll be able to play next year, and certainly long-term he should be fine. He wants to be a 35, 40-goal scorer in this league again. That's awesome. I'll take 30. But he's fired up; he's ready to go. In terms of regretting having him play, he was cleared to play, he was feeling great, and then Logan Couture stuck his hip out. Zach hadn't touched the puck all shift. I don't know what term I want — I want to be careful with what term I want to use here — but it was certainly a questionable play. It was called on a penalty; a really unfortunate play for us. I'm not sure why Logan did it, but he did. That inflamed the situation literally and figuratively. It changed the dynamics of that injury, and he really was in much worse shape after that. Zach was playing very well before then, but the injury took a big turn for the worse after that hit."