Craig Leipold doesn’t necessarily fancy himself an aggressive team owner.
“I consider myself to be an opportunist,” he said.
Whatever the proper description, Leipold’s insatiable thirst for winning has compelled the Wild owner to execute some bold transactions, regardless of cost. His latest shrewd move happened last week when the Wild agreed to give up two prospects, a first-round draft pick and a second-round pick to acquire Buffalo captain Jason Pominville at the trade deadline.
That hefty pricetag might have caused other owners to stand pat. Leipold pushed his chips to the center of the table.
This guy is all-in in his quest to make a deep postseason run this spring.
“In order to get a really great asset,” he said, “you have to trade great assets.”
Leipold represents precisely what sports fans should covet in an owner: a big thinker who is willing to commit money and resources to give his team the best chance to succeed; someone who is passionate about his product and not paralyzed by the unknown or an overarching fear that a deal might backfire.
Tired of seeing his team miss the playoffs and his arena not filled to capacity, Leipold committed nearly $200 million to sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last summer. And even though the Wild won seven consecutive games recently to position itself firmly in the playoff picture, the owner moved to bolster his roster rather than sit idle.
“It’s an opportunity that you go for when it presents itself,” Leipold said. “If you’re truly committed, you make that decision when you can because you don’t want to regret it if you don’t.”
Leipold huddled with General Manager Chuck Fletcher, his staff and the team’s pro scouts inside a San Jose hotel suite last Wednesday. Fletcher initiated the Pominville trade talk with Buffalo and then discussed compensation with his contingent, about 10 people in all.
This was not one of those easy, clear-cut decisions. The team held prospect Johan Larsson in high regard, and no team wants to part ways with a first-round pick. The safe play would have been to resist the temptation to mess with the team’s chemistry and future.
Fletcher went around the room and sought everyone’s opinion.
“It doesn’t have to be unanimous,” Leipold said. “Chuck makes the decision. But he gets the viewpoint of every single person in the room before he makes the decision.”
Everyone agreed that Pominville made sense in the short term, but the compensation caused some debate.
“I didn’t give it the thumbs down, let’s put that way,” Leipold joked.
The overall strength of the team’s farm system ultimately convinced Leipold and his top executives that the potential benefit was worth the sacrifice.
“We have all of these prospects that are waiting to come up and frankly how do we find room for six young prospects on a team that is pretty deep right now?” Leipold said. “We did give up a lot. There’s no question about that. But it was a guy that we wanted, and we felt he is filling a need that we have right now.”
Pominville makes the Wild a stronger, deeper team. He’s a first-line winger who brings experience, scoring and a proven track record in the NHL. His addition doesn’t guarantee a substantial return on Leipold’s investment or automatically elevate the Wild into the same class as Chicago, Anaheim or Pittsburgh. But Leipold’s actions sent another unmistakable message about his belief in his team, a message that should resonate inside the locker room.
“We think we are a team that can make a run this year,” he said.
The first step is to make the playoffs. The Wild sits in sixth place in the Western Conference standings entering a three-game homestand that begins Tuesday against Chicago. The Wild began the week two points behind Northwest Division rival Vancouver with 10 games remaining in this truncated season.
“The last 10 games are going to be stressful,” Leipold said. “It’s not just about making the playoffs. We want to win our division. That is our goal from this point forward. We want the third seed.”
Leipold gave his team more firepower with another bold move. This owner has shown an eagerness to win now, but he also believes his team’s window of opportunity extends beyond just this season.
“I don’t think there’s any question that this is just the beginning of what we think will be a pretty good three to five years,” he said.