Hartman: Wild's Leipold struck quickly, decisively

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 11, 2012 - 11:38 PM

The team owner is no stranger to Ryan Suter, who, with Zach Parise, represents a rare opportunity.

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Wild owner Craig Leipold and new defenseman Ryan Suter at a news conference at Xcel Energy Center.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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It's interesting that Wild owner Craig Leipold has been reunited with Ryan Suter, the defenseman Nashville drafted seventh in the first round of the 2003 draft when Leipold owned the Predators.

"I knew Ryan -- frankly, I knew his father better than I knew Ryan, because we do these father road trips every single year and his father, Bob, is a well-known hockey person, would never miss one of the father road trips," Leipold said.

"I knew Bob Suter very well from those road trips every year; I did nine of them with him. Ryan was one of our young guns that was good, and the last five years he became a superstar and an All-Star in this league. My relationship with Ryan was really, I would say, not that close. We knew each other as player and owner, but I'd say I knew his family even better."

And Leipold recalls that new Wild forward Zach Parise was taken in the same draft as Suter.

"I do remember that, I remember that very well," he said. "We had the seventh pick. That was the [former Wild] Brent Burns draft, and in fact Zach Parise was picked in the same draft [and was the 17th player chosen]."

"We never really considered Parise. We were looking for a defenseman, and Ryan Suter, we felt at that time, was the best defenseman at No. 7."

Leipold believes the fact that Suter and Parise are being paid $12 million this season and next won't prevent the Wild from adding good free agents or other players because of the salary cap.

"Not really, because the way it's structured is that they're both are going to count about $7.8 million on the cap," Leipold said. "In the next couple of years, as the contracts end, other people will fall off and we have money available [so] that we can either re-sign our players, like [Niklas] Backstrom and [Dany] Heatley and Matt Cullen and some other guys, or look elsewhere."

Had no choice

Leipold said the Wild didn't have any choice but to try to do something dramatic to keep the team from losing a lot of money, so when the opportunity came to sign the two superstars, he jumped.

"That was a big part of our discussion over the last couple months," he said. "Listen, if we can do something dramatic with unrestricted free agents, because we were talking about it, there's two great guys coming available, if there's any possibility that we can get one of them we're going to do it.

"If we can get two of them, let's just go for it. This is kind of the moment where you look around the table, and everybody says, 'It's worth the risk. We think these guys are going to change the way our image is.' Clearly we're a better team. We're a playoff team with these guys coming in."

Leipold said if the team kept going in the direction it had been going, he was still certain young players in the system would have brought dramatic improvements -- but it would have taken a couple of years. "I didn't think we, and I didn't think our market, was willing to wait that long," he said. "This was the opportunity, and we went for it."

What does it mean financially?

"Honestly we don't even know yet," Leipold said. "But I can tell you one thing: It has been dramatic in terms of season ticket holders calling in and buying tickets -- buying tickets, immediately. It has been a real change for us."

One move that would help the Wild is the NHL's proposed realignment plan, which would put the team in a conference with Chicago, Detroit, Winnipeg and four other teams -- something that was turned down by NHL's players union at least until a new collective-bargaining agreement is set.

"I will guarantee you that 12 months from now we are going to be getting ready for the season to open and we will definitely be playing in what was the old North Stars' division," Leipold said. "We will be playing Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Winnipeg -- that has already been voted on, it's been approved, it will be included in the next CBA."

And one goal Leipold has is to attract the annual Winter Classic, the NHL's annual outdoor game. "We're going to try like crazy to get that winter game," Leipold said. "I think we've got a very, very strong, compelling case, with a great team, good players, and two great facilities to choose from [Target Field or TCF Bank Stadium] to play it in."

Jottings

• Gophers football coach Jerry Kill has hired a new assistant recruiting director, Jeff Jones, who played for Kill at Southern Illinois and helped turn the program around. Jones has served as coordinator of academics for Southern Illinois since 2009. Before that, Jones served as a graduate assistant academic adviser. Jones, who earned his bachelor's degree from SIU in 2006, was captain of one of Kill's teams and played on three Gateway Football Conference title teams from 2003 to 2005.

• Keanon Cooper, MarQueis Gray and Ed Olson will represent the Gophers at the annual Big Ten Conference Media Days and Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago later this month.

• Chris Wipson, an outstanding linebacker for Wayzata High School, is the second member of the team to commit to the Gophers for 2014. Tackle Ben Lauer had committed earlier.

• The Gophers basketball team will play exhibitions against Minnesota State Mankato on Nov. 1 and Southwest Baptist on Nov . 5. Richmond will be on the schedule on Nov .18.

• Vinni Lettieri, son of the former Kicks and Strikers soccer goalie Tino Lettieri and grandson of Lou Nanne, has made the Under-18 U.S. National hockey team that will play in a tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia next month. Tyler Nanne, another grandson of Lou's and brother of Wild draftee Louie Nanne, is averaging a point a game at the USA Hockey Boys' Select 16 Player Development Camp in Rochester, N.Y.

• Apple Valley standout Tyus Jones finished his run at the FIBA U-17 World Championship in Lithuania with USA Basketball on Sunday. The team finished 8-0 and won the gold medal. Jones had a terrific tournament. He was tied for fifth on the team in scoring at 8.5 points per game, finished third in minutes per game at 20.4, led the team with 5.4 assists per game and tied for second with two steals a game. He shot 26-for-49 from the field for a .531 percentage and was 14-for-18 (.778) from the free-throw line.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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