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.

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Wild owner Craig Leipold speaks: The Extras

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild management, Wild news 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.”

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