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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Posts about Wild management

Wild owner Craig Leipold speaks: The Extras

Posted by: Michael Russo 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.”

Todd Richards exclusive; Wild GM Chuck Fletcher transcript; Koivu talks

Posted by: Kent Youngblood Updated: April 11, 2011 - 3:13 PM

Mikko Koivu added

Here's a transcript of Chuck Fletcher from today. There may be a few typos, but just wanted to get this up for you. I got him one-on-one after and will toss stuff up later.

Also, here is an exclusive Todd Richards article from my phone conversation with him a little bit ago. More later


Told Richards this morning he's done.
"It's a very difficult decision and a very difficult day on many levels.
From the outset, I want to mention how hard Todd and his staff worked
this year, and I really want to thank him for his commitment and his
efforts in driving this team forward. His work ethic was unbelievable.
His passion to win was great. He's a good coach. He's a good hockey
coach, but ultimately it's my responsibility to make the right decision
for the organization and I felt going forward we needed a new voice and
a new direction, and I made the decision to let Todd go."
Toughest decision you've made here?
"Yeah. Professional sports is a great business to work in, and most days
are great days. This is not one of them. He's somebody I've worked with
in the past and certainly did not take this decision lightly. There's a
human side to this. He's got a family, and certainly it's not easy on
anybody. Again, we're in the business of winning and losing games, and
the results are what they are. Part of my decision was based on the
results of the past two seasons. Part of my decision was based on the
fact I thought we needed more from some players. And part of my decision
was based on the fact that going forward I thought we needed a new voice
to maximize production from this particular group of players. I will
point out: I really do believe in sports that not every coach is the
right fit for every team. Teams have different personalities. There's
different talent levels, and not every coach fits with every team. Just
like every player doesn't fit with every team. It comes down to a feel
and what you feel you need to do going forward, and I felt that to get
the most out of this group of players -- certainly the players that are
coming back -- we needed a new voice and a new direction. It's as simple
as that."
Need to make the playoffs, huh?
"Again, we're in a results-oriented business. We're all judged that way.
Results are a part of it, but there's also, as I mentioned, you want to
have the right fit for your particular team going forward, and this is
the decision I felt we had to make."
Why was Todd not the right fit?
"You know, it's a lot of different factors you have to contend with, and
it's just my judgment that we need a different voice and a different
When did you decide?
"It's been a fluid process, Bruce. Certainly it's not a knee-jerk
reaction. It's something I've been analyzing and looking through, and I
felt this was a change we needed to make, and once you make that
decision it's important in fairness to Todd and the organization to make
it as quickly as possible."
When did you let him know?
"I let him know this morning."
What was his reaction like?
"Heh, well, um, we talked. It was a brief conversation. I just want to
leave it at that. He's naturally disappointed, as was I, and it wasn't
easy. Our relationship goes back a few years, and we've been through a
lot of good times and good seasons and this did not end the way either
one of us wanted."
You assured by Leipold that your job and front office is safe?
"Ah, yes."
How much do ticket sales factor into this decision?
"My job is to put a winning hockey team on the ice and build a team that
ultimately gets to where we all want to get to. When we do that, the
season tickets will follow. This was not a reactionary move. It was a
move I put a lot of thought into, and Todd's a very good coach. He's
going to coach again in the NHL in my opinion, and he's going to do a
good job somewhere. Again, I felt for this particular team this was a
decision we needed to make."
You consulted with Craig on this?
"I spoke to Craig this morning and advised him of the decision I thought
we needed to make. Craig hired me to run the hockey team, and he's been
great. He's allowed me to make the decisions I feel I need to make.
Again, it's been a fluid process."
So this was your call, right? Not his? Not together?
"This was my decision. This was my decision."
So this is your roster and your hire. Did you mess up?
"I put pretty much all the responsibility on me. It's my job. It's
ultimately up to me to deliver a winning hockey team, and so far we've
had two non-playoff seasons. I do feel strongly in the direction we're
going with respect to the young players that are coming, and I do feel
we've had a couple good drafts now. I do feel we've developed players
thanks to the efforts of Brad Bombardir and Mike Yeo and many other
people in the organization, and we are going in the right direction. We
are going to add more talent, and we are going to get better, but
clearly the last two years we haven't made the playoffs so that speaks
to itself and ultimately we need to get better from here, and we'll
endeavor to do all that this summer."
A: “Not yet, no.’’
A: “As quickly as it takes to get the right guy. There are no artificial time frames or timetables. We’ll go through the process, and when we find the right guy then that will be the right time.”
A: “We’ll talk about that. We’ll see. But generally that’s what happens (bringing in a new staff) in this industry. And certainly the assistant coaches worked very hard and will have a chance to go down that path later on once we have a clear direction as to who the head coach is.”
A: “I don’t know that you have to. There has been a lot of rookie head coaches who have come in and done a great job. Lindy Ruff jumped into Buffalo without any head coaching experience and did very well. Everybody has to get their experience somewhere and somehow and you know, coaching is coaching. Most teams seem to play the same systems these days. There’s not a lot of stylistic differences between teams on the ice. You’re looking for accountability, you’re looking for structure, and you’re looking for somebody to motivate and push the group forward. So it has to be the right fit. Communication skills are a big part of it. And there… It’s a lot of different factors. But I don’t think we’re going to limit ourselves to experienced or inexperienced. Because I think there are a lot of experienced hockey people that may not have a lot of head coaching experience.
A: “I met with him in person. It’s not easy. It’s not.. as I said. There are a lot of great days in pro sports, and this isn’t one of them. You feel for Todd, for his family. Again, it’s a decision I felt I had to make.
A: “You know, I don’t think it’s fair to Todd to get into a lot of speculating. Todd is a good coach. He battled hard. The team had streaks where we were a very good hockey team. And unfortunately we came up short. He was disappointed by that. It wasn’t from lack of effort. And again, there were times we were a very good hockey team.
A: “Next we have the exit interviews. Certainly you have to sit with the players. There are a lot of dialog that needs to take place with our players right now. Certainly some expectations need to be set. Certainly there are some things, as a group, that the players need to do better. It’s up to me to put some demands on them and create some expectations for coming into next season. And I feel that there was more in the tank from some of them. We need to find a way to get that out of them. To me, that’s the critical next step. After that we proceed to scouting meetings, getting ready for the draft in the summer. There is a lot of time to deal with the pending free agents, and at this point it’s about dealing with the returning players. We have to raise the bar here, we have to raise the level of expectations. And there were some good things that happened this season. And I look at the growth of certain players. I look at the return of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and the way he played, in particular the last month, as he gained his confidence and his conditioning and his timing back. And you look at the emergence of Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon and you look at Kyle Brodziak continuing to get better and Cal Clutterbuck, netting 19 goals. Look at the work ethic of an Andrew Brunette and John Madden, some of those players. You certainly look at Jose Theodore and the games he gave us. Nick Backstrom, how well he played, particularly in that January-February stretch when we had the best January in team history and the best February in team history. So there are a lot of positive things this year. But we didn’t end the way we wanted to, that’s the focus of this summer.
A: “I think winning excites the fan base. And I think that is the focus. The players play, and they’re driving the entertainment quotient on the ice, and the fans pay to see them. The coach has to guide them and help us win. And that’s the mandate.
A: “Well, first of all, I gave consideration to a lot of different coaches. So I don’t think it would be accurate to say I didn’t give consideration to several other coaches. You can’t live in the past. We make decisions. Talking to Ray Shero the other day and, it’s funny. We make decisions. Not every trade we make works out. And not every hire we make works out. But again, I really believe in fits. And sometimes things don’t work out. And in this case, I think Todd worked hard and pushed this team. It’s just my opinion that we need a new direction to go forward. Again, once you make the decision, you have to move on. The good ones and the bad ones. You can’t look back.
Reaction: “Well, obviously I think it’s disappointing for all of us. And I think it’s part of the game. But at the end, it’s basically the guys on the ice who play the game. And it’s the coach’s job too, to be a part of it. Usually when there aren’t playoffs, the head coach is usually the guy who gets the blame. And not the 20 guys on the ice. That’s the thing you feel bad about. You feel disappointed as well. That’s something for all of us to realize as well. We’re all in this together, and everybody has to think about what to do better and how can we help this team.
Obviously disappointed and for Todd, it’s…It’s tough, I’m sure. He did a lot of good things here. He taught us a lot about the game, on and off the ice. But I’m sure he’ll still a young head coach, he knows the game very well. I’m sure he’ll be back sooner than we’d think.”
Did you play the way he wanted you to down the stretch: “Well I think everybody tries to play the way he’s hoping for. And the coaching staff, what they want. It’s always 20-plus guys on the ice. And obviously, there are a lot of things that are involved with the game. So I don’t think it’s about trying or the effort. It’s like I said, it’s a lot of things. Confidence, and things like that. So , of course, you feel bad for not only making the playoffs, but for letting him down. Not making the playoffs, not winning enough. We’re all responsible for that. 
Does this give you the first step towards turning team around, with a new coach, starting over: Well, I mean, first of all, individually, everyone in this locker room has to think about what we can do better. And it starts with the players, like I said, individually. Then it comes to be a better team. So of course, yeah. We want to get better. That’s obvious. But before you can look forward and think about next year, before that you have to think about what we did wrong, what we can do better. And make sure these mistakes don’t happen again.
Do you think Todd did a good job: “Yeah. I think personally I learned a lot in these two years. And I’m sure as a team as well. There are a lot of good moments, good periods of time, in these seasons. And I think Todd and the whole coaching staff did a lot of good things. But we just, as a team, came up short.
When things were coming unraveled, could he have done things differently: “I think he did it his way. Since day one. I always say I respect when a coach does it his way, and when he believes in the systems and everything. I think that’s the right way to do things, and that’s what I think he did. Since day 1 he did it his way, (to the end). I respect that. “
Was it always clear what the coaches wanted: Yeah, of course . The first year, the changes, is huge. After one coach being here for so long. Obviously that took some time for us to adjust on the systems and to learn to play with the new players. I think that will happen every time you have changes. It will take some time. But other than that, everybody knew what was going on. It was all clear for us. And so, yeah, I think that was all clear.
What sort of coach does this team need going forward: Well, that’s not really for me to comment on that. That’s not going to be the players’ decision. I’m sure they’re going to take a good look at it, obviously take some time to think about that. We’ll see when the time comes for that. I don’t feel that’s really my (place). Especially when we finished the season last night. So, I can’t think about that right now.
How was your personal relationship with Todd: Yeah, I think it was good. I mean, there are, during a long season, always things that you have to talk through and kind of see what everybody thinks, so we’re on the same page. But, I think we were… we had an honest relationship and I think both ways, I think we were both honest. And I think for the team, too, there are always ups and downs. That’s part of the game. That’s part of life. But yeah. I think everything went well. Like you said, there was a respect between each other. Honest as well.


Richards fired as Wild coach

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 11, 2011 - 12:39 PM
UPDATE: PER SOURCES: Assistant coach Dave Barr and video coach PJ DeLuca were also fired. 

Todd Richards’ second season with the Wild will be his last.

With the Wild finishing 12th in the Western Conference, the Wild coach became the fall guy Monday morning.
Ultimately, the Wild collapsed during an eight-game losing streak at the worst possible time.
“I would like to thank Todd for the hard work he provided to the Minnesota Wild organization the last two seasons and wish him the best in the future,” said GM Chuck Fletcher in a statement.
He will be available later this morning. The fate of the rest of the coaching staff was not immediately known, but assistant coach Rick Wilson is the only coach with a year left on his contract.
Richards, 44, had basically been on the hot seat long before training camp, but that subsided when the team settled down in late December and played strong hockey for 2 ½ months. But the last time the Wild was in the top-8 was after an overtime win in Anaheim on Feb. 25.
The Wild missed the playoffs for the third year in a row, second under Richards. The team, which played in front of non-sellout crowds for the first time in its history, spent close to $60 million in payroll, near the maximum allowed by the NHL salary cap.
Richards, who had one more year left on his contract, was hired in June 2009 to transform the organization. He was the young face with brown hair, a Minnesota native and 21 years younger than the only previous coach in franchise history — Jacques Lemaire. Richards’ task was to end the years of conservative hockey with a fresh, up-tempo attacking system.
Most felt deprogramming eight seasons of Lemaire would not be simple, however, and there were indeed growing pains. In Richards’ first season, the Wild finished 13th in the West, not spending more than a day in the top-eight.
The system may have looked more entertaining last year, but the Wild finished 22nd in the NHL with 214 goals (2.61 goals per game) — the exact totals of 2008-09.
And while the Wild failed to score more goals, it managed to give up more. After yielding the fewest goals in the West in 2008-09, the Wild gave up 42 more goals last season (239).
Sixteen months ago, after watching Dan Bylsma win a 2009 Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh and witnessing the success of coaches like Mike Babcock and Bruce Boudreau, who had little or no NHL coaching experience before their first jobs, Fletcher got swept up by the notion of making the next great non-retread hire.
Richards was considered the front-runner from the moment Fletcher took over as GM in June 2009, replacing Doug Risebrough. Fletcher and Richards ahd together in Wilkes-Barre, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ chief farm team.
But Fletcher put his neck on the line by being a first-year GM hiring a first-year coach with limited credentials. Richards was largely considered the next big thing, but he had spent one year as an NHL assistant with San Jose after only two as head coach with Wilkes-Barre.
By hiring Richards, Fletcher passed over men with vast experience such as Dave Tippett, last season’s Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year) winner, and Peter Laviolette, who coached Philadelphia to the Stanley Cup Finals last season.
Before the 2009-10 season, Fletcher talked to the Star Tribune about the coaching search.
“I remember waking up in the middle of the night in early June, which I did frequently at that point,” Fletcher said in September 2009. “I remember thinking that the concern might be that I’m leaning toward hiring a guy without NHL experience. But my biggest fear was what happens if I don’t go with my instincts and don’t hire him and two years from now he’s a star coach in the league?
“To me, there was a bigger risk not pursuing Todd than hiring him. Once I broke it down to that level, it really became just a matter of when and not if I was going to hire him.”
Fletcher decided that being a first-year GM, it was essential to hire somebody he knew and trusted. Both as a college player at the University of Minnesota and longtime minor-leaguer, and as a coach, Richards had won everywhere.
In the same interview with the Star Tribune last September, Fletcher said, “Brian Burke told me the most important decision I’ll have to make is the coach. If the head coach is great, our team does well. If the coach isn’t great, we won’t. Then I have a problem. Now I’ve got to make a change. If you make a bad pick or hire a bad scout, you can always work around certain things. But the coach is critical.
“I know Todd. He’s a proven winner, a strong communicator, a technically sound coach and a highly competitive guy. When you add it all up, the only knock you can come up with is his lack of NHL experience. But if you use that as a major criterion in every job search, then who would ever get a job?”
Richards, who hails from Crystal, was a star at Armstrong High School and the University of Minnesota.
As a player, Richards won two WCHA titles with the Gophers, a 1991 Calder Cup with Springfield (AHL title), a 2001 Turner Cup with Orlando (2001) and a 2002 Swiss-B League title with Servette Geneve.
Richards, a second-round pick by the Montreal Canadiens in 1995, was a pure offensive defenseman during a bright high school, college and minor-league career. At the U, where he was captain his senior year, Richards scored 30 goals and had 158 assists in four years, being named to the WCHA Second All-Star Team three consecutive years. In Las Vegas in 1994-95, he was IHL defenseman of the year after a 130-point season.
As an assistant coach in Milwaukee, the Admirals went to the Calder Cup finals twice in his tenure, winning one championship. As head coach in Wilkes-Barre from 2006-08, Richards won 98 games and took the Baby Penguins to the Calder Cup finals in 2008. The Sharks won the President’s Trophy in Richards’ only year as an assistant.

#mnwild GM Chuck Fletcher on Madden, Wellman/Sheppard, Bouchard, Modano, Rick Wilson, etc.

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: August 6, 2010 - 5:09 PM

I chatted with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher on the phone for about a half-hour. Here is Chuck on several subjects, including why he signed John Madden, how this affects James Sheppard and Casey Wellman, how players better show up in shape and ready to work, on his effort to sign Mike Modano, on how Pierre-Marc Bouchard is doing, on where he is in the contract negotiations for potential assistant coach Rick Wilson and the possibility of hiring a third assistant.

Read with a fine-toothed comb, skim it, ignore it, whatever you want, ... but I thought you'd find interesting and at least provide you with an update on the Wild six weeks before training camp. Just an fyi, I transcribed and published. I didn't read over again because I should probably actually start writing for Saturday's paper, so long story short, there may be some typos.

Why the fit with Madden? “We like the fit for a few reasons. The things he does really well are always areas you’re looking to get better in – defensive play, killing penalties, faceoffs. He brings a lot of experience to our team. He certainly makes us much deeper at center. Going into training camp and the regular season, there should be a real healthy competition for ice time. There will be a lot of incentive for players to be in good shape and perform well early in the season because there will be a lot more competition this season for ice time and important roles.”
How important is it to add this type of character and winning experience to your team? You’ve mentioned all summer you felt there was a character, work ethic issue last season, so is this a continuation of Cullen, Nystrom, Staubitz additions? “I think so. When I looked at our team last year, we had some disappointing parts of the season. We had some portions of the season where I thought we lost our way too easily. The more people you have on your team that have won and that have winning attributes and professional attributes, I think the more difficult it is to go on these downward spirals. We wanted to improve on that. I want to make one thing clear, we have some terrific leaders and character people in our room. I think the idea isn’t to invent a leadership group. It’s to augment the existing group that’s already here. There’s some great leaders in our group, but I’m not sure we had enough of them. You can never have too many character people.”
You mentioned defense earlier in our conversation. Everybody wonders who’s going to score goals for you, but the reality is the biggest problem is you gave up 42 more goals last year than the year before. Have you improved that with additions like Madden? “Exactly. I’d say conservatively we’ll have to reduce our goals against by 20 or 25 goals this year. If we execute properly and work hard, I don’t see why we can’t achieve that. We have to give up fewer goals. … We need to be a better team defensively, more consistently. Defense, some of it’s systems, some of it’s execution and some of it’s just hard work. Players like John Madden and Matt Cullen and Eric Nystrom and Staubitz are players that work hard and compete and certainly have the ability to play well on the road.
Where do you put Madden now at this stage in his career compared to the old John Madden – the one we watched Florida play four times a year, the one that was one of the best defensive, shutdown centers in the league [for New Jersey]? “Well, it’s difficult to say. John’s 37. I don’t think any of us at 37 is quite what we were at 23. He’s still a quality two-way center. He still excels at winning faceoffs and killing penalties. He’s clearly still one of the better defensive centermen in the game. And, he’s a player that scored 20 goals just a couple seasons ago and this past season scored 10 goals. He can shoot the puck and has the ability to be opportunistic defensively. We just want him to come in and play a quality two-way game and just contribute like he did last season [for Chicago]. You watch him last season, he was a quality contributor for a very good hockey team, so we have no reason to believe he can’t help our team win games this year.”
You mentioned the competition at training camp, where does this put Wellman, or would you like to see him start to Houston. And the same thing with Sheppard? “The great thing is I don’t think my opinion’s going to matter too much now. The coaches will have to look long and hard at the players in training camp, and ultimately the decision will rest with the players. In my opinion, last year, I’m not sure the conditioning level of some of our players was at an acceptable level at the start of last year’s training camp. We’ve tried to address that with them and set higher standards to where we expect them to be at training camp. But actions speak louder than words and to me, the level of competition we’ll have at camp will be at a high level. And if you’re not prepared to play from the start of camp, then you’re going to fall behind. I think that’s what we need. We need to have a good start. We need to win some hockey games in October to set the tone for the year, and the only way we’re going to do that is by having a good camp. The competition we’ll have at camp will be exciting. I’m going to sit back and watch what the players do and the players performances will dictate our roster at the end of camp.”
Are you OK Wellman being the 13th or 14th forward if you’re healthy, or would you rather him be in Houston? “I really haven’t set any conditions as to any of that right now. Ideally, you’d prefer to have young players be important parts of an American League team than a bit part of an NHL team, assuming they don’t have to clear waivers (Russo note: Wellman doesn’t, Sheppard does). But we’ll have to see the makeup of our roster at the end of camp and how we look as we get on the plane to Finland. We’ll have to build a team and put some lines together and see what makes sense. But everything’s open. Everything’s on the table. We didn’t have a good enough season to set any conditions at this point as to roles or positions available.”
Still, you have 22 one-way contracts now. There’s not a lot of flexibility, right? “Yeah, I know it’s a cliché. Certain players probably know they’re not going to be sent to Houston, but I’ll say it this way, there’s a lot of playing minutes available (laughs). The difference between second and third line and third and fourth line can be significant in terms of role and ice time. So I really do think there’s a lot to play for this training camp.”
Regarding Sheppard, the second I put out the Madden tweet, I got questions from readers asking if this signals the end of Sheppard here. Does this signal that Sheppard’s gone? “Not necessarily at all. The performance of players in training camp will determine what we do. If players have a terrific camp and earn the right to make the team, then we’ll have to make some decisions. But I think that’s what we want. That’s ideally what you want to get to. You hope you have some tough decisions to make. James is definitely still a part of the mix. He’s part of the group of players we think we can win games with next season. He’s going to have to battle for ice time and role, but right now, he’s a part of our group.”
When you bring up conditioning like you did before, can you be more specific as to the problems and how you’ve addressed it?  “There’s some players – some of them aren’t here anymore – I’ll say this: Some guys were in pretty good shape, some guys were average and some guys were below average, but as a group, I don’t think our numbers were high enough when you average them out. I think we can be fitter. Obviously we need to play better, but to me, it all starts right that first day. When you have too many players in average or below average conditioning, it just sets the wrong tone for camp. You look at our season last year, it seemed right from Day One things didn’t go the way we wanted them to. We’re pretty determined to try to improve upon the things we can control, which is conditioning and practicing and those type of things right from the get-go and start to develop some proper habits and start the season the right way.
I know you’ve offered the assistant coaching job to Rick Wilson. What’s the latest with that? “I think it’s really close. I’m optimistic we’ll be able to get this done and hopefully have an announcement to make next week. It’s just been slow for various reasons. It just hasn’t been the most efficient work week in terms of having everybody in the same place. Everybody’s on vacation, everybody’s everywhere. There’s moving parts here. I’m sure it’ll get done.
As you reported, there’s [three] teams here [with Tampa and Dallas]. … Just because there’s more parties and more people involved, it just takes longer. I don’t think there’s been any major point of contention (Russo note: I’ve heard Tampa scoffed at Wild’s original offer to Wilson because it felt Wild was intentionally lowering its offer so Tampa would pick up a bigger chunk of the $600,000 it owes him). When you get three or four parties involved, sometimes it takes three phone calls to ask one question, and then one person’s on vacation and one person’s out golfing and then it’s the next day. If everyone was at their desk, you’d get this done in two days (laughs). But I think it should work out. We’re assuming it will. But it’s not officially done.”
Does Wilson’s potential hire signal that you could be potentially changing the up-tempo way of your defensemen? I’ve heard from many people that Wilson feels the defensemen should play a certain way, and it’s not that way. “I don’t know if that’s accurate or not. In Dallas, certain defensemen went all the time and certain guys didn’t. The skilled players there over the years – Zubov, even Sydor – they went. I’m sure he has certain core beliefs, and I know Todd [Richards] and he spoke at length. They felt there was a lot more areas of agreement than disagreement. I don’t think there’s any question we’re examining everything we do on and off the ice, but that’ll be up to Todd and the coaching staff to determine how we’ll play and what the rules of engagement are for players. … But we can talk more when we have an official announcement. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. But it’s not meant to signal a change of direction. We’re trying to replace what we lost in Mike Ramsey and getting a real quality, veteran guy that has a proven track record. There’s a lot of upside in a few of our defensemen that we’d love to untap.”
How much did you go after Modano? “We had a few phone calls. But the puck was always in Mike’s court. It was Mike’s decision to make like any unrestricted free agent. I can’t speak for Mike at all. I just know as of a couple week’s ago, my sense was that he was leaning toward Detroit for various reasons that seemed to make a lot of sense to me as well. He has to find the right fit for him at this point of his career for role and expectation in what he’s trying to accomplish, and he certainly picked a terrific situation to go to. I don’t know how serious an option we were to him. I don’t think he was looking at a ton of teams. I know he was looking at us. But I had a conversation with him and certainly had a few with his agent [Mike Liut], and they were very professional and straightforward. But it wasn’t a big surprise to us [he signed with Detroit], let’s put it that way. As time went on it became clearer what he felt was the right fit.” (Russo note: Modano said at his presser today that if Detroit didn’t come after him, he’d probably be retiring, and that it didn’t make sense to sign elsewhere).
How long have you been talking to Madden?: “We didn’t formally make an offer until recently, but we’ve had conversations with [agent] Bill Zito since the beginning of July. There’s been a few conversations over a few weeks with Bill. Lots of teams were kicking tires with him, just like we were kicking tires with a few guys. This just seemed to make sense this week to move forward and give him a chance to set up here and give our coaches a chance to start looking at potential scenarios.”
How much deeper does this make you at center? “Now you’ve got legitimately four, potentially five other guys besides Mikko [Koivu] who played in the league and know how to play and can play different scenarios. We’ll see how it all flushes out. I think if you don’t have depth at center, you’re really in trouble because that impacts your ability to score and your ability to defend. It was the weakest link of our team last year. I believe if you’re strong at center, or at least deep at center, you can win and you can compete. I mean, that’s our theory, and we’ll see.”
What do you hear lately on Bouchard? “I know [trainer] Don Fuller’s kept in touch with Butch and I had a good chat with Allan the other day (agent Allan Walsh), and he’s doing way better. He’s on the bike 30-plus minutes every day. He’s started lifting weights. He’s going to start skating with the group of players that get together in Montreal. I don’t know what that means in respect to contact and this and that, but I know his condition has not worsened with the exercise. And that’s a positive. I know he’s feeling better. So everything’s trending in the right direction. It’s been steady progress. All signs point to him being healthy sooner rather than later. Now, whatever that means, I don’t know. If he’s ready to start the year, great. If it’s November or whatever, that’s fine, too. But I don’t think there’s that uncertainty of ‘will he play this year?’ I think he’s clearly going to play this year. He’s come along way. Now he’s got a little bit more to go. I just wanted to make sure we have depth, too, so if it takes a month or two, you’re not scrambling. There’s options now that won’t be available then. You’d much rather have too many than be short, so I think this is the smart way to go. We’ve got lots of guys that can play wing, lots of guys that can play center.”
So are you done, maybe a defenseman? “Right now I’m comfortable with what we have. We’re not actively pursuing anything right now. I mean, there’s always conversations you have with agents and teams. If there’s something there that will make us better, we’re definitely not done. But looking at the landscape now, I don’t see anything that’s imminent. We’re comfortable going to camp with this group and get into training camp and see how things transpire. If anybody exceeds expectations or doesn’t perform to expectations or gets injured, we may have to react to different scenarios once camp starts. But I think going into camp we’re comfortable with the mix of players we have now. It’s a pretty good mix of veteran players and I think we have some young players that can challenge and I think we have some quality returning players. I mean this sincerely, there’s a core group of players here that I really like. I think the goal’s been to surround those players with pieces that make us better in certain areas, whether that’s the defensive side of the puck or competing or leadership or having a track record of winning hockey games at important times of the year. We feel we’ve found some players that make us better in certain areas. You never fill every hole, but that’s the nature of the cap system. On paper, we’re a better team now than we were at the end of last season. If players come to camp and work hard and execute, I think we have the ability to be substantially better than what we were last year. We’ll see. I’m excited about the level of competition and I think there’s risk-reward for not being in shape versus being in shape. That’s the type of environment we’re trying to foster going into the season.”
Have you made a decision whether you want to hire a third assistant or another scout? “No I haven’t. I know Todd and [assistant GM] Brent [Flahr] are looking at options. I don’t want to do something just for the sake of doing something. If we can add a person who can improve us in a material way, or for the scouting perspective, improve our coverage and make us better, then we’ve got to look at it. I’ve left it up to Todd to look at the coaching scenario and Brent to look at the scouting scenario, and we’re going to spend some time next week together and I’m sure at the end of the week they’ll give me their recommendation and we’ll see what makes sense.”
Russo note: If it’s the coach, I believe the vision is for this person to basically be around home practices and games. I think former Wild center Darby Hendrickson is the guy Richards really wants. But Hendrickson makes good money as a Northwest Division rep for the NHLPA and I'm told by multiple sources that he's been offered the Gophers' color job from Fox Sports North. Plus, he works for FSN as a Wild analyst. So Hendrickson has a lot of options to weigh through. But I'm sure Hendrickson would be very intrigued by a unique coaching opportunity with his hometown Wild. So we'll see where this goes with time. 

Wild extends FSN contract, evaluates broadcasters, fires Snow

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 12, 2010 - 9:40 AM

(updated Wednesday morning)

--The Wild has reached an extension with Fox Sports North to continue to broadcast Wild games. The length of the deal is undisclosed and an announcement will come at a later date.

In a statement to my inquiry, Bill Robertson, the team's VP of Communications and Broadcastings, said, “The Minnesota Wild have concluded negotiations with FS-North and have extended our current agreement to broadcast Wild NHL games. At the same time, the Wild will continue to work with over-the-air partner, KSTC-TV, while the new contract with FS-North has no immediate impact on the Wild’s KSTC-TV partnership.”

However, that's immediate impact. It's believed all Wild games will move exclusively to Fox Sports North in 2011-12.
-- As for the broadcasters, the contracts for TV announcers Dan Terhaar and Mike Greenlay and radio announcers Bob Kurtz and Tom Reid have yet to be extended.
“The Wild are currently in the overall review process with our television and radio broadcasters regarding their work,” Robertson said. “We will be meeting with them in the coming weeks to discuss their agreements.”
--The Wild has fired director of hockey operations Chris Snow. A former sportswriter, Snow, 28, made national news four years ago because of the unorthodox hiring. He returned to Minnesota from the Boston Globe, where he covered the Red Sox, but he also covered the Wild in 2003-04 and part of the 2004-05 lockout for the Star Tribune.
Under former GM Doug Risebrough, Snow did a lot of analytical work of other team rosters, cap commitments and statistics. He also assisted in arbitration strategies, organized the scouts and did collective bargaining agreement interpretation. This season, he spent much of his time scouting.
"Though the year ended for me the way it has, I appreciate the year working for Chuck [Fletcher] because his management style differs some ways from Doug [Risebrough]," Snow said. "I think that was positive for me to participate in that. Because other people were hired to take over some of the responsibilities I have, it gave me the opportunity to be out of the office scouting. I enjoyed that and it was another skill-set Chuck enabled me to add."
Snow said he has no plans to return to sportswriting. He wants to remain in sports management.

"This was a radical decision. Covering the Red Sox is a pretty good job, but I made the decision because this is what I want my career to be," Snow said. "I feel the people I've worked with taught me a great deal, so I feel confident that I can add value to an organization."

You can bet if Risebrough gets the Tampa job, Snow will have a good opportunity to rejoin an NHL team soon. Steve Yzerman, Pierre McGuire and Paul Fenton are also reportedly being considered. Toronto's Dave Nonis got an extension to stay with the Leafs.

-- The Phoenix Coyotes have been given a lifeline for next season.Here's the Associated Press story, thus ending Winnipeg speculation for now.

This means everything remains intact for next season in regards to alignment of divisions.


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