Leipold: 'We're all hurting right now'

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 15, 2011 - 12:36 AM

The Wild owner expressed disappointment and a bit of anger over his team's failures.

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Wild owner Craig Leipold

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Craig Leipold could wear a contrived smile and attempt to spin the truth.

But that's not the Wild owner. If he's not happy, everybody knows it.

Craig Leipold's not happy. He's mystified and mad. Dumbfounded and disappointed.

And very, very embarrassed.

"This has not been fun for anybody in this organization," Leipold said four days after the Wild, the team he bought for roughly $260 million days after it won the Northwest Division in 2008, missed the playoffs for a third straight season.

"When you work for a sports team, no matter the capacity, you are tied to that team. People know you as, let's say, an account executive for the Minnesota Wild. For me, they know me as the owner of the Minnesota Wild.

"Right now we're tied to a team that didn't make the playoffs and collapsed at the end. I don't like that. That is not acceptable. That is not what I want to be known as. That is not what our players want to be known as.

"We're all hurting right now. This is not a good week for us. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and it's going to cause us to work harder to get to the level we want to be at.

"The fans deserve better."

During an hourlong interview with the Star Tribune on Thursday -- three days after General Manager Chuck Fletcher fired Todd Richards as coach -- Leipold touched on a variety of subjects:

On Fletcher's job security: "Chuck and I are totally locked in step. He is thinking strategically, longer-term, two, three, four years down the road. He knows he has my complete and absolute confidence."

Whether he will be involved in the coach search: "That is Chuck's responsibility. I hired Chuck to get the coach. Chuck's a smart guy and he's going to make the right decision."

Whether money's an object when it comes to a new coach: "Listen, we pay $3, $4, $5 million for players. There's no financial restraints when it comes to a coach."

On Fletcher having to get this right after hiring Richards over more experienced coaches: "The issue with Todd, I don't know if it was a mistake. It just didn't work out. Some things work out, some don't. This didn't. I don't look at it as, 'Chuck's got a mulligan.' But is this an important hire for him? Absolutely. We, not him -- all of us, have to get the right coach in here to take this team to the next level. And he knows that."

On how firing Richards won't solve all the problems: "We have to get better. We have to get deeper. Even as key and as important as Mikko Koivu is, you can't go from being one of the best teams in the NHL for 2 1/2 months to being one of the worst teams because your marquee player and leader breaks his [finger]. ... You have to develop players. You have to have a better system. You have to have younger players make significant contributions. We need players stepping up offensively, guys where if you looked a year ago, you wouldn't have necessarily have thought this would have been his year. We didn't have any 'wow' surprises."

On how there's hope: "We're developing good, young players. I believe completely in Chuck's long-term strategy. [Assistant GM] Brent Flahr and his staff had a great draft last year. And frankly, I think we now are in a position that we'll be relying on some of our younger players to come up, step up and be good. Next year we'll be better and the year after that, we're going to be even better, particularly offensively, with the guys we drafted last year coming."

Whether the Wild should bottom out to get better: "Edmonton had to live through years of pain of being the worst team in hockey to show fans they have a future. But that's a model I can't live through. ... I don't like losing. I hate losing. It's unacceptable. I'm not in this business to lose. ... If I knew for sure that we can lose and then as a result our first pick we'd get a Sidney Crosby, I might rethink that. I might go on a year vacation and then come back and get Sidney Crosby. But that's not how our world works. That model doesn't work for me personally, and I don't think it works for our market."

On his anger that he can spend $59 million and not make the playoffs again: "There's two reasons that I'm so disappointed in this year. No. 1, we're not winning. And no. 2, we're losing money. And I don't like either one of those. As a businessperson, losing money is painful, no matter what company you own. And I don't like losing money. So yes, the fact that we are a cap team makes it more painful. After losing to Montreal [8-1], I'm getting e-mails from fans, 'You don't care.' It's so upsetting because as mad and upset as they are, I'm as upset. Now you add on top of that just the financial aspect of what's happening. It's like the double whammy. So I'm sending e-mails back, 'Hey, you think you're upset, how would you like to be me?' It's disappointing and it's embarrassing."

On the fans' loyalty: "We had 25 of our 40 games as sellouts. We were at 97 percent of tickets sold. All the teams in league, unless in Canada, would love to have that kind of record. But that's our fans. And they're not happy with us. We have not met their expectations. We need to change that. We need to work harder to get the fans back. You have to do that by showing you have a plan, communicating what that plan is and then executing it. And that's what we need to do a better job of."

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