Fletcher on the road to make Wild better

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 19, 2011 - 11:30 PM

The GM needs a coach, but he's out searching for talent, too.

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Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher (left)

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune file

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Over the weekend, Chuck Fletcher was in Houston watching the Aeros take a stranglehold of their first-round series against Peoria.

Monday, Fletcher was in Espoo, Finland, watching Wild prospect Mikael Granlund celebrate a Finnish Elite League championship. Tuesday, Fletcher was in Dresden, Germany, watching the World Under-18s, which includes Granlund's brother, Markus, and several other draft-eligible youngsters.

The Wild general manager is globetrotting at a dizzying rate, but that doesn't mean he hasn't begun the process of hiring the third coach in Wild history and second in his short tenure.

"I've invested a lot of time already into the process," Fletcher said Tuesday from Germany -- eight days after he fired Todd Richards. "Still, it's April. There's not a sense of urgency, but clearly, there's work to be done."

Fletcher wouldn't say if he's officially interviewed any candidates, but the list definitely is being formulated.

Some former NHL coaches who could be contenders include former Dallas, Philadelphia and Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock, former Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish, former Los Angeles and St. Louis coach Andy Murray and former Chicago, Anaheim and Ottawa coach Craig Hartsburg.

All could bring the structure and accountability the Wild needs.

"Hitch is definitely one of the smartest coaches I've ever played for," said former NHL star Jeremy Roenick, who played for Hitchcock in Philadelphia. "He has a great knack to understand players, he has a great system. He's just one of those guys you have to listen to because he's truly a student of the game and understands the game and is a motivator."

Some other available candidates include Atlanta associate coach John Torchetti, former Atlanta coach John Anderson, former Florida coach Peter DeBoer and former Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau.

The Panthers have received permission to speak to Torchetti, who won a Stanley Cup as an assistant with the Blackhawks in 2010, for their vacant head-coaching job, and GM Rick Dudley says he'd give the same permission to Minnesota.

"He's ready to be a head coach," Dudley said of Torchetti, who's been an interim in Florida and Los Angeles. "Over a period of time, he's proven this in Chicago and other places. He's a teacher, he's a tactician, and most importantly in today's game, while he's tough on players, he's fair."

But there's no rush to hire a coach, Fletcher said, and one reason is other candidates might emerge as teams are eliminated from the playoffs. Some of those candidates might include Detroit assistant Paul MacLean, Chicago assistant Mike Haviland, Los Angeles assistant John Stevens and Montreal assistant Kirk Muller.

Aeros coach Mike Yeo might also be a candidate, especially since Fletcher says NHL head-coaching experience is not a prerequisite.

"I'm just looking for a good coach," Fletcher said. "You've got to invest a lot of time into it if you want to go about it the right way and make a proper decision. So this could take some time and we'll see where that leads us."

While Fletcher undoubtedly will be vague with his update, he wasn't vague about how excited he was to see Granlund, the Wild's 2010 first-round pick, win it all Monday.

"He just works so bloody hard," Fletcher said of Granlund, 19, who co-led HIFK and the league in playoff scoring with 16 points. "He's so skilled, but his unselfishness and the way he bought into the team concept and the way he checks, frankly, is what excites me.

"Usually it takes these talented kids two to three years to learn how to play away from the puck."

Fletcher didn't bother Granlund after the game. He just sneaked in and out.

"They were jumping around. It was a real big moment for him, so it wasn't really my place," Fletcher said. "I just wanted to let him enjoy."

But Fletcher plans a follow-up phone call to Granlund and his agent soon to "map out a plan that makes sense."

"We're in no rush to bring him over here, but ultimately, it's what he feels he needs," Fletcher said. "I have no doubt he'll be a real good player, but he's going to have a huge say in the process. If he wants to stay [in Finland], that's what we'll support. If he wants to try and come over [to North America], that's great, too."

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