Craig Leipold knew the stars needed to align if the Wild was going to upset the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL playoffs.
So imagine his reaction when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who was sitting in the Wild owner’s suite, informed Leipold that goalie Niklas Backstrom was injured during warmups before Game 1.
“I go, ‘What are you talking about?’ ” Leipold recalled. “He said, ‘Look at the TV.’ ”
Leipold turned and saw Backstrom being assisted to the bench. He immediately sent a text message to General Manager Chuck Fletcher.
“We were going to rely heavily on Niklas Backstrom, and he’s out for the series 10 minutes before the puck drops?” Leipold said. “That’s kind of an unfortunate event.”
A series in which Leipold felt “bad karma going into it” ended in five games. While the Wild returned to the postseason after a four-year absence, the ending left Leipold, who invested $198 million into signing free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter last summer, feeling a “little empty.”
As the Wild prepares for the June 30 draft, Leipold talked about his team’s season and its future.
Q: Now that you’ve had time to reflect, how do you look back on it?
A: I would say success. Clearly moved forward, got better [but] feel a little empty. I feel like we didn’t accomplish what I thought we had the ability to do. We made the playoffs and that’s great. But there’s a feeling like we didn’t quite get to the next level.
Q: Why did you decide to retain Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo?
A: Because I absolutely think we’re on the right course. Everything that is happening in the locker room is really positive. Yeah, there are some changes that we’ll probably look at for next year and that’s good, because we need to get better. But I think all the players are still excited about the direction that we’re going.
Q: You mentioned that empty feeling. Does that come from the financial commitment you made?
A: The business side, we were great. Yes, the lockout cost us money. It cost every team money in the short term. Going forward, we’re going to be seeing the benefits of that financial investment. The lockout was costly for the first year, but the ticket sales were incredible. The sponsors came back in droves. So we feel good about that and we achieved all our business objectives.