Hartman: Lawton praises Leipold as Wild owner

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 24, 2014 - 12:05 AM

The former NHL player and executive said the Wild owner’s commitment will build the team into a consistent winner.

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Wild owner Craig Leipold gave Zack Parise his new Wild Jersey at a news conference on July 9, 2012.

Photo: JERRY HOLT, Star Tribune file

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Brian Lawton is well- connected with what goes on in the NHL, having been a player, the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning who left a good nucleus of players when he got fired, and as an analyst for Rogers Communications, which owns the NHL Network.

Star Tribune columnist Chip Scoggins wrote a column the other day about the great ownership that Craig Leipold provides for the Wild.

Lawton, a close friend, and others familiar with the Wild agreed with Scoggins and believe Leipold might be the best owner in the NHL when it comes to treating his employees in a first-class manner and providing money for GM Chuck Fletcher to put a good club on the ice.

“Leadership starts at the top, and Craig Leipold has really been a breath of fresh air for the Wild,” Lawton said. “He has led right from Day One and obviously signing [Ryan] Suter and Zach Parise, when you make a signing like that, the owner leads the charge.”

Lawton was asked if he thought Leipold is the best owner the state has seen.

“We certainly haven’t had a lot [of different owners] on the hockey side in 30, 40 years. Bob Naegele was a tremendous owner but had a different philosophy. Before that the Gunds were good owners [of the North Stars], but nobody has been willing to spend the way that Craig Leipold has to improve this team and make this team a playoff team.”

Lawton also said it wasn’t just the big signings of Parise and Suter that stuck out, but the Wild’s ability to make smaller moves as well to improve the club.

“Other than [Parise and Suter], it has just been the ability to go out and get free agents like a Matt Cooke, to acquire guys at the trade deadline like Matt Moulson, but really in a salary cap world, it has been his commitment to spend to the maximum amount, that’s what the Minnesota Wild have been doing under Craig Leipold,” said Lawton, who also is a booster of Fletcher.

“… Minnesota is a midmarket [team] in the NHL, a midtier market, and you don’t see a lot of those midtier teams spending the maximum amount. Minnesota has been one of very few. He is within the salary cap, but the way it is counted he is spending more money than the salary cap because we average the dollars. The salary cap is $64.25 million or whatever this year, and Craig is spending more than that because of Suter and Parise.”

Lawton believes that, because of the great talent Leipold has made possible for Fletcher to attract, the Wild will make the playoffs and do well.

“I think they’ll definitely make the playoffs, that’s step one,” Lawton said. “The way that they have spent, the expectation is they win at least one round, if not two. That’s not going to be easy in the tough Western Conference.”

Lawton works for Rogers in Toronto and does analyst work 12-15 days per month, doing all kinds of different games and specials. Rogers and Bell Media each own 37.5 percent of the Toronto Maple Leafs, along with Larry Tanenbaum and other minority owners.

One of these days, an NHL team looking for somebody who knows talent will give Lawton another opportunity to be a GM. Lawton was named general manager of the Lightning in 2008 when they were dead last with a 31-42-9 record and he helped lay the groundwork for an improved team before he was dismissed in April 2010.

Lawton was asked if he would like to be a GM again.

“I’d like to get back to work for a club at some point,” he said. “I’m very much enjoying working for Rogers and I’m very thankful to them for the opportunity, but at some point I see myself going back and working for an organization.”

Jottings

• If, as expected, Rick Adelman doesn’t return as Timberwolves head coach and Flip Saunders, now the team’s president, decides not to coach, rest assured Fred Hoiberg, who is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the great college basketball coaches in the country at Iowa State, will be the No. 1 candidate. But he’s a longtime legend in Ames, and it would take a lot of persuasion to get him to move. Hoiberg’s victories this season over Kansas in the Big 12 tournament and North Carolina in the NCAA tournament on Sunday are ones not many coaches can brag about.

• Gophers football coach Jerry Kill on his recent trip to Washington, D.C., where he spoke at the eighth annual National Walk for Epilepsy: “It went great. It was a great experience being in Washington, D.C., and looking over at the White House and being able to speak in front of thousands of people that have epilepsy and are fighting for the cause. Got an opportunity to meet some very influential people and it was good. It was an outstanding day.”

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