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Continued: Wild owner Leipold likes the nerve of GM Fletcher

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 22, 2014 - 11:17 PM

Pominville, whose five-year, $28 million extension starts in October, led the Wild with 30 goals in 2013-14.

• In Fletcher’s first draft, he dropped four spots in order to draft Nick Leddy, the Minnesota Mr. Hockey from Eden Prairie High and soon-to-be Gopher 16th overall, and picked up two draft picks that would become Hackett and Erik Haula. But less than a year later, Fletcher dealt Leddy and essentially the rest of Kim Johnsson’s contract to Chicago for former third overall pick Cam Barker.

“Little did we know, Barker … wasn’t as good as most people thought,” Leipold said, laughing hysterically at how kind he was trying to be. “That deal didn’t work out. You hope most of them turn out. This one, I would say, didn’t. So what? You move on.

“Now the good thing about Chuck is he didn’t become gun-shy. He was still ready and willing to pull the trigger and never said, ‘Oh my gosh, what if this becomes another Leddy deal?’ He’s like a goaltender. Goal goes in, you forget about the goal and move on to the next shot.”

Fletcher said “that trade was flawed on a couple different levels and actually goes against my philosophy. I take full responsibility for that trade. That was me. That was a classic case of trying to force something that didn’t need to be forced.

“But there was no reason to become conservative after that. You just have to learn from it.”

Sixteen months later, Barker was bought out.

“There’s some misses along the way,” Fletcher said. “There’s risk in everything, but if you don’t make moves in this business, your franchise is never going to get better.”

Taking chances

There were also risks associated with hiring rookie coaches. Fletcher’s first coach, Todd Richards, was fired in 2011 and replaced by Mike Yeo.

“I really challenged him on that one,” Leipold said, “but he loved Mike and looked at our team and Mike’s strength of working with and developing younger players. He had that much confidence that he was willing to bring in Mike knowing it was the biggest decision he had [to that point].”

In Fletcher’s first interview with the owner, he told Leipold how important draft and development would be before delving deep into the free-agent market. In addition to the draft, Fletcher wanted to be aggressive in the college, European and junior free-agent markets. The Wild has found players from Jared Spurgeon to Justin Fontaine.

The hope is every now and then you get lucky by finding a sleeper to supplement the draft picks selected by what Fletcher calls “our excellent scouts.”

“And the picks we’ve had, most of them have worked out,” Leipold said. “That in itself is huge. Go back the years before [Fletcher], we had a lot of misses. It was terrible. It was a dry time, and we were quickly able to turn that around.”

Three regulars last season — Mikko Koivu, Marco Scandella and Clayton Stoner — were drafted by the Wild before Fletcher’s arrival.

Winning mix

After missing the playoffs in 2012, Fletcher vowed the Wild wasn’t far from “turning the corner very quickly.” He pinpointed one final hurdle: “We have not been able to convince a top player to come here yet,” he said.

A couple of months later, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed identical 13-year, $98 million deals. Fletcher “assured” Leipold it would work because of the young kids coming down the pike.

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  • Wild owner Craig Leipold, left, talks with Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher in the first round of the National Hockey League draft Friday June, 24, 2011 in St. Paul. This year's draft is Friday.

  • Chuck Fletcher has remained bold, even with a few misses.

  • Scouts balked at giving Buffalo a No. 1 draft pick for Jason Pominville last year, but he wound up leading the Wild with 30 goals this past season.

  • NHL DRAFT AT A GLANCE

    When: 6 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. Saturday

    Where: Philadelphia

    Top five picks: Buffalo, Edmonton, Florida, Calgary, N.Y. Islanders

    Top prospects: Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay (WHL); Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie (OHL); Sam Bennett, LW, Kingston (OHL)

    Wild’s first round pick: 18th

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